A common challenge faced by ASPE members, and professionals in general, is determining what is most important when EVERYTHING seems to be priority #1. The feeling of being overwhelmed by responsibilities is not new and definitely not uncommon.
Luckily, several strategies are available to help identify what truly matters:
- Define your goals: Having clear, well-defined goals can help you gauge the importance of each task. Tasks that contribute directly to achieving your key goals are generally more important.
- Assess impact: Consider the potential impact of each task. Which tasks will have the most significant effect on the project if they are completed? Which tasks will cause the most problems if they are delayed or not done? High-impact tasks should generally take priority.
- Evaluate dependencies: In projects, some tasks may depend on the completion of others. These dependent tasks should be given higher priority as their completion can be critical to the progression of other tasks. Another way to think about this is: what can others be doing to help me in achieving my goal?
In my past life as an estimator and project manager for a mechanical contractor in Evansville, something I asked myself on every project we were bidding was (and usually not in this level of good grammar): “From whom do I need prices?” Those included subcontractors, major equipment suppliers, and more. I typically wanted to jump on those tasks so I could put the ball in someone else’s court. Once that was all rolling, I did my piping takeoff, which I shared with the supply houses. Then I finished with the items that only pertained to me…and Richard. (We didn’t have a very big team.)
- Consider risk: We addressed this briefly in our last article. In the realm of our project work, the risk factor plays a significant role in defining task importance. Evaluate tasks based on potential risks associated with not completing them on time. Tasks that could lead to high risk or those affecting safety should be of utmost importance.
- Consult stakeholders: Often, perspectives from other team members, project managers, or clients can provide additional insight into the importance of various tasks. They can highlight factors that you may have overlooked. Consider sitting down with your project manager, department head, or even someone seen as a subject matter expert in your office to help develop a gameplan for the project before you even put pen to paper…or mouse to screen.
- Trust your intuition: In our careers, we have cultivated (or are cultivating) a deep understanding of our fields and our work through experience. Trusting our judgment and intuition (i.e., our gut) can often guide us toward identifying what is genuinely important. There will be times when our gut misses the target a bit. That’s okay. We learn from our mistakes, and our gut instincts will improve with experience.
In the end, remember that everything cannot be a top priority. By carefully evaluating tasks using the methods above, we can determine what tasks are truly most important and deserve our immediate attention and resources. It’s about finding a balance between urgent and important tasks, managing our time effectively, and maintaining the quality of our work without feeling overwhelmed. As always, if you need help, ask!