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Business peoples new ideas meeting on table

This is a guest post by Thea Millard. Thea is a market data researcher and a private consultant, who enjoys sharing her knowledge with as many readers as possible. On top of her marketing projects, she enjoys writing detailed job application guides for potential candidates who are striving to find their perfect niche.

Big-company dream plus a small team equals a ton of work and probably two tons of frustrations. It’s hard to grow, see the bigger picture, and take new projects when all you hear is that there aren’t enough time and resources to implement all the bright ideas you have. There are still just 24 hours in a day until further notice, and a person can only do so much. Do you feel overwhelmed—but hiring more people is simply not an option yet?

Prioritization and time management sound simple in theory. There are millions of rock-solid resources teaching you how not to waste time at the workplace, how to beat procrastination, and how to build a healthy organizational environment so your team doesn’t feel like it’s carrying the weight of the world on its shoulders.

So, how do you proceed?

The bad news: there is no bulletproof recipe for it.

The good news: you can test and tweak the variables until you reach the desired result.

Prioritization of Tasks Means Prioritization of People

All you hear when it comes to prioritization and workload management is to make a to-do list and separate the urgent tasks from the important ones. You may turn to priorities-management software and apps to feel more in control. Granted, such solutions work in some cases, but let’s not forget the problem here: you still have a small team, and there are still only 24 hours in a day.

To-do software allows you to erase the list sub-tasks and sub-priorities once they are signed, sealed, and delivered. It will probably work for a while until you get a new business idea, a new client, a new project to implement and the problem comes back to bite you even harder: “We cannot take this project because there is no one available to work on it, we are already overloaded.”

What nobody tells you is that this is not enough. You may have a perfect to-do list and show it to your people, expecting them to act upon it just the way you want them to. But the key word here is “people.” They are not perfect robots that automatically execute your commands. They are not software. So, before you flash out your neat and clear to-do list, you need to take a very close look at who you assign the priorities to.

Who Is Your Small Team?

Team Unity Friends Meeting Partnership Concept

Ideally, you hired the best people for the different jobs you needed to make your company work. But did you take the time to actually evaluate these matches? Is Jane really into being a secretary? Do John and the sales department have the perfect marriage?

In our day and time, hiring based solely on qualifications is not enough. You can take Sir Richard Branson’s word for it: “The person with the top grades and most credentials isn’t always the best person for the role.”

You know where this is going: hiring people for passion, transferable skills, attitude, personality, and purpose, besides experience and hard skills. But this can backfire in the worst possible way. Jane may be resourceful, precise, self-assured, highly motivated, creative, and good at troubleshooting and making people listen to her. Can she do John’s job in the sales department? Does she know anything about sales? Is she the Harvey Specter of closing a deal with a new big client? She may not be, so she sticks to being a secretary. John will still struggle to reach this month’s target while juggling 10 other urgent tasks on his to-do list.

Get off the carousel.

The Four Master Lists

Let’s go back to task prioritization for a moment. To-do lists are the core of any project management plan and cycle. But let’s break down things into even smaller pieces; maybe we can get a clearer picture of things.

When you’re working with a team, you should work together to create the following four to-do lists:

  • An overall long-term list of priorities. This list should include everything and anything you want to do with your company for an entire year. It is your ideal to-do, not a reasonable one—you have the freedom to put on it crazy, visionary ideas. It will help you design future goals, define expectations, see how big you really dream, and, most importantly, take note of your team’s input.
  • A monthly list of priorities. Plan and envision the tasks for the month to come. It will never go exactly as planned. This list is just giving you a bearing on what to focus on, including separating the “urgent” from the “important.”
  • A weekly list of priorities. Shorter and more manageable, this will give you and your team a sharper sense of what should be tackled in the time you have. This is where it gets hard: when and how are we going to be able to do everything written here? 
  • The daily list of priorities. At the beginning of each workday, create a prioritized to-do list to set expectations and goals for the day.

As a general rule, break the tasks into sub-tasks. “Make a sale” can lead to a panic attack. However, “revamp the product catalogue, work with the designer on a template, get approval for the catalogue, send the catalogue to the potential clients, get the confirmation of delivery from the clients via the phone, restate your openness to future collaboration, set a follow-up meeting or a phone call for later on, check the task as completed”—this sounds more doable.

The SWOT Analysis

Now let’s move on to the SWOT Analysis. You know what it is, and you probably know how to use it. But how often do you use it, really?

How about doing it for every single day? Waste of time? What seems more wasteful to you: spending 10 minutes running each task through a SWOT to prioritize it or spending 10 days trying to implement the task without clear prioritization?

Say your team has to implement seven tasks one day and they all are urgent. How do you put them on the list? In what order? Are they equally mandatory? They probably are. But are they equally consuming? This is where a nice surprise might ensue.

