IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Stop Worrying that Everything is "High" Priority

I'm a huge advocate of working from highest to lowest priority for everything - in both my business and my personal life. For this reason, I have a task management system that uses priorities. If you have a PSA or service board, you can manage all your tasks there. If you find it useful to keep tasks separate, you might have a task tool as well as a PSA.

I have tried several tools. Most of them do too much. I don't need to manage the construction of a hospital or build a supersonic jet. I need to make sure that my social media campaigns are executed in a timely manner. That's about 1/1,000,000 as complicated. So I don't need to pay $99/month for a system that does everything. I don't do everything.

Most recently, I tried Asana.com. But it lacks the single most important feature: Priorities! There are convoluted ways to set up priorities, but they're not a native feature. As a result, sorting by priority is also convoluted.

We finally settled on Clickup.com. Priorities are enabled by default. And the defaults - Urgent, High, Normal, Low - are just fine. I have always preferred this four-level system:

Emergency = Priority 1 - Can only set itself

High = Priority 2 - Generally applies to a company-wide problem

Medium = Priority 3 - The default priority

Low = Priority 4 - Schedule it when you can. Don't go out of your way.

So, Urgent, High, Normal, Low is an easy conversion. I can change these system-wide, but there's no real need to.

Fear: Everything is High Priority!

One reason I've heard over and over again for not adopting a priority system (or for letting clients set the priorities) is that everything will be set as High Priority. And, as we all know: If everything is high priority, then nothing is high priority.

And that last piece of wisdom is actually the key to why the system works. When people start creating tasks and assigning priorities, they realize that they can't make everything high. Some things just need to be medium or normal. This is actually a powerful lesson that they teach themselves as soon as they start putting tasks in the system. When someone goes to enter ten or fifteen tasks, most of them naturally fall below the "high" threshold.

Note, also: Priority, Importance, and Urgency are not the same thing!

Let's use the example of printing payroll checks. The check printer is very important. Getting out payroll on time is very important. If the payroll check printer breaks, then getting it fixed is very important. But if you have two weeks before payroll, the ticket is probably set at High priority - not set as an emergency. And, if the printer breaks several times a year, then the ticket might actually be set to Medium priority since you know the fix and can get to it any time in the next twoo weeks.

If time drags on, the ticket will become more urgent (not more important, just more urgent). When it gets to be two days before payroll, the ticket will be Urgent and an Emergency priority will make sense.

Here's a simple best practice that will help you see the difference: When a client creates a new ticket, ask them how urgent it is. You'll be amazed at how non-urgent things can be, even if they're very important. In fact, something can be important and high priority and still not be urgent. Your income tax falls into this category. It only becomes urgent if you ignore it until filing day.

Here's my best advice: 

1) Use priorities

2) Create a task or ticket for absolutely everything that needs to be done!

3) This allows you to work from highest to lowest priority at all times

4) Let clients choose the priority of tickets. Give them guidelines to assist in making choices.

5) Train everyone in your company to assign priorities, pay attention to them, and work according to them.

The long-term benefit of using priorities is that stress will automatically be reduced. Why? Because again and again, you will find that almost every task you create is Normal or Medium priority. Almost nothing is high priority. This happens automatically over time.

One of the Absolutely Unbreakable Rules of Service Delivery is "slow down, get more done." One way to apply that is by using a priority-based system.

Comments and feedback welcome!

:-)

About the Author

Karl W. Palachuk, is a technology consultant, author, speaker, trainer, and coach. He is the author of fifteen books. He has built several successful businesses, including two managed services companies. His books include Managed Services in a Month and The Network Documentation Workbook. Karl is a frequent trainer and speaker in the SMB Community. His popular blog can be found at SmallBizThoughts.com. He has more than twenty years experience as an I.T. professional and serves on advisory panels for several hardware and software companies.

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