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Signs Your Team is Not Successfully Prioritizing

Date Published: Nov 28, 2022

The root of many worker underperformance issues, regardless of the industry or position, is frequently tied to poor prioritization. Prioritizing is an essential skill for success in any field. Without it, work lacks clear direction on a daily and long-term basis.

Here are four signs your team is not successfully prioritizing. We explain how prioritization can rectify each problem. A full explanation of improving prioritization in your team can be read in our companion piece Six Tips on How to Prioritize for Control Over Your Work (and Life). 

Signs Your Team is Not Successfully Prioritizing

1. Your Team Feels Overwhelmed Making Choices

One of the biggest signs your team is not successfully prioritizing is if they have trouble arriving at decisions. This manifests itself in various ways. Maybe your workgroup is asking a lot of questions concerning duties they should be able to perform without direction. You notice their production has slowed down due to their indecisiveness. Meetings become less effective too, since goals are not met when the group comes together. Or, maybe your team is not consistently setting goals at all. Each of these examples flows from being indecisive.

Being able to prioritize allows you to make decisions easily. You can tune out the noise and clearly see the most important tasks that need to be completed. Prioritization allows workers to determine where to place their focus and move through their duties with confidence and speed.

2. Your Team Likes Multitasking

Multitasking can be alluring. It has the appearance of making us more efficient; however, most usually its benefits are just a mirage.

Our minds can only concentrate on one task at a time. Rather than allowing us to perform several duties successfully at once, multitasking serves to divide our attention. The end result is a reduction in performance and work product quality. This has been shown in studies time and again. Higher-level work that demands more brain power - such as analysis, writing or research - really suffers without full concentration. Additionally, multitasking employees can feel like they are juggling chaos as they bounce back and forth between duties.

Prioritization is the antidote to multitasking. By ranking tasks in accordance with their significance and urgency, workers are freed to focus on one item at a time. Their performance will improve, they will be more productive overall, and they will feel less overwhelmed and more in control of their work.

3. Your Team Is Constantly Putting Out Fires

Invariably with any job, there will be moments of crisis that require us to drop what we are doing and switch our attention to the urgent task. This should be the great exception to our work, not the rule.

An environment that often requires workers to “put out fires” is a stressful and inefficient one. Responding to the emergency of the hour abounds with drawbacks. Putting out fires is one of the key signs your team is not successfully prioritizing and has negative consequences such as:

  • Having to rearrange calendars

  • Reducing time spent on other critical tasks

  • Losing deep-thinking focus for higher-level work

  • Feeling stressed and disorganized

  • Affecting other team members with disrupted schedules and urgent communications

Some workers enjoy urgent work and seek it out; it makes them feel important. Maybe they check their emails and messages frequently, ready to respond to any request. Some work cultures only exacerbate the problem by praising employees who regularly put out fires, viewing them as rectifying pressing concerns.

The reality is that putting out fires wastes considerable time. Fortunately, when work is properly prioritized, there will be fewer fires to put out. Strategizing goes hand-in-hand with prioritization. When work is planned in advance, potential crises are predicted and avoided.

Manager Tip: Offer accolades to workers who address urgent problems that were not a result of lack of oversight. Be sure to show as much appreciation to employees who avert problems altogether through quick thinking and/or long-term planning.

4. Your Team Likes to Appear Busy

Many company cultures emphasize worker busyness or the appearance that employees are productive. Stressing being busy actually has the opposite effect on productivity that one might assume: it reduces productivity, not increases it. Essentially, valuing busyness is a myopic view. It concentrates on the act of working, rather than stepping back to view the bigger, more significant picture that is the result of working, or the work product.

Emphasizing busyness can also create a toxic work environment. There may be a lack of fair boundaries around work schedules with supervisors and co-workers reaching out at all hours and expecting a response. Workers’ prioritized tasks may also not be respected. The underlying assumption in a toxically busy office is that work can be dropped at a minute’s notice whenever a message is sent or a new priority is created by a manager.

A team that prioritizes well will value the completion of tasks over the act of performing tasks. The team leader will be looking at performance metrics and the quality of work output, not if the worker appears busy or is highly responsive to every message and request. A team that prioritizes well will be respectful of each other’s ability to prioritize tasks, understanding they know which of their duties to work on to meet collective goals. They will also be respectful of each other’s time and when a worker says “no” to a new work request.

Manager Tip: A busy work culture sometimes starts at the bottom, with reports believing they are working hard, but are only “busy,” in order to compete for advancement. Correct this major sign your team is not successfully prioritizing by making the busy vs productive distinction to your team. Set the tone by rewarding work output and camaraderie, rather than busyness.

Priority Management is a worldwide training company with 55 offices in 15 countries. We have successfully trained more than two million graduates in Priority workshops. Our programs help companies and people be more effective and manage their workflow in and out of the office by providing tools, processes and discipline. Simply put - A Better Way To Work! Clients range from Fortune 500 companies, small-to-medium businesses and government/military employees.

Click Here to learn more about how Priority can help you and your team WorkSm@rt, develop essential management skills and the competencies to....make life and work better and happier!

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