Get your priority straight


Now I can hear you from here.

“Priority? Get your priority straight? No one has one priority, they have many priorities.”

And that, my friends, is a problem don’t you think?

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less has this to say about priorities:

“When the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s, it was singular. Think for a moment: What did it mean? The answer is the prior or very first thing. What’s interesting is it stayed singular for the next 500 years. It wasn’t until the 1900s that we came up with the pluralised term and started using the word priorities. But what exactly does the word mean? Can there be multiple very first things?”

Well yes, it seems we do think there can be multiple ‘very first things’ because most of us do this every day: we try to manage multiple priorities. But should there be such a thing as multiple priorities?

Ok – practically speaking, yes. Because depending on context, day of the week, hour of the day, time of the year, our priorities move around.

But what happens in many businesses is that we try to equally prioritise too many things as a matter of course, and what this means is (again from McKeown):

“we make a millimeter progress in a million directions”

And that’s not really all that useful. So this is a good time to revisit the Urgent/Important matrix.


See that important/not urgent stuff? When we’re juggling multiple priorities, that the stuff that gets pushed to the bottom of the list. This is a bit of a problem because that important/not urgent stuff is usually the much-needed working ‘on’ our business rather than ‘in’ our business stuff.

(An example of something important but not urgent is me writing this blog post today. These blog posts are important because (in addition to helping our lovely readers!) they help maintain our #1 Google ranking for many key search terms. (That Google ranking is what keeps our phone ringing.) But because these blog posts aren’t necessarily ‘Urgent’, it’s pretty easy for me to allow the important and urgent stuff to stop me from finding the time to write.)

If I continually allow the important and urgent stuff to take priority over these blog posts, well that’s pretty sub-optimal for our business.

So how do we deal with this ongoing problem of priorities?

Well, you’re always going to have multiple priorities on an ongoing/macro basis. But on a daily basis, it’s completely feasible to drill down to just one priority. It’s completely feasible to say “so long as I get this one thing done today, I’ve done something to take my business forward.” So try this for a week: try making one urgent but not important thing each day, THE priority (singular) for that day.

Imagine, for a second, the long-term impact on your business if, by the end of this week, you’ve crossed off five urgent but not important things from your to-do list. Just imagine!

So tell me, what Urgent but Not Important thing are you going to make a priority for tomorrow?


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