Rank Your Priorities

Human behavior is difficult to figure out. For example, take the way we all tend to treat “priorities.” We all have them, and we instinctively know that some of them are much more important than others. Such as our families. The people we love. That novel we’d like to write. That project we’d like to tackle that could lead to a cure for cancer.

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These are the types of priorities that can be life-changing. The ones that, if we can accomplish them, can make us feel alive and purposeful. And yet, what do we typically do with the most important priorities in our lives? We put them in a separate pile for later. We adopt the attitude that we’ll get around to them because there will always be plenty of time to do so.

In the meantime, there are the “urgent” and “recurring” priorities of our everyday lives constantly lurking at the forefront. Answering all our emails. Checking social media. Scheduling those meetings. Responding to requests for our time and expertise.

What do we do with these types of priorities—the ones that may indeed be urgent but have little to do with our long-term success?

We put them first. We hypnotize ourselves into believing that if we can keep all the urgencies of the day at bay, we’ll be able to eventually tackle what’s really important in our lives.

But this is a recipe for an endless cycle that has the ability to go around and around in the same circle unless we are able to “shift” the dynamic. The familiar term “tomorrow never comes” comes to mind when I think about this cycle of missed opportunities—where our priorities are not necessarily being dealt with in the correct order.

Continually evaluating your time management is the key. We hear this term all the time—but what does it really mean? And how can you truly get your own time management practices under control?

There’s no easy answer, and the solutions will always be different for every individual circumstance. But what I would argue is that in any situation, if you’re managing your time effectively, you’ve been able to successfully “rank” your priorities in a way in which the most important ones start to take precedence.

This isn’t to say that the daily tasks of life can be ignored. We all must meet personal and professional urgencies on a regular basis. We all must answer those emails eventually—and we can’t always say no when someone asks us to do something.

But getting time management right does indeed—and should—involve saying “no” when necessary. No to the constant distractions of email. No to managing personal social media. No to texting when there is a much more important priority staring you in the face, such as that critical professional project that you could start right now in order to take your career to the next level.

In lab management, all these issues exist, as they do in practically every work environment. Time management will always be a challenge. It’s particularly critical in an environment where the work you do could have consequences for thousands or millions of people. Not prioritizing your critical work on the job could jeopardize not only your own well-being and personal growth but also that of others.

Rise to the challenge this year of putting your most important, long-term priorities at the starting line each and every day.

Make that a priority, and you may see your time management skills soar.

Categories: Business Management

Published In

Safe Enough? Magazine Issue Cover
Safe Enough?

Published: June 12, 2014

Cover Story

Safe Enough?

According to a recent OSHA publication, there are more than 500,000 workers employed in laboratories in the United States.1 And as lab managers, you know that laboratories can be potentially dangerous places to work.

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