14 Ways You Prioritize Poorly as a Leader (and Why It Matters)

Prioritization is important for anyone in any job, but it is even more critical as a leader.

As an individual, how you prioritize determines the results you get. It can also affect your team and those depending on you.

As a leader, the impact is even greater. How you prioritize impacts the effectiveness of your whole team. It could even determine if your organization moves forward or falls behind.

It could equal the success or failure of your company.

How you prioritize matters.

Unfortunately, there are multiple mistakes you may be making, and you may not even realize it. In this post, we’ll explore those mistakes so you can work to fix them.

You don’t prioritize at all

Sometimes leaders don’t prioritize at all. They just do whatever they feel like in the moment or what’s directly in front of them.

This can happen for numerous reasons. For some, it may be laziness or arrogance. They just think they know (or don’t want to make the effort to plan).

Others get trapped in being busy and just choosing tasks to survive.

Some just don’t know how or don’t know that it’s important to do so.

Whatever the reason, when you don’t prioritize at all, you end up doing a lot of work that, truly, isn’t important.

You don’t take time to step back, look at the big picture, reflect, and plan

Tied with the last reason, sometimes leaders don’t take the time to look at the big picture and plan for what’s important. This can happen because of busyness or even because they don’t know how.

It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day business of work and the urgent and all that is happening. You are so busy and active, you don’t take the time to step back to make sure the direction you are going is the right direction.

Especially as a leader, it’s important that you take time to step back and look at the big picture. Look at your goals and directions that you are pursuing.

Make sure that what you are doing is taking you (and is the best way to get) to where you want to go.

You also want to plan based off the big picture. When you see what’s important, plan your time to work what’s important. Make sure you know what’s most important and have it written down.

That way when the crazy or urgent or spontaneous comes, you can compare it to the big picture and what’s truly important so that you will know if the urgent that is coming at you is worth pursuing right then or not.

Planning also helps you stay focused and be more productive. When you plan the day before, for example, you can come into work and start working.

When you don’t plan ahead, it can be easy to focus on easy or other tasks instead of the important. It can also be harder to see the big picture and to see what’s most important in the spur of the moment.

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You prioritize too much at once

Another mistake you could be making is that you prioritize too much. You try to do too much.

So much seems important, or you have a hard time deciding what is important, so you decide everything is important.

The problem is that when you label everything as important, then nothing is important.

One of these will likely happen: You will either do everything just a little bit, and nothing will be done well, or you will neglect some for others. Both of those can cause frustration and stress.

It can also create frustration for your employees because when everything is important, they don’t know what’s most important for them to focus and work on.

You get overwhelmed so you freeze or do what’s easy

Tied with the last one, when everything is important, it’s easy for you and your team to get overwhelmed. You can get stuck in analysis paralysis trying to decide what to do that you don’t get much of anything done.

It can even lead to you doing none of them. You may get so overwhelmed trying to decide that you just jump onto something that is easy instead of what is important.

You focus on urgent, what’s easy, or what’s in front of you

This one, too, is tied to a few previous ones.

This can be because you don’t know how to prioritize and plan, you don’t take the time to do it, or just because it’s easier.

The urgent can be easy to jump on because, it’s, well, urgent. It seems important because of its urgency, so we do it because we think it’s important. But it may not be.

You may just do what’s easy, because it’s easy. You want to avoid or push back the “harder” stuff.

You might just do what’s in front of you (which is often the urgent, but not always). It’s easier, and it seems more important just because it’s what’s visible, so you do it.

You focus on what you like or that makes you feel good

You may like doing certain kinds of tasks, so you focus on doing those instead of the stuff you might not like as much but may be more important.

Many leaders get trapped in doing what’s comfortable instead of what’s needed and necessary.

At the same time, some people get a dopamine fix every time they cross something offer their list, so they focus on getting stuff crossed out versus taking the time to accomplish what’s important.

You focus on the short term

It’s also easy to get trapped in short-term focus. You may seem to be getting results when focusing on the short term. It looks good. It feels good.

But if you don’t take time to look at the big picture, the short-term gains may not be helping you move forward, or could, long-term, even be hurting you.

Short-term gains can be good, but they need to be aligned with long-term goals and gains as well.

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You focus resources, people, and attention on problems instead of opportunities

In any business, there are going to be problems. It’s just a fact.

And, you likely want to fix the problems you have. The problem is when you become too fixated on the problems.

You put your best people and money and resources on fixing problems so much that you neglect other important areas, such as opportunities.

Sometimes you can put all your resources on problems, and the areas doing well or potential opportunities just get the leftovers.

The problem is, as Peter Drucker said, when you focus on problems, all you do is mitigate disaster. You maintain status quo.

The only way to grow and move forward is by focusing on opportunities, not problems.

You focus resources and attention on failing products instead of products or areas doing well or new products/projects

When a product that has been doing well isn’t, it’s easy to want to spend the resources to try to make it productive again. If a sales region is failing, it’s easy to want to put the best salesperson on it to try to bring it back up.

That’s the wrong mentality, though. You shouldn’t (in general) put your focus on failing products or areas that aren’t doing well.

You should put them on areas that are thriving (or potential new products, etc.).

Instead of putting your best people on a failing product, you want them to maximize what’s working or have them developing or working on new opportunities and products.

Instead of putting your best people on failing sales regions, for example, you want to put your best people in the best areas so they can maximize it.

It’s not that you neglect those areas that aren’t doing well (though some, depending what it is, should just be cut), but, in general, you maximize your best areas first.

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You chase every shiny object (you change priorities too fast)

Some leaders get caught chasing shiny objects.

They are pursuing one area, something shiny, new, or exciting pops along in a different direction, so they jump to that. Then something else pops up in a different direction, so they jump to that.

When this happens, generally, not much gets done or completed. You end up with a lot of half-done, partially-completed projects and tasks.

It’s also frustrating toward employees because of how your priorities are changing so fast. They start working on one project, and then suddenly another project is important, then suddenly another one.

You underestimate time and effort

Tasks often take more time and money than we realize. Part of it is a learning process in knowing realistic expectations for projects and tasks.

However, if you are constantly underestimating time and effort, you are hurting yourself. It can lead to burnout and missed deadlines.

It can also be incredibly frustrating for your employees when they feel they have unrealistic expectations thrown at them constantly.

You never say no

When you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to another.

If you are constantly saying “yes” to things that aren’t important to you and your team, then you are saying “no” to what is important. You are then prioritizing the unimportant over the important.

Make sure you are careful about what you say “yes” to.

You neglect self care

As a leader, as a human, it’s important to take care of yourself. Too many leaders focus on getting stuff “done” and neglect to take care of themselves.

It’s important that you take time for yourself to relax, to exercise, to eat well, and to spend time with your family.

If you don’t, then the stress and unhealthy lifestyle will make you less productive. It also can lead to burnout and other health issues.

If you want to be your best self at work and to get the most done, make taking care of yourself a priority.

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You focus on your interests versus the company’s or team’s interest

There are really only two motives you can have for leading – a selfish and a service one.

Many leaders have a selfish mentality: it’s about them, their career, the perks, the rewards, and what they can get out of it.

One of the many problems with that is, when you are focused on yourself, the mission and team is neglected and not given the effort and focus it should. It hurts influence and productivity.

If you prioritize yourself over the mission (not talking about self-care here), then you are being selfish and not only hurting your ability to lead, but you are hurting the results the organization will get long-term.

So what should you do instead?

We just covered 14 different ways that you may be prioritizing ineffectively. To know what we should do, let’s look at the inverse:

Take time to focus on the big picture, the long-term, and plan off that.

Prioritize off the big picture. Not everything can be important. Choose what is.

When you plan, know what’s important for each day. When the urgent comes, compare it to what’s important to see if the urgent is truly important.

Learn to say no to what isn’t important so you can say yes to what is.

Avoid the shiny objects. Know what is important, and make it happen. Don’t jump around and switch unless there is a solid reason to do so.

Make sure you have a service mentality, about serving the mission and team, not about serving yourself.

Take care of yourself and your health.

Focus your resources and best people on opportunities, not problems.

Products come and go – don’t waste money and time trying to prop up a dying product. Focus on moving forward, not trying to hold on to what worked “once”.

How you prioritize as a leader is important, so make sure you are prioritizing well.

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