How To Deal With Competing Priorities

Ask yourself these three questions to prioritize tasks competing for your attention.
December 26, 2011

Dealing with competing priorities is an integral part of being an entrepreneur. Every day we face battles where we have to choose between pricing and quality, family time and business progress and between current profits and future success. We all know it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time. But knowing this truth and acting accordingly are two very different things. Some business owners do try to have their cake and eat it too by trying to please everyone. In the process they usually fail and expose themselves to serious business and personal consequences, as I wrote about in a recent article on lowering your standards. Even after you recognize that you can’t be all things to all people, the issue of which competing priority to satisfy remains; in other words who do you say “no” to? Here are some ideas on how sort that out.

Are any competing requests unreasonable or unrealistic?

Many times we feel the pressure to satisfy requests from people who are important to us, like key employees or customers, because that relationship matters to the health of our business. But if the request is unreasonable or unrealistic then it can be discarded right away and you can deal with the consequences with a clean conscience.

Which competing request has the potential to do more harm if rejected?

If competing requests that are rejected have the potential to cause harm to ourselves or to others, then that needs to be taken into consideration. If more people asked this question then the incidence of texting-related traffic accidents would decrease dramatically as people realized the risks involved and would instead choose to wait until later to respond.

Which competing request will be of greater benefit to me if executed correctly?

This isn’t an entirely altruistic exercise. An important part of determining which competing request to honor is the one that stands to benefit you the most. To succeed, you must make decisions that benefit you and your business. While this sounds obvious, many times the question doesn’t get asked because you are knee-deep in details and minutiae related to the decision-making and your best interests can get lost in the shuffle.

I’ve decided. Now what?

By asking these questions, you can determine the best course of action when faced with competing priorities. Once this is decided, you need to inform the affected parties. When telling someone you’ve decided against them, remember to:

1. Be direct. Nothing is worse than “beating around the bush” when informing someone that you are rejecting them. Its best to be direct and show that you are respectful of their time.

2. Provide context. A solitary “no” isn’t the best approach to letting someone know their competing interest lost out. In the future you may need to work with them and providing context as to why you made the decision will help ameliorate any ill will.

3. Use the proper tone. You may be tired, frustrated or otherwise upset at having to make a difficult decision, but this isn’t the tone that should be conveyed directly or indirectly to the losing party. Take the time to compose yourself and not let their emotional response cloud your rational judgment. Stay cool.

4. Move on. Don’t feel guilty about what may or may not happen to the losing party. You made your decision for better or for worse. It’s best to move on.