Sometimes, we envy people who have simple jobs. They wake up in the morning, go to work, and then do the same thing over and over until they go home again. They don’t have to worry about which task has to happen next, and what the consequences of delaying one task to prioritize another are likely to be. That sounds like bliss. For many of us, though, daydreaming about such a blissful existence is just another way of avoiding dealing with the perils of workflow management!
Maximum Potential Yield
This is probably the way your boss would like you to do it, if you have a boss! Imagine you’ve just logged onto a mobile slots website. You have hundreds of different Vegas Slots games to choose from, and the decision on which one to play is down to you. The catch is you’ve only got one single shot at landing the jackpot, and therefore you can only play one of them. Which of the mobile slots would you choose? Would you rely on blind luck, or would you do a little more digging?
In the scenario we described above, there’s an obvious way of making a decision. Any player with common sense would pick the mobile slots game with the highest return-to-player rate. It’s not a guarantee of success, but you’re giving yourself the best possible chance. Which of the tasks you’ve been assigned is likely to generate the highest income? If making money is today’s priority, that’s the one to go for.
Worst Possible Consequences
If there’s nothing to pick in terms of the potential financial value of the item in your workflow, it’s time to think about what might happen if something doesn’t get done right now or, worse than that, something gets done late. We’ve already established that only one piece of work can be treated as a priority, so what happens if you deprioritize the other tasks?
Would you be likely to be in trouble with a superior? Would a customer receive poor service? Is there the potential for your company to lose that customer? Perhaps there are regulatory issues to consider, or the possibility for a complaint to be caused. The worse the consequences of inaction, the higher the priority that piece of work should be. Rank your tasks accordingly, and deal with the one that would result in the worst consequences first.
Depending on your role, neither of the above two sorting methods may be applicable. It might simply be the case that nothing will earn you any more or less money, and nothing particularly awful will happen if you don’t get it done right now. It’s just a big pile of stuff that has to be done at some point. That’s probably the hardest pile of work to sort, because there’s no obvious place to start.
In circumstances like these, it makes sense to pick up the largest, most challenging piece of work, and start with that. That means your day (or week, depending upon how you order your working schedule) will get easier as time passes. The hard stuff gets out of the way early on, and by the end of the day or week, you should be dealing with fast, simple tasks that make you feel like you’re making rapid progress. It’s a good feeling!
Simple Date Order
This is probably the fairest way of handling a workflow, even if it is one of the least efficient. To avoid arguments about whose work is the most valuable, or will suffer the worst consequences if it isn’t done immediately, make one simple rule and then stick to it. The rule is that the work that’s been waiting for your attention longest gets dealt with first. This means that nobody is allowed to skip the queue. No matter how important something is (or someone claims it to be), it goes to the back of the line, and it’s dealt with when you get there.
While this is the fairest way to deal with a pile of work, it’s also probably the worst in terms of business sense. Some work will always be more important than other work. It makes no sense to damage a customer’s experience of your business – or the business itself – by ignoring something vitally important to deal with more trivial matters. Going through your workflow in simple date order is definitely an option – it just isn’t an option we’d ever recommend you take!
Hand It Off
Here’s the nuclear option! If there are too many tasks requiring your attention that purport to be a priority, then someone else should be dealing with them. If there’s such a high priority that whoever wants the work done can’t wait, then (in a large company) whoever wants the job done should either do it themselves, or find somebody else to do it.
You shouldn’t allow yourself to drown in priority work. Having a whole day where every task is supposed to be a priority is nonsensical. Have the courage and the strength to push back when you’re overloaded. Doing so will mean you get through your own workflow more efficiently, and other people will start to rethink their own policy on handing out work.
Obviously, if you run your own business, there may not be anyone else you can hand it off to – in which case it might be time to think about promoting people, or hiring more staff!
Workflow management issues can occur regardless of whether you’re being assigned work by your boss, or whether you run your own business. When you work in a nuanced role, there are always several different aspects of your position and your daily duties. You might have a series of tasks to do, all of which are regarded as priorities by different people. Despite what some employers seem to believe, only one task can be treated as a priority at one time. Because of that, someone who’s expecting you to be dealing with something as a priority for them is probably going to end up being disappointed.
Sitting staring at your work for too long without being able to decide on the best way forward is known as paralysis by analysis. After a while, you overthink everything, and nothing gets resolved. Here are a few different ways you can arrange your workflow, and decide on an order which you can justify both to yourself and to other people.