Planning and Prioritising in Business

Moira Dunne - Planning and Prioritising in Business

Author: Moira Dunne. Moira is a management and training consultant and the founder of BeProductive.ie

Time is a precious commodity these days as everyone seems to be getting busier and busier. We can’t control the amount of time we have but we can control how we use it. By having a plan with clear priorities we can increase our chance of being productive.

No Time to Plan!

Planning in business is important but as business owners it can be hard to take the time to do it. We like to get stuck in straight away and start getting things done. We think that by the time the plan is made things will have changed anyway.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly once said,

“If I had 60 minutes to cut down a tree, I would spend 40 minutes sharpening the axe and 20 minutes cutting it down.”

A good plan developed at the start of the year or a project can ensure that things are done the right way. By stopping to prepare, the “doing” will usually be quicker and more effective. A lot of time can be saved on revisions and fixes further down the line.

Develop a Plan for Your Business

Investing Time in an overall business plan can help business owners:

  • Take time to reassess what is important for their business
  • Define the journey and direction
  • Prioritise their business activities
  • Organise the work to be done
  • Stay on track when things get busy
  • Manage others
  • Get back on track after unexpected events

To plan effectively, you need to be clear about the vision and mission for your business. In small businesses this is usually clear as there is a strong identity with products, services and customers.

But it is important to constantly assess: 1) what you are trying to achieve, 2) what should our priorities be, 3) what should we be working on day to day and 4) does everything link together?

The key is to keep the planning exercise simple.  Here is a checklist of things to consider at this first stage of business planning:

  1. The vision for the business
  2. The mission for the business
  3. The long term and short term objectives
  4. How to acheieve these objectives
  5. By when and with what resources
  6. How to measure progress and changes

You could brainstorm these aspects of your business during a single workshop with your key people. This provides a purpose for every subsequent project plan or task list. It also provides clarity for everyone on your team.

Once you have a clear overall plan for the business the operational plans will be easier to create.

Prioritising

Keep the prioritisation exercise simple too. Your business planning process has identified the high level business objectives. Together with your team, list what tasks need to be done to achieve these objectives. Then rank them in order of: 1) importance and 2) target timeline for completion.

Business circumstances constantly change. So as owners and managers you need to react quickly and revise the priorities and plans to make sure the overall business targets are still achieved.

It can be hard to stay focussed on the important tasks when urgent tasks arise. Urgent tasks demand our attention whether they are important or not, forcing us to drop our planned tasks. The Eisenhower Matrix, (also referred to as the Urgent versus Important Matrix), is a tool that can help.

The matrix was developed by Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th US president, to help him decide which tasks he should focus on each day. This matrix is also referenced by Stephen Covey in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and the key points are summarised below:

Planning and Prioritisng

Use the matrix when making your daily or weekly plans. Use to prioritise new tasks as they arise. Constantly check back to the overall business plans to confirm the priorities.

Ongoing Planning

Here are some tips for ongoing weekly and daily planning within your business:

  • Schedule the week in advance to take control of how you use your time
  • To hit the ground running at the start of the week, work on the plan the previous Friday afternoon, Sunday evening or first thing Monday morning
  • Block out time for important “deep thinking” work like: writing reports, customer proposals or preparing a staff coaching session
  • Leave time in the diary for unplanned tasks such as customer calls or technical queries
  • Get to know the most productive times in your day and week and schedule the most important work for these times. Encourage your team members to do the same
  • Use a “To Do” list if you find it useful but make sure it connects to your schedule so that tasks on the list are actioned and most importantly, completed.

Be Productive

In business there is nearly always too much to do. So focus your efforts on your priorities. Use some of these ideas to develop a planning approach that works for you. Let us know your thoughts or your own tips in the Comments below.

For more information or details about our Workplace Productivity workshops please contact me at moiradunne@beproductive.ie


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