How To Prioritise Anything?


At any point in time, life does not give us everything we want. Resources are always limited, whereas demands are unlimited. I still remember my school days, having five bucks in hand and queuing up in front of canteen window. While talking, smiling, laughing with friends, one question that I continuously think was –

What is the best combination of goodies that I can buy today?

Well things are not much different now; in personal life, I still have the same question,

What is the best combination of goodies that I can buy for house and family?

Similarly, in professional life, I continuously focus on tasks that I should be undertaking to deliver the best value to my customers.

At the end it goes back to the art of prioritisation. I thought it is probably a good idea to design a framework that can help prioritise almost anything.

Ready? Here you go!

  1. Know your vision/mission/goal – Know your goal first, and write it down. If you are prioritising in working group (family, team) then it vital that there must be a written goal for prioritisation exercise. For example, if you are prioritising investment options, your goal could be, ‘Making short term investment to get returns better than a bank deposit’.
  2. Determine constraints (time, resource, political, regulatory) – Determine the list of constraints under which you are prioritising. For example, maximum investment – $500K, time – within two months, regulatory – must be approved by the board.
  3. Group the options into logical sequence – If you have a big list of options to evaluate, then group similar options together. For example, for investment; you can group options of investing in stocks, real estate and gold.
  4. Determine dependencies for each of the options – The list of options that you are considering to prioritise may be interdependent or dependent on an outside factor. Note that dependencies can be functional, technical, resource and political. For example, being an American citizen, you may not be able to make real estate investment in India/Russia.
  5. Determine your approach – You can think of different strategies to execute your prioritisation list. You can divide your priority list into more than one group and then run each group incrementally. Alternately, you can prioritise the complete list of options and execute all at once. For example, you can invest $100,000 after each week (for five consecutive weeks), or you can decide to invest $500,000 in one go. Each approach has its pros and cons.
  6. Determine ‘AND’ options rather than ‘OR’ – Often we decide one option over the other. It does not always need to be like that. Analyse if there are any ‘AND’ options available. For example, instead of deciding investment in one stock over the other, you can split up your investment to invest in both equally good stocks.
  7. Estimate on the prioritised list – Prepare an estimate for each option in units of currency, man-hours or effort.
  8. Adjust options to prepare prioritised list – Now you have good information to prioritise the final list. Based on points covered above to make adjustments to the options and prepare final priority list that satisfies your goal, dependencies, constraints and approach.

Finally, like many other management challenges, there is no silver bullet to prioritise effectively. Different techniques work in different set of situations. The key is to assess and refine your tool-set.

Now, can you relate to the above framework? What can you add to the structure to make it even better? I would encourage you to apply this framework to your next prioritisation puzzle and let me know your experiences. I would love you hear from you.

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