8 expert strategists answer the question of prioritisation
March 14, 2019
7 min read
There is no right or wrong way to prioritise your work. We hear from 8 senior strategists and marketers about how they prioritise their work to get the most out of their team and their discipline and, ultimately, to meet their ambitious strategies.
There is no right or wrong way to prioritise your work. Whether it’s ordering tasks based on anticipated effort, identifying how urgent or important each piece of work might be, or simply diving into what’s preoccupying you most, what constitutes ‘good prioritisation’ can seem relatively unclear.
That’s why we’ve brought in the big guns. Below, we hear from 8 senior strategists and marketers about how they prioritise their work to get the most out of their team and their discipline:
“Setting the right priorities, for yourself and for the team, is as important as it is difficult to get right. Especially in a small business like ours where the pace is incredibly intense and new challenges and opportunities come up every day.
“My top tip would be to stay connected to your wider team and nurture a sense of perspective at all times. When you understand how your work impacts various parts of the business and how it supports the growth of the organisation it becomes easier to stay focused on the truly business-critical initiatives.
“I also make sure I keep time off in my diary every day to pause, think and re-assess my priorities – I find it helps to prevent distraction and drives my productivity.”
“Like many businesses, we always have the issue of limited time and resources. This requires that I constantly think about what to prioritise. For the majority of business decisions, I would use an Impact Effort Matrix approach.
“This is a simple way to visualise and discuss the value of activities, with the activities with low effort and high impact taking priority. Conversely, the low impact and high effort are the activities to avoid first.
“The exception to this would be activities that are strategic and have an unclear return. The strategic value of these activities can sometimes make or break a business and are the hardest to decide. This is a bet you would need to make occasionally as a business owner.”
“Prioritisation is crucial in a startup. We work towards our long term aims, however the pace is fast and can change from day to day. Every day I either start my day or end my day looking at my priorities.
“I think about these in line with what the business needs to achieve today (considering also the longer term week/month/year). I tend to mentally look tasks using important/urgent matrix. I also think about my personal and team’s capacity and schedule.
“Any important/non-urgent larger pieces of work I try to do first thing in the morning when my brain is fresh and before the emails/phone calls start coming in. As a team, we have a daily catch up where everyone takes a few minutes to run through tasks for the day/week so we can ensure we’re all working cohesively as a team.”
“For me, prioritisation has to be about impact. What impact will the thing I am working on have, and how essential or damaging is it? A lot of people prioritise by revenue, but that means small, seemingly unimportant tasks fall to the back of the queue. Often these small tasks have an impact later down the line. Take SEO for example, a classic area of battle for resource. It’s easy to dismiss small changes in this area because there is no clear revenue generation straight away, but 6 months down the line you might see your rankings drop as a result of not fixing something.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my long career as an executive at companies like Amazon, OpenTable, and Upwork, it’s that the 80–20 rule applies to business. In other words, 80 percent of the results come from 20 percent of the initiatives.
“Here are the three ways that help me focus on the 20 percent:
1. Start every day by asking: “What’s the one thing I can do today to accelerate the business?”
You might be surprised at how that shifts your approach. Out go the emails, some blog posts (depending on your business), certain meetings, and the “very nice to have” projects and features. In comes the big question: What’s that one thing?
2. Ask yourself, ‘How will I know I’m right?’
Once you’ve figured out what your 20 percent is, you have to decide how to measure success, so you can course-correct if needed.
3. Make the 20 percent part of your vocabulary.
“Talk about the 20 percent with your team. If you’re a manager, use it as a shorthand to show what you value: ‘Hey! What’s your 20 percent?’ or ‘Do we really think this is part of our 20 percent?'”
“I take the Russian dolls approach to list-making. I find a big source of anxiety is worrying that I’ve forgotten something. So I have a master long list of every single task across all my projects. Then I start every day by moving tasks from my master longlist onto my daily to-do list. I prioritise based on 1. urgency: do I have a deadline that requires me to do this today, and 2. Stress level: is it making me anxious? This second one is important. Some things don’t have an urgent deadline, but they’re on your mind and take up valuable brain space with worry. With those, it’s always best to relieve that pressure by ticking them off first. Freeing your brain to focus on hitting those deadlines.”
Johannes Radig, Former Growth, Truly / Former SEO, PayPal / 500 Mentor
“It is often difficult to determine what you and your team’s main focus should be. To get a rationalised overview and prioritise, I use the ICE technique: The first step is to quantify the potential impact (e.g. revenue) of the different initiatives on the table.
“The expected impact of shiny new ideas often surprises people when quantified; it is often small in comparison to the big impact of supposedly boring ideas. To score the impact, use a scale between 1-5 where 1 is the lowest and 5 the highest impact. Assign a revenue threshold for each score so it’s an easy calculation.
“Next, score your confidence & expected effort using the 1-5 scale, then let your team do the same to normalise for personal bias. The total score will determine your priorities. Tip: I’d recommend to manually prioritise a few low effort, high confidence initiatives to get quick wins: they will motivate the team & please other stakeholders.”
Matt Lerner, Founder & CEO, Heretix
“There’s a very high-level prioritisation, such as where in the funnel or business should we focus generally? For example, if conversion sucks we shouldn’t spend money trying to get traffic. So once you pick an area in the business to focus, you can eliminate a lot of options quickly.
“Then minimum viable tests – my take on the ICE prioritisation framework (or impact * effort), is that you end up with a bunch of stuff that’s sort of just in the middle.
“And many of your biggest impact items are also very hard/slow/expensive (e.g. increase our domain authority, build a big new feature). So for those ideas, we ask ‘what’s the riskiest assumption?’ (e.g. for building a feature, if we build it, will they come?) Once you’ve identified the riskiest feature, design a fast cheap experiment to just validate that one assumption. (e.g. promote the feature before you build it, see if anyone clicks ‘buy’).”
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