Prioritization Accounting: How to Practice What You’ve Planned


This is a reprise of a LinkedIn post on my unorthodox perspective when it comes to priorities. 
With time to reflect and discuss, my perspective has shifted…somewhat. This post contains affiliate links.

If I asked you to point to show me your priorities, where would you go? To your to-do list? To a list of life categories (love, health, career, wealth, etc

The best place to see your actual priorities is your DONE bucket.  Your production will always reflect your true priorities.  This does not suggest that those things were the right things to have been done.  They are simply the things that mattered to you the most at the moment.  

Whether the production includes the TPS Report, the Sales Presentation, that Netflix movie, chatting with the co-worker for 0:45 or reorganizing your desk drawers.  

This isn’t to say your list of to-do items aren’t indeed priorities.  They most definitely are. They just aren’t the ones that tell the story of what you value most.  To-do lists are just talk. And we all know about talk – it’s cheap. The real story is told in your behavior –  your actual production.

Juggling Priorities

Several years ago my 4-year-old daughter walked in on me practicing a new self-taught skill – juggling.  She tried her best to imitate by taking two balls and moving one ball from one hand to another. Though she switched the balls over and over, no one would’ve called it juggling.  

When the big boss slams something urgent on your desk, your reassessment (what I’ll call Type I later) of the relative priority isn’t juggling.  If a change needs to be made, you’re doing what my daughter did and shifting the doing ball to the to-do list and moving the new hot ball to the doing list.  That’s switching, not juggling. After all, you’re only ever doing one thing at a time.  

Now I totally get that the meaning of juggling for many is not literal and that it is indeed this Type I reassessment. My anti-juggling rant began with a literal interpretation.

Budgeting vs Spending

In the post, I asserted there to be only one type of prioritization occurring at the moment of action.  Everything else are mere intentions. However, as this is a far leap for others to join me in making, I’m going to moonwalk it back.  There are indeed two types of prioritization at play.   

Type I:    this happens prior to taking action is akin to budgeting.  

Type II:   this occurs when you’re actually taking action is akin to spending.  

If you excel at Type II, but do a crappy job on Type I then you’re still screwed.  Both prioritization types must maintain the goal alignment that should already be in place between your goals those of your department, function and ultimately the company itself.  

While both types are key, Type II is the gateway to your production which is the revelation of your true priorities.  No matter how good of a job you do in Type I, Type II can always let you down. This is where the principles on which you based your initial prioritization will be tested.  

Type II will always deliver what you truly care about the most.  What you’ve produced as that will show you what you’ve truly prioritized.  That isn’t saying that producing junk is the way to go. That all you have to do is just get any and everything done to say that I’ve prioritized.  Quite the contrary. Your prioritization must be aligned to your end goals. Many only focus on the alignment of their Type I prioritization and let their Type II  prioritization (taking action) go off the rails. 

Maintaining Priority Alignment 

  1. Upfront Prioritization – Ensure that your intentions are prioritized based not only on what’s urgent but also by factoring in their long-term importance.  
  2. One At A Time – The best way to get stuff done is to focus on one thing until no further progress can be made.  Then pick up the next item. In the world of Agile, let there only ever be one item in your DOING column.  
  3. Purposeful Switching – When new things come up, perform a Type 1 prioritization based on your goals and principles.  
  4. Distraction-Free – Reward yourself with free time for every work sprint using the Pomodoro technique. 
  5. Polite Rudeness – When interrupted, ask if this (interruption) will take longer than 2 minutes. If so, ask if they can send an email or if you can find them during your next break.
  6. Eat that frog – Don’t allow your low-priority tasks to go ahead of your high priority ones.  Tackle the hardest one first and enjoy skiing downhill from there.  Check out Brian Tracy’s bestseller Eat That Frog for more.

Prioritization is not only about how you plan/budget your time, but it’s also about how you spend it.  Focus on setting your priorities in alignment with your goals as well as executing in alignment.  Consistent completion of high priority objectives will help you become a high potential employee.