Stop Drowning: Nine Strategies For Managing Your Priorities

I just got off the phone with Susan. She is a well-meaning, big-hearted, caring, effective and creative sales manager. Susan is also exhausted.

Her day is packed with conflicting priorities, all demanding her time. She goes out on calls with her sales team, trying to motivate and develop them; she deals with endless phone calls and e-mails and interruptions; she fights fires; launches new products; participates in cross-functional team meetings; and mediates conflicts in schedules and resources. Susan also tries to have a full life outside work, which means dealing with the family commitments, volunteering, and bookclub.

To Susan, every task is a priority, and she can't keep them in sequence and in place. She feels her life is an exercise in herding cats, and we all know how easily cats pay attention and stay in line. Susan is far from alone. The relationship between knowing what needs to be done and actually accomplishing the tasks (either by yourself or through delegating the work to others) can be rocky. Add to this a number of ways we can sabotage ourselves -- including acting as a "lone ranger", always saying yes, and focusing on secondary goals -- and we can quickly get into cat-herding territory.

I've been in this quandary myself and I have found that it is possible to manage priorities and maintain sanity. However, it takes commitment and focus, and the willingness to change some ways of operating. Below are nine strategies that can help. Any one of them could be a perfect fit or utter hogwash depending on your circumstances. These strategies are not intended as a one-size-fits-all recipe for managing your priorities, but simple wake-up calls to alert you to possibilities.

1. TAKE TIME TO THINK BEFORE SAYING YES

If you feel overwhelmed, buy yourself some time when you are asked to add another piece of work to your list of priorities. Don't say yes to anything until you've thought it over and analyzed how you can fit a new task or project into your schedule.

2. DEVELOP AN APPROACH FOR DEALING WITH INTERRUPTIONS

SET UP TIME for routine tasks

· Try to arrange routine times for jobs such as going through the mail, talking with your staff, and answering phone calls and e-mail.

· Fix definite times when you would not like to be disturbed, and let your staff and colleagues know that you will only be available for genuine emergencies during those hours.

· Plan a certain time to discuss routine matters with your staff and colleagues. By planning discussions, you avoid interrupting each other.

SET UP A PLAN for unexpected visitors

· Establish at the start why they have come to see you.

· Stand when they enter the room, so that they also remain standing.

· Avoid engaging in small talk.

· If it's necessary to deal with them, suggest a later meeting, at your convenience. If possible, hold the meeting in their office, and set time limits for your discussion.

· If you really can't get them out of your office, leave the office yourself.

3. SET HEALTHY, FLEXIBLE BOUNDARIES

You don't need to give in to whatever shows up in the moment. Get used to asking yourself, 'Am I the right person for this job?' If the answer is no, state it directly. Previous commitments are a valid reason for saying no.

4. LEARN MORE

To manage your workload, you need information about how to accomplish a particular task and where that task fits into your network of priorities. By clarifying what's expected, you can work more efficiently.

5. ASK FOR HELP

It can be hard to admit that you need help, but you're in the best position to know when you can't realistically accomplish everything. By asking for help, you show your willingness to give your best effort and your desire to fulfill all of your commitments. Consider all the alternatives, request a meeting with the appropriate people, explain the situation, and discuss possible solutions. Even if you are not completely comfortable with this route, you put yourself in a better position when you voice your concerns.

6. GIVE IT AWAY

Whenever delegating a task to someone else is the best solution to an overload, it's important to hand off the task effectively. You need to give the person enough information to perform the task according to expectations.

I've noticed that many sales managers have misconceptions about delegating, thinking that handing a task over to someone else means completely letting go of control. But giving others a share in the responsibility extends influence and creates commitment to the cause. Control isn't lost; you're just letting go of the burden of doing everything yourself.

7. TAKE A BODY INVENTORY

Are you sleeping well? How are you eating? What's your energy level? If these are not up to par, get a professional evaluation and take the steps that will restore your well-being and help you think clearly.

8. TELL THE TRUTH

Sometimes our energy flags when we're into a pattern of pleasing others or living according to standards that are not our own. Notice where you're being less than forthright and get clear about your motives.

9. KEEP IT SIMPLE

Stem the panic by reminding yourself that in any given moment there is only one person to talk to, one breath to take, one thing to be done.

MANAGING YOUR PRIORITIES CHALLENGE: GIVE IT AWAY

Declare your intention to give things away. Then actively look for a daily opportunity to delegate good (not grunt) work, asking yourself this question: If I delegate this item to one of my staff, will the time spent up front providing guidance and support pay off later in productivity gains, smoother functioning of the group, or in better use of my time?

If the answer is 'yes,' delegate it. If it is 'no,' keep it. If you delegate it, provide ongoing support, spell out clear expectations, and give the freedom to do the job. That means no hovering.

Then, congratulate yourself on gaining more time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicki Weiss is an internationally recognized Certified Professional Sales Management Coach, Master Trainer, and workshop leader. Since 1992, Nicki has trained, certified, and/or coached more than 6,000 business executives, sales managers and salespeople.

Nicki guarantees increased sales performance when sales managers become better sales coaches. Sign up for her FREE monthly e-zine, Something for NothingTM, which has powerful tips and techniques for sales managers who are ready to make this transformation. Sign up at http://www.saleswise.ca You can email her at [email protected] or call 416-778-4145.

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