Audit Advantage: The Plain Principles of Prioritising
There is no preamble; you need pragmatic, pertinent advice on how to prioritise at work, rest and play. Let's just get to it:
Plan. Admittedly, priorities do vary (even on a daily basis) - and we will come to that in a moment, but the absolute core principle of prioritising is to know WHAT are your priorities in the context of your bigger picture. And this means having clear, focussed goals in each area of your life and work. As the old dictum goes: if you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? Check out 'Purpose' from our Resilient Auditor programme for the full low-down on objective setting. Once you are all set up goal-wise, use the mantra 'is this activity taking me towards by goals?' as a fundamental question to audit your daily priorities.
Personalise. You can't do everything. Without a doubt you will have to forego certain activities. Once you've filtered using the goal principle, ask yourself a second audit question: 'does this have to be done by me?' In other words, can you effectively delegate? This is not about passing on tasks that you simply don't want to do but it is about re-assigning where both possible and appropriate. And sometimes you might have to make a trade off; for example perhaps you always take on a particular tricky, technical aspect of the job because only you can do it. Over time it will pay to invest in training another team member, even if it means slowing down at first to achieve longer term time leverage.
Play. In deciding on your priorities, for the day, for the year or as part of your life plan, start with a level playing field. Don't assume professional goals are more important than any other type of goals, whether they be health, relationship or financial. In fact, do make sure you build leisure, social and wellbeing objectives into all your timescales. As a salutary reminder ask yourself: 'am I living to work or working to live?'
Prepare. Make space for your priorities but also keep some baggy time for 'just in case'. Emergencies, opportunities and treats can, and do, become priorities. You should expect the unexpected, so plan for it by building in some contingency to your schedule.
Predict. You can never totally manage the unexpected but you can use past experience to forecast distractions, interruptions and obstacles. Prediction helps you think reflectively about the relativity of priorities. It allows you to take precautions and hold on to the principle of keeping in sight your goals, especially when the urgent threatens to trump the important.
Plasticity. Priorities change, especially in the short term. Perhaps you've set yourself a demanding task which requires 100 per cent single focus, only to be waylaid by one of your prime team members questioning the meaning of audit and whether they should take the financial accounting role that the agency just offered. Retaining a prime team member is important and justifies a change in priorities. As long as you keep clear sight of your objectives and you know why you are changing your priorities, do not be afraid to course correct, where appropriate. But beware, plasticity or flexibility needs to be deployed from a position of...
Power. In other words you want to stay in control and stick to your priorities, not somebody else's. Yes, you might have to plan for distractions and build in some flexibility, but you must work on keeping control of the shape of your agenda. Do not let yourself be deflected, remain robust and take one priority at a time. This is summed up perfectly by a charming anecdote from Tiki Kustenmacher's book 'How to Simplify your Life':
'Just imagine: you are at a fair and you have to carry two heavy pigs over a 100-yard stretch. If you keep grabbing one and then the other, it will take forever, because one of them will keep slipping out from under your arm and running off. But if you tether one pig, pick up the other, gather all your strength and make a dash for the finish line, pause for a moment, run back and get the other one, grit your teeth with great determination, and carry the second pig to the finish line, then you can be sure of success!'
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.