Back when I sat in a cubicle in an office building, I had a boss who passed by me on their way to and from every meeting and coffee break. When they did, it was not unusual for them to stop and say something along the lines of, “Add this to the list” or “Take a look into this.” Or my personal favorite, “When you have time, can you do this?”
Every time they did this, I would stop what I was doing and start to reprioritize my tasks, only to realize that I had more questions than answers. At that point, they were long gone and off to their next meeting, while I was left trying to decipher how this new thing fit into my already packed do-list of urgent and important tasks.
I’d love to say this experience is completely unique to me, but there are many articles published and ongoing Reddit forums that indicate otherwise. The fact is that many employees struggle with reprioritization.
Why Do Employees Struggle to Reprioritize Tasks and Should Their Managers Help?
Depending on the leader or organization, there may be an unspoken assumption that employees should be able to handle the reprioritization of tasks all on their own; that they should not require the help or support of their manager to do so.
However, the reality is that employees do not have the same perspective as their managers. So, when they have to reprioritize one task over another of seemingly equal importance or urgency, they will rely on the information given to them and the scope of their perspective to make a decision. Their manager, however, may see things very differently.
Moreover, when employees are delegated work or responsibilities, especially from those in management, they inevitably feel some level of pressure to say yes and to impress the leader who is asking something of them.
These two things can make it especially difficult for employees to successfully reprioritize tasks on their own and in turn, cause their focus, productivity, attitude, and performance to falter. In order to ensure that does not happen, managers should be willing and ready to help employees reprioritize tasks when the time comes.
3 Tips for Helping Employees Reprioritize Tasks
1. Make Your Willingness to Help Known
First and foremost, start by setting or reiterating your open-door policy, specifically in regards to reprioritizing an out-of-control to-do list. Make it abundantly clear that you would rather take 10-minutes out of your day to talk it out than have them unnecessarily struggle for far longer or burn out trying to “do it all.” While this will help dispel the notion or unspoken assumption that your employees have to go at it alone, remember that it may take time for employees to take you up the offer. So, in the meantime, keep an eye on their workload and if you have an inkling that they are struggling, preemptively offer your help.
2. Use One-on-One Meetings to Your Advantage
One of the best things the boss I mentioned earlier did when I told them I was struggling to reprioritize the tasks and responsibilities given to me was they changed their approach to delegation. They made an effort not to delegate in passing in between meetings and instead waited until our weekly one-on-one meeting (when possible). This approach allowed them to go into detail about the assignment, listen to my concerns, answer my questions, and work with me then and there to reprioritize my to-do list.
3. Advocate for Your Team
Repriorization is often difficult for employees because they believe they cannot say no to a task or assignment, which is sometimes legitimately the case when it comes from upper management or a customer. While you as a manager might have the influence and authority that allows you to do so where they cannot. So, if you’re helping them reprioritize their tasks and together come to realize one task must be put on the back burner, tell your employee that you will take care of explaining it to the person in question. Not only are upper management or customers more likely to accept the decision this way, but you’ll also have a very grateful and relieved employee who can get back to the work at hand that only they can do.
It’s natural for employees to need help with the reprioritization of their tasks and responsibilities, given their often limited perspective and access to information. Fortunately, as a leader, doing so not only ensures that the tasks completed align with the overall goals of the team or organization it also helps you build trust with your employees that you have their back. It’s a win-win!