Take a task and simply break it down following the SWOT:

  • What advantages does your company/team have if you complete this task first?
  • What are the most effective tools/skills/resources/you can allocate to this task?
  • What is the maximum amount of time your team will spend completing this task?
  • What are the costs of implementing this task before others?
  • What immediate results will this task completion generate?
  • Who is the best person to take the task?
  • What can go wrong if you complete this task before others?
  • What do you lack in terms of time and resources to achieve it A-to-Z in the minimum amount of time available?
  • What factors can come up and ruin the plan?
  • Can some of these factors be avoided?
  • Can “surprises”—if they show up—be ignored, postponed, or dealt with immediately without affecting the workflow?
  • What opportunities is the completion of this task likely to generate in the short term?
  • What other tasks directly depend on the completion of this one making the workflow easier and more efficient?
  • What other new tasks may occur naturally after the completion of this one? Should they be put on the today list or can they be prioritized on tomorrow’s list?

After such an analysis, you’ll have a better picture of how to put all daily tasks in their proper order. You don’t work in a void, so one task may lead to the half-completion of another or the natural occurrence of a newer task. Taking your time to fully, deeply, and thoroughly analyze every piece of every task will help everybody involved understand the work at hand.

Of the People, by the People, for the People

Diversity People Group Team Union Concept

Tech resources, material resources, financial resources: they’re all important. But your human resources are the most valuable asset you have. And since your small team seems to be overwhelmed by the workload with or without your SWOT-analyzed to-do daily list of high-priority tasks, this is where you need to get creative.

How about running a SWOT analysis for each team member to match the SWOT analysis of each daily task?

Does this sound science-fiction to you?

Say you need to make a sale and it is top urgent because you need a quick cash infusion to be able to fund another project. You ran this task through the SWOT. You all know this task needs your best selling team member, who by all accounts is John because this is why you hired him in the first place.

But how about running John through the SWOT to see if he fits the full profile of the task? What if he is truly needed just to close the deal? What if someone else is better at working with the designer because he or she took some art lessons in college and understands color theory and the psychology of color better when it comes to revamping the firm’s product catalog?

Transferable skills. Personality traits. Attitude. Motivation. Passion. Creativity. Personal background. These can make or break your deal. For example, maybe Mary from accounting is the best person to close a particular contract, because she has some special knowledge on the topic.

You don’t have to reassign Mary to the sales department and transfer John to accounting. But if the top priority of the day is to close that  contract and your SWOT showed that it would be more efficient and successful to send Mary to negotiate, send Mary and let John take care of the paperwork.

One might argue, and for good reason, that such a strategy could disrupt the firm’s workflow and efficiency. Who is going to take care of the accounting tasks if you send Mary to a meeting?

But are the accounting tasks your first priority of the day, or can they be delayed until tomorrow without negatively impacting Mary’s workflow, time management, and the company’s efficiency?

It is a lot harder to deal with people than dealing with tasks. It is a lot harder to make decisions that can escalate into conflicts, organizational stress, lack of trust, unhealthy competition, and so on. Maybe it’s hard to make John understand why you had to send Mary to the meeting and not him.

But while Mary rocks accounting and John has stellar performances on sales, this time John has to understand that if you send Mary and not him, the company saves time, resources, and effort—and makes money in the process. John needs to be a team-player to run with this decision without hard feelings. And it’s your job to make John a real team-player.

Go Back to the Beginning

Group of people on peak mountain

You may have the neatest, clearest, most impeccably outlined tasks and priorities, but if your people aren’t 110% invested in them, it’s all for naught. And by invested, we don’t mean “dedicated to the job.” We mean that they are the right ones for the right jobs, and they fully function as a living organism.

How do you achieve that?

  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. Take the SWOT, but go deeper to a Myers-Briggs Inventory Test or, even better, have an expert run a California Inventory Test and talk you through the results, the weaknesses, and the opportunities your team features.
  • Build them. Don’t play the excuse of not having enough time or money to organize team building sessions and workshops. You can find over 60 free team-building activities that will strengthen your team’s best traits, motivate them, and build trust, interpersonal skills, communication, and better individual time management and allocation of resources.
  • Follow up the completion of tasks regularly. Sometimes, we’re so deep into our working routines that we’re happy with just checking off a task and moving on to the next. Instead, continuously assess the effectiveness of completed tasks, understand the results, offer and receive feedback, tweak the strategy, redo the SWOT, change working hours, be flexible, buy new tech if it helps, and reassign people if necessary. Do what it takes to fully evaluate each and every success, failure, and priority.
  • Reward your team for its success, no matter how small. Some argue that you shouldn’t praise John for sending the email that got the deal sealed. It was his job, wasn’t it? This is why you hired him, and this is what you are paying him for. But everyone needs to know they’re appreciated, valued, and respected. Avoid the common leadership mistakes that make people run from a company as fast as they can.

Uncommon leadership requires uncommon approaches to prioritization and human management. Why not try out some of the ideas from this post?

This is a guest post by Thea Millard. Thea is a market data researcher and a private consultant, who enjoys sharing her knowledge with as many readers as possible. On top of her marketing projects, she enjoys writing detailed job application guides for potential candidates who are striving to find their perfect niche.

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  1. Without a clear vision, I feel that getting your priorities in order on a small team is almost impossible. And leadership always plays an important part in this.
    Great article, Thea!

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