Organizations are the sum of their decisions. Those that prioritize well endure and those that don’t falter. At Sticker Mule, we support thousands of customers by hiring the best people in the world, but there's always room to improve. Consequently, prioritization is the most important thing we do.
What prioritization is not
Most literature on prioritization is terrible. It leads you to believe prioritization is about time management or how to use to-do lists. This way of thinking neglects that priorities are what make or break businesses.
Consider that Amazon started as a bookstore in 1994 and grew to $147 million within 3 years. Today they employ 500,000 people who handle $200 billion in revenue. They picked the right projects and grew at an extraordinary pace.
Meanwhile, other retailers had different priorities and either failed or are much smaller. Walmart could be Amazon, but they did not prioritize the Internet and now they are worth half as much.
What prioritization is
Prioritization is picking the right tasks to maximize impact. That means finding high impact tasks and avoiding low impact ones. Usually the highest impact tasks are elusive. We don’t know the highest impact projects we could pursue right now.
Prioritization might sound stressful, but it’s not. Most tasks won’t affect us. Consequently, we shouldn't stress about the backlog of tasks we “need” to do. We need to keep our minds free to pursue high impact ideas, when they present themselves, by neglecting low impact ones.
It’s unproductive to precisely categorize every task, but it’s useful to roughly classify them in your mind. Our ability to prioritize improves with practice and being mindful of these categories helps us improve.
High vs. low impact
High impact is better, but completing lots of low impact tasks can build competitive advantage if you can do them quickly without being distracted.
Enduring vs. temporary
Tasks that provide enduring value are preferable to those that deliver value temporarily.
Definite vs. potential
It’s better to pursue improvements with definite benefits than those with potential.
Short vs. long term results
Quick wins are preferable, but you can build competitive advantage pursuing ideas that yield results in the long term since others tend to neglect them.
Estimated time to complete
All else equal, tasks that can be completed faster are preferable.
Relationship to other tasks
Some tasks are completed more efficiently when grouped with others so we sometimes do low impact tasks that pair well with high impact ones.
Ask yourself these questions periodically to improve your ability to prioritize:
- What’s the most impactful thing you can work on?
- Did you correctly identify the problems you are facing?
- Do you know the most important problem to solve next?
- Can you replace any planned tasks with better ones?
- Can you delete any especially low impact tasks entirely?
We aim to embed a passion for prioritization into our culture. If you think similarly and want to join our global team, we are hiring.