Things I DIDN’T Learn in College: Part 5 – How I Manage Multiple Priorities

by Ron Haynes

Are you overwhelmed with trying to manage multiple “top” priorities? Do you feel you’ve overextended yourself? Is the pressure more than you can stand? If you can fog a mirror these days, you probably answered yes to at least one of those questions.

Full CalendarI’ve felt the same way many times. For the record, I manage 16 stores in 6 states (two of those stores are under construction). I’m a husband, a father to three children, an occasional adult Sunday School teacher, a homeowner, and a blogger who is averaging 6,300 page views per day (this month) and posts an article 6 times per week. I graduated with a 3.82 GPA from a US News and World Report “Top Tier” graduate school as an MBA two months ago. I know and understand what it’s like to be busy. Believe me, I get overwhelmed too. I frequently wonder how I’m going to get everything done and it’s then that time management takes on a whole new meaning.

I’ve been asked so many times how I manage all these multiple priorities, I decided to use this information as a blog post and list a few techniques I use to help me manage time more effectively.

First, I establish what really ARE my priorities.

No more than one thing can be my top priority at one moment in time. It is a physical and mental impossibility. Dozens of people will disagree, but there is no way I can give my full attention to driving and sending a text message at the same time. There is no way I can listen to my client’s instructions and take notes on what the boss is saying at the same time. I can quickly change my priorities between subjects, but if I try to do more than one thing at a time, something will suffer. For me, I can only be “white hot intense” on one thing at a time. It’s called focus.

I ask myself, if there was only ONE thing I could accomplish today, what would I want it to be? This “thing” must be:

  • Measurable and specific.
  • Compatible with what’s going on in my day at the time.
  • Time specific or have some sort of deadline.
  • Written down on a To Do list or be written on a goal sheet.
  • Something that I own, that I’m accountable to accomplish.

If that ONE thing doesn’t fit these criteria, it shouldn’t be a “priority.” Next I ask myself, if I could accomplish just one more thing today what would it be. That item becomes my second priority. I carry this out for ten or more items each day. I don’t always get to all of them, but I give it my best shot and if I fail, it can always go on another day’s list.

If I keep having the same item listed at number 8 and I never seem to get to it, should it really be on the list anyway?

Second, I eliminate things in my life that really don’t matter.

Believe it or not, there are some things you can live without. Television, newspapers, certain social activities all take a lot of time but do nothing to help me reach my goals and accomplish my priorities. Television can be ignored with the right tools.

I also eliminate those items that never do get around to being done, those number 8′s if you will. If it never rises to the top five, no matter how many times I neglect it, it isn’t a priority I should be concerned with. I’m trying to manage multiple priorities, not multiple “hope to get to it one day” tasks.

Third, I take some items and delegate them.

With item such as travel arrangements, it isn’t critical that I alone handle them. I ask our operations assistant to make those arrangements and thereby free myself to accomplish my higher priority items. Other delegable tasks could be filing, generating reports, data entry, or anything that is a time consuming task easily completed by another staff member.

Delegation is a difficult thing to do sometimes, especially when the GPS unit I requested in my rental car isn’t reserved and I’m left with a 5 year old map of a city I’ve never visited, but when I’m managing multiple priorities, I have to let go of some things. Then I let the chips fall and regroup where necessary.

I never, ever delegate something that is a critical component to my success.

Otherwise, I could go from managing multiple priorities to managing one: finding a new job! Deciding what to delegate isn’t always easy for me, though it does get easier over time when you have a highly competent staff. One thing I’ve learned is that if a staff member is constantly coming to me requesting further instructions, either I wasn’t clear in the beginning or the task may be too big for them to handle. At that point, I have to take it back and show them what I want done and how to do it.

Fourth, I use my discretionary time wisely.

I use down time in airports to catch up on reading, conduct some online research, or to check on a store’s progress. If I call someone and get put on hold, I use that time to review and respond to emails. If I have 15 minutes between meetings, I use that time to somehow move me closer to finishing one of those multiple priorities. Every minute is precious. If I’m managing multiple priorities, time is a scarce resource that I must properly manage, just like any other asset. You may manage inventory, cash, equipment, software, or trucking routes. You must also manage time.

Fifth, I always remember that procrastination is a thief.

What does it steal? Time. Productivity. Peace. I once held a position where I was the single point of contact for 28 outside salespeople. I was constantly bombarded with requests to get something done for this sales person’s customer or that house account. My rule was: Do It Now. If I waited, there was the possibility I would forget, so I learned to avoid procrastination like a co-worker with the flu. If you can get a task accomplished in less than two or three minutes, go ahead and do it right then and there. If it will take longer, write it down on your calendar right then and there. Take some sort of action (even recording it is an action) immediately.
If you’re faced with having to closely manage your time because you’re managing multiple priorities, give these ideas a try. Leave a comment on what works for you as well as what doesn’t. This site was established to become a sounding board for ideas and I would love to hear from you.

Final note: Insure that you have a good work life balance. I use these tips and techniques in my your work life, but I have to make sure I schedule some time for myself and my family. When managing multiple priorities, always schedule in your top priorities.

[tags]manage, managing, multiple, priorities, priority, time management, delegation[/tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1001 articles on The Wisdom Journal.

The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.

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Lynnae @ Being

Thanks for this post! I really struggle with productivity. Often I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and getting nothing accomplished. I think I really need to work hard at not procrastinating.


Lynnae @ Being »
Good morning Lynnae. We ALL struggle with procrastination. It truly is a thief!

Jeff@My Super-Charged Life

Ron – You are a busy guy! These are some great tips. I’m learning to delegate more often the older I get. We can’t do everything and we have to trust those that work for us. They may not always do it the same way we would, but I’ve learned that oftentimes their way works out even better!

Also, thanks for the link! I gave this a review on Stumble Upon. Keep up the good work!


Jeff@My Super-Charged Life »
Hey Jeff, glad to link to you. THAT was a fantastic article you wrote and it fit very nicely with the point I was making.

Hey This is Martin.
I agree once again with this post. Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix has been a real good tool for me over the years. If I find myself wasting time dealing with unimportant events (Time management matrix quadrants 3 & 4) I ask myself “what should I be doing that is constructive right now”. And also, using downtime during other important tasks as an opportunity to take care of more important things is key.

The problem I find occasionally with myself and most people is getting out of those “comfort zones”. People are comfortable with sleeping late, people are comfortable watching 6 hours of TV a day, people are comfortable with procrastinating important events. I hear people complain all that time about why they haven’t accomplished this and that yet and begin to blame everything and everyone except the right offending member, themselves.

It’s almost cruel to say but, if you waste your life away in front of your X box, you deserve what you get. Feelings of overwhelm, stress and frustration which are pathways to depression, can lead to poor time management because sitting in self pity seems like the most attractive thing at that moment. I think we have all been there. (I’m unemployed as we speak). For the most part, I think we all know what we “should” be doing at any given moment, but breaking through our preconditioned hypnosis is not an easy task. That takes effort, practice and time. I don’t know about you but, if your life is worth it I’d start right NOW!

“Failure is not the only punishment for laziness;
there is also the success of other.” -Jules Renard


I am multi tasking these days (like many bloggers) and struggle with my schedule. It was nice to read your post and I’m sure I’ll take a few things and apply them to becoming more productive.

Man, you got a lot on your plate, I have no idea how you do it… even with the best productivity routines and schedule in the world.

Good on ya.

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