5 Key Questions for Setting Priorities

5 Key Questions for Setting Priorities

A key part of personal time management is for you to take the time to look into the future. Project forward five years and think about where you want to be. Create a mental picture of your ideal future- your best future– and then think about the steps that you would have to take, starting today, to make it a reality. Remember, it doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that really matters is where you are going.

Think about the things you would like to achieve, so that your future focus is on your goals rather than focusing on the past. Focus on opportunities rather than problems. Think about solutions and what specific actions you could take, rather than things that have gone wrong and who is to blame. Keep asking, “Where do we go from here?” As John Maynard Keynes said, “We must give a lot of thought to the future, because that is where we are going to spend the rest of our lives.”

In many companies, 80 percent of the time of senior people is spent on the problems of yesterday rather than on the opportunities of tomorrow. Keep thinking of ways that you can change the things that you are doing today, so that your future focus is consistent with what you desire.

Project forward 5 years:

Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, the strategic planners who wrote the book, Competing for the Future, encourage decision makers to project forward several years when they do strategic planning. They encourage executives to imagine that their company is the top company in the industry some years in the future. They then identify the products, services, markets, and especially skills, talents, and abilities that they will need to be industry leaders five years from now. Finally, they encourage business leaders to begin immediately to develop the core skills and competencies they will need to be market leaders in the future. You should do the same.

Focus on the first 20 percent:

In setting priorities, remember that the first 20 percent of any task usually accounts for 80 percent of the value of that task. Once you begin working on that task, the first 20 percent of the time that you spend planning and organizing the resources necessary to achieve the task usually accounts for 80 percent of your success. In setting priorities, always focus on the first 20 percent of the task. Get on with it and get it done. The next 80 percent will tend to flow smoothly once the first 20 percent is complete.

If you are in sales, getting the initial appointment where you meet face-to-face with the decision maker is the first 20 percent of the transaction. But it accounts for 80 percent of the value in the sales process. The presentation, the closing of the sale, the follow-up, the delivery of the product or service, and so on, represent the second 80 percent that only accounts for 20 percent of the value.

Forget about the small things…

While setting priorities, never give in to the temptation to clear up small things first. Don’t start at the bottom of your list and work up to the important tasks at the top. Don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in low-priority activities. Don’t major in minors. As Goethe said, “The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.”

The natural tendency of human nature is to follow the Law of Least Resistance. In time management and personal work, this means that we have a natural tendency to start on small tasks, thinking that as soon as we get warmed up, we will launch into our big tasks and increase productivity.

Here is what I have found. When you start in on little tasks, they begin to multiply, like rabbits in the springtime. When you begin clearing up your small tasks, you seem to attract more and more small tasks to work on which, in the end, does not increase productivity. The longer and harder you work, the more small tasks seem to arise. By the end of the day, you will be exhausted, and you won’t have accomplished anything of value. Start with your most important work first.

Here are 5 key questions for setting priorities:

These are questions you can ask yourself regularly to ensure that you are working on your top priorities and getting the very most done that is possible for you.

1.       Why am I on the payroll? Ask yourself if what you are doing right now is the most important thing that you have been hired to do. If your boss were sitting across from you watching you, what would you be doing differently from what you are doing at this moment?

Here is an exercise. Make a list of everything you think you have been hired to do and take it to your boss. Ask your boss to organize this work list by priority. Have your boss tell you what is most important and what is least important. From that moment onward, work single-mindedly on those tasks that your boss considers to be more important.


2.       What are my highest value activities? Remember, there are only three things that you do that account for most of the value of your work. Which of your activities contribute the greatest value to your company? If you are not sure, ask the people around you. Everyone knows the most important things that other people should be doing.


3. What are my key result areas? What are the specific results that you have to get in order to do your job in an excellent fashion? Of all those key result areas, which are most important?


4. What can I, and only I, do that if done well will make a real difference? What is the one thing, hour by hour, that only you can do and, if you do it well, will make a significant contribution to your business? This is something that no one else can do for you. If you don’t do it, it won’t be done. Doing this task, doing it well, and doing it promptly can have a major impact on your career.


5. What is the most valuable use of my time, right now? This is the key question in time management. Every time planning and management skill is oriented around helping you determine the correct answer to this question at every moment of the day. What is the most valuable use of your time right now?

About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian’s goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.

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