Prioritization for experts

Written by Grant Heinrich, 14 May 2020

The Challenge

Experts – due to their unique subject matter expertise – often spend much of their day attending to inbound queries (with varying degrees of importance). Rarely is there anyone that they can hand off such requests to because their knowledge is so specialised no one else is able to assist. The frustration that they often cite is that these responses are often not the best use of their time, energy and talents – and the time spent on them comes at the expense of more critical activities that typically don’t come with the same imposed deadlines or with senior leaders chasing them. They need to proactively push forward agendas that warrant considerable time investment that they struggle to find. This creates a vicious cycle since they are then seen as lower level go to people rather than being strategic contributors and thus generates more low level work.

This is incredibly frustrating for the experts and it also robs the organisation of the outcomes that might be derived from better focused experts. Most experts haven’t had exposure to tools that help them better plan – nor adequately negotiate an optimal focus with stakeholders

The Content

In this pod session, your team member discussed and explored with their fellow podsters:

  • An analytical and decision-making framework called the time-management matrix which a user to determine which tasks to prioritise, and which to push back on – and which also serves as a framework to negotiate a better focus with stakeholders.

  • Participants learn that the most valuable activities are typically in Quadrant II (see enclosed/attached framework) – i.e. they vitally important but not particularly urgent. Participants typically come away from the workshop desiring to organise their tasks and responsibilities so as to focus as much as 65+% of their time on such strategic, shaping, game-changing activities. They typically seek to reduce their crises and emergencies – by engaging in sufficient planning and prevention – to no more than 25%. And they look to eradicate any low value activities by saying no, filling their time with priorities.

  • Participants are introduced a weekly Six Step Planning activity to support a weekly routine of building their schedule around true priorities

The Punchlines

  • All tasks can be meaningfully classified by the associated degrees of urgency – when they’re due – and importance – what makes them matter. Most people are more reactive to the urgency – due to associated time pressures – than they are accustomed to truly weighing up the value of the task. As such a lot of time can be taken up by lower value tasks that happen to be urgent (Quadrant III) than is warranted. And higher value tasks that happen not to be urgent (Quadrant II) tend to get put off – sometimes forever. Many people assume that they are primarily working on tasks with high urgency and high importance (Quadrant I). Yet in failing to properly evaluate the importance, there’s every likelihood that they are actually working on lower value yet urgent tasks (Quadrant III)

  • Most experts have far more agency to choose what they dedicate their time to than they often recognise. To the extent that they haven’t identified what should be the best use of their time, energy and talent – pushed back on everything else, planned their schedule around the priorities – they are fully complicit in their sub-optimal focus. They have a right – even a responsibility – to inform and educate others as to the best use of their time, talents and energy. Non-experts aren’t deliberately driving them towards a sub-optimal focus. They just want what they want (when they want it) and don’t have a clearer idea about the value that the expert could otherwise be adding.

  • If we don’t plan and block out time for the Quadrant II (important but not urgent) tasks, our calendars are likely to quickly fill up with all sorts of unprioritized nonsense – and the significant, higher value, proactive and strategic tasks – that only the expert tends to know is the best use of their time, energy and talents – is what ends up getting left out. Quadrant II priorities should actually be blocked out up front in the expert’s calendar and everything else has to somehow fit around what discretionary time is left over. This is nearly always the precise opposite of how most people’s days get filled up.