Setting Priorities

Because time and resources are always limited, people have to make choices about what work to do. When everyone knows, agrees and understands the criteria of choice people can set clear priorities. Then people concentrate their effort and reduce wasteful conflict.

Everybody has a personal priority setting system. Some people will primarily do things that please their superiors, some things they enjoy, some things that reduce stress. Most of us are unaware of what these are. When you are clear on your priorities, it is a great help with managing your job. It is also important that there are clear group priorities in a team or project or there will be duplication and you will miss things.

A practical tool for clarifying priorities

You can use this individually or in a team.

Step 0. Write down your objectives for yourself (and the team)

Step 1. List the jobs you have on now and the jobs you anticipate in the next period.

Step 2. List the questions you ask to decide whether a job is worth doing or not worth doing.

Step 3. List your ideal answers to the questions. For example, a criterion might be the extent of management commitment. The ideal answer would be “High”.

Step 4. Display answers to steps one, two and three on a chart as below.

Step 5. Score each job so that each ideal answer scores one and other answers score nothing.

Step 6. Think about the results. Are the conclusions sensible? Do you need to negotiate with others? Do you need to change or weight any of the criteria?

You can weight criteria that are particularly important if you wish. I have never found this necessary.

If you are doing this exercise with a team then share your thoughts on objectives first and establish that you want to go in the same direction. Share your priority systems, similarly and explore and resolve any differences. Where there are differences, look for win/win solutions.

A hypothetical priority setting chart


List of JobsCriterion 1Criterion 2Criterion 3Score
(Examples of criteria)Positive impact on individualsManagement commitmentPersonally satisfying
Job 1NoHighNo1
Job 2YesModerateYes2
Job 3NoNoNo0
Job 4YesHighNo2
Job 5NoNoYes1
Job 6YesHighYes3
Job 7YesNoYes2
Ideal answerYesHighYes3

Highest priority tasks have the highest scores, do them. Low score tasks may not need doing at all.

The value of this approach

This simple tool helps people manage their time and clarify values in a very acceptable way. It makes priorities clearer to the individual and provides a simple way to discuss otherwise difficult things in a group.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick