Dan Waldschmidt

by Dan Waldschmidt

July 26, 2012

Why Setting Priorities Might Be Your Worst Business Strategy Yet.

Setting priorities is age-old business sense that is hard to argue against. “We can’t do everything” you’ll hear in your business meetings. Clients seem to think the same thing, asking “what do we do first?”

You’re told that setting priorities matters.

From your first days in business the idea is drilled into you that priorities matter. You are told that you have to set priorities in order to get the most accomplished.

You’re told that if you don’t set priorities that projects will end up half-finished and your team will be overworked and demoralized. You are are told that a leader without priorities won’t be able to function effectively.  That you will consistently miss revenue targets and profitability goals.

Some of that is true.  Priorities matter.  You can’t munch on Cheetos and sip Merlot all day and then wonder why you aren’t tearing up grand ambitions.  That’s just flat out logical.  What isn’t all that logical is the unnecessary focus we place on setting priorities.

Frankly, your idea of “setting priorities” might be why you aren’t doing something truly amazing.  Why you are probably limiting your potential for doing something truly amazing.

Here’s why:

1. You’re just using it as an excuse for not getting more about accomplished.

You think that by setting priorities you have a good alibi for not doing something desperately bold.  Instead, you commit to the bare minimum and justify it with the excuse that you have to set priorities.  Really?  That doesn’t work — regardless of how you dress it up.  Your priorities should drive you to do more.  Not less.

Let’s state the obvious.  You do have constraints on your performance — as a person and as part of team.  You only have so much time. And money.  But that isn’t a reason to do less.  It’s a reason to be more creative.  To dig down deeper.  To push for results.  To energize those around you.

2. Your priorities don’t matter to anyone other than you.

Just because you have good intentions and a heck of a lot of dedication doesn’t mean that your priority will help you accomplish anything of value.  Just because you value making money doesn’t mean that customers magically prioritize giving you their money over your competitors.  The same thing applies to your peers and their aspirations.

What you want is pretty much useless unless you let it drive you to help others with their priorities — and problems.

It’s not about you.  It’s about the people you need to make your priority their priority.

To do that you have to care about them.  You have to give them time and attention.  It’s not all about you.

3. You are too focused to see meaningful opportunities outside your current priority.

Sometimes you can be completely wrong by doing what is right.  You are so focused on the tree in front of you that you miss the forest.  Even a good priority is a poor choice when a better option emerges.  That’s where you need to be emotionally aware.  You need to be discerning about what really matters and adjust course to maximize the resources you have available.

It’s good to put your head down and ignore all of the distractions around you.  But you might find when you start looking around that time and opportunity and luck has passed you by.  What was once a good idea is now only a “has been” plan.  Keep looking while you are working.

4. You keep “setting priorities” instead of changing your lifestyle to match your focus.

Getting ready to get ready isn’t that all much of a business plan.  A good one, at least.  Changing your priorities to match where you think you might get lucky is just a death-spiral of nonsensical thinking.  Your priority isn’t really a priority if it doesn’t drive you change your behavior.  It’s just a wish.  A hope.

The point of setting good priorities is to build momentum. To inspire those around you.  Don’t confuse ambition or checklists with putting in place achievable goals.  If your life isn’t different after you set your priority then you know that something is broken.   You need to set better priorities.

Here’s the secret: “Do what matters.”

That’s the key to doing something amazing.  (By the way, it’s also not all that easy to do.)

Only you really know what “matters”.  There are plenty of people who will tell you what you should be doing.  They will use their own life experience to project milestones and plans and expectations on you.

When you stray off into a direction they are uncomfortable with they’ll huff and puff at you.  They’ll tell you that you need to “get your priorities straight.”

And maybe that’s true.  But you should take some time to think a little differently about you do next.

Are you making excuses?  Are you thinking too small?  Are you missing real opportunities because you are overly focused on what matters to you

It’s your life.  Do what you want.

But don’t cripple your ability to be amazing by buying into nonsense that sounds good.

About the author

Dan Waldschmidt

Dan Waldschmidt doesn’t just talk about leveling up. He’s obsessed with it. He's set records as an ultra-runner and been the personal strategist for the leading business leaders of our time. He wrote a book, called EDGY Conversations that accidentally became a worldwide bestseller and continues to share his insights from the stage as a keynote speaker and on the blogs and podcasts you will find here. Most days, you'll find Dan heads-down, working on breakthrough strategies for his clients at EDGY Inc, a highly-focused, invite-only, business strategy execution company based out of Silicon Valley.