Deprioritization is the real key to productivity

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You cannot have more than a top priority. You just can’t.

Deciding to prioritize one thing means, by definition, deciding not to prioritize something else. It’s also obvious that it’s easy to ignore it – that’s why it’s important to be intentional about it. The alternative is to try to do everything, which defeats the purpose of setting priorities.

You can’t devote forty hours to five different projects next week – at least, not without some sort of Hermione Granger-type time travel. We all know this, in the abstract, but don’t keep it in mind when planning. It’s easy to make every project the top priority, but that actually means we don’t have any priorities.

I’ve been exhausted enough – and confused enough by the plots of time travel – to know what it leads to: doing nothing. That’s why it’s a good idea to be explicit about projects that aren’t a priority, not just those that are.

A weekly list of deprioritized projects

We have given a lot of thought to the priorities at Zapier this year. Everyone here writes up a weekly Friday update, which until recently was more or less a weekly list of completed tasks.

However, this approach lacked focus, so we changed things: Now everyone is describing what their top priority was last week and what will be their priority in the week to come. This exercise forces us to think about the most important project and commit to moving forward.

But, like I said, there is a flip side to deciding on a priority, and that is deciding what is not a priority. Michael Shen, director of advertising and paid media at Zapier, has decided to make this explicit every week. In a recent update on Friday, he wrote:

We have result logs, change logs, and search logs: we don’t really have deprioritized logs; not-get-to-it-logs; something-came-up-logs. To combat this, I’m taking the time in each Friday update for the foreseeable future to talk about some things that I haven’t been able to come up with.

And that’s what he did, using his weekly update to catalog not only the things he prioritized, but also the things he didn’t intentionally prioritize.

“De-prioritization is normal, but we’re not doing a great job at Zapier yet,” Michael told me, adding that making the change gave him both clarity and balance. “Since this change, my work-life balance has been so good that I feel pretty guilty.”

He shouldn’t feel bad – he set a priority and stuck to it. For Steph Donily, responsible for content and communication at Zapier, publicly admitting deprioritizing projects is in part to set a good example in terms of work-life balance.

“It’s uncomfortable to admit that I can’t do it all on my own,” Steph said. “But I have to lower the priority of projects because I want to make it clear that my team can do the same.”

It’s important to note that deprioritizing something doesn’t mean not doing it – it means not doing it. now. Both Steph and Michael are explicit about this in their updates, stating that these are projects they will eventually get to. They just weren’t the most important thing to invest time in at the moment.

Decide how you will invest and not invest your time

You only have a limited number of hours per week, so be sure to use them for the things that matter most right now. Pick a priority each week and stick to it.

You may be able to complete five projects next week. This doesn’t mean that all five projects are your top priority. Prioritization is figuring out what things you’re going to invest your time in, in the short term. De-prioritization is figuring out what things you need to procrastinate.

Giving priority to one project means deprioritizing something else. It’s just like that. You can ignore this reality or you can be intentional to deal with it.

This article by Justin Pot originally appeared on the Zapier Blog and is republished here with permission. You can read the original article here.

Published March 26, 2021 – 09:46 UTC


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