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February 17, 2017

3 Ways to Prioritize Tasks

 |  By: Mike Opperman

While you have day to day tasks that keep you busy, as an owner you have an opportunity to step outside the daily grind and look big picture. Undoubtedly there are parts of your operation that you would like to change—problems that need fixing, opportunities that need to be seized upon or new initiatives that you would like to explore. Deciding which to do first and which to table is not only important to getting critical tasks done, but making sure big picture items don’t fall off the table.

The most common way to prioritize tasks is to make a list. However, Derek Lidow, a professor who teaches entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity at Princeton University, cautions against rank ordering because it can be demotivating to managers assigned tasks that aren’t at the top of the list. He says a better way to establish priorities based on three interdependent priority variables. They are:

  • A critical priority is something, as the name suggests, that has to be done within a set timeframe, no matter what. For example, something that needs to be fixed in the parlor should take priority over almost anything else since that is a function that impacts a myriad of other actions. Lidow says that any required resources should be made available to accomplish the critical priority. “Declaring a project ‘critical’ implies that it must be accomplished by a de facto blank check,” Lidow says. “That enables the manager to draw on all available resources within the organization.”
  • An important priority is something that can have a significant positive impact on performance. You might want to increase your pregnancy rate from 22% to 28%. Lidow says that for these objectives the resources are fixed and the variable is either time or the objective. For example, you might decide to accomplish the goal over a certain time frame, or decide that meeting the objective is important regardless of how long it takes.
  • A desirable priority is an effort in which time and resources are both variables. On a dairy, this might be bigger picture items like building a new heifer barn, for example. Lidow says that these priorities fit when “the organization desires an outcome but cannot absolutely commit specific resources over any specifiable time period.”  

“Once you have identified critical, important and desirable projects, you can begin to identify appropriate objectives, resources and time for each project,” Lidow says.