Prioritizing your work

August 27, 2010

When you’re working in a busy technical writing or technical editing environment one thing that will come up is how to set priorities when you have many demands on your available time.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll have someone who is your ‘point person’ for dealing with conflicting demands on your time. Often, that’s your direct report or line manager.

In my current contract, I deal with