Constantly adjust your priorities

Mar 25, 2015

810Asking five questions can help competent men and women prioritize their endless workloads.

When you look at those people working in A/E firms who seem to get a lot done, you find one of their unique abilities is that of being able to continuously reevaluate and adjust their priorities. It’s not good enough to just be a hard worker who is organized and diligent. You have to work on the RIGHT problems. This isn’t easy. It’s been said before that “work flows to the competent man” (or woman), and in design and environmental firms, this is surely the case. That means all your best people are constantly in a state of overload – i.e., they have more to do than they CAN (reasonably be expected to) get done. This makes evaluation of what is most critical an ongoing process and an important one.
Here’s a logical set of questions you can ask yourself to help establish priorities:
  1. Is a client depending on getting something from you? We work in client-driven, project-driven enterprises. For better or worse, client work HAS to dictate our highest priorities to some extent. Of course, this varies by client, as well. More than one may need something and you may not be able to please everyone. In these cases, you best be able to discern who the most critical clients are and please them as your first priority over the others. But don’t give up too easily. If you can effectively delegate, you may actually be able to keep everyone happy. That should be your goal.
  2. Is your superior counting on getting something from you? If so, you best be prepared to deliver it, and if you aren’t going to be able to, give plenty of warning to whomever it is that you report to, so he or she can make other arrangements. You don’t want to make them look bad to whomever they are making promises to. It will hurt your career and reputation.
  3. Is someone who works for you counting on getting something from you? It’s critical that you deliver. If you don’t, you are setting a horrible example of how not to perform for everyone you count on to do things for you. If changing priorities affect prior promises, warnings and ideas for other sources or ways to help will undoubtedly be appreciated. No one wants to be treated as if their stuff isn’t important.
  4. Are you putting out fires? If so, is this the biggest fire? There are always a zillion problems to attend to. Your job is to work on the ones that are most critical and would be the most costly to the firm if not attended to.
  5. Are these fires ones that shouldn’t have started? If so, what are you going to change/do differently so you don’t have the same problem in the future? You can always act like the hero of the day and swoop in for a rescue, but is that the way you want to live your daily worklife? Maybe you are overloaded because you aren’t dealing with things on a more fundamental level. Maybe if you deal with the source of the problems, versus the problems themselves, you would find setting your daily priorities is a lot easier.
Remember: “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Mark Zweig, is president and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.