Set Priorities and Eliminate a Few Spinning Plates

Stop. This is an important interruption in your day of plate spinning. What are you doing right now, and why? If it does not contribute to accomplishing your priorities, it might represent a plate you can – and should – let fall.

Don’t have any priorities? OK, let’s take a step back. Setting priorities is an important step in defining what you will accomplish and what you will do to achieve a desired future state. Being able to set priorities is a critical discipline of leadership. It’s not an option, particularly given the pace of change and the number of distractions on any given day.

Developing clear priorities for yourself and your direct reports means starting by identifying what’s important.  For example, if you rely on the relationships between your department and another to complete projects, one of your priorities might be to focus your team on building that relationship. Working through issues to completion becomes a priority, and the expectation is that your team will behave in a way that sets up the relationship for success.

Understanding what’s important takes time and careful thought to develop. One way to develop priorities that are clear, actionable and supported is to carve out time to create a draft list of priorities, then discuss them with others, perhaps your boss and peers, to be sure that you are in alignment with their priorities and the priorities of the organization. Negotiating priorities is a good way to get stronger buy-in and awareness in the organization.

Once you’ve identified a short list of what’s important, discuss this with your team and identify the “urgent” requests and fire drills that unnecessarily create more spinning plates that get in the way of being able to focus on the important priorities.

If your organization struggles with this, consider creating alignment meetings at the executive level or other conversations to calibrate and negotiate priorities to keep everyone focused on what is important right now, what might be changing, and where the executive team is either supporting or distracting the workforce.  At the executive level, distractions and fire drills have impact on so many more people that deviating from what’s important becomes much more costly in time, energy, frustration and lack of execution.

At a personal level, creating your priorities and making sure that they are in alignment with your commitments as a leader will help you align your team and reduce your spinning plates to a manageable number. Decide what “urgent” activities you will not engage in, and have conversations with others who create them and make requests. Learn to ask for what you need and say “no” to things in a way that supports the relationship with others and also makes your priorities clear.

Keeping multiple plates spinning is possible, as long as you know that the plates that are spinning are the important ones, and you have clear understanding and buy-in from others. Limit your plates and you will be much more successful in executing on the commitments that you’ve made and the priorities of the organization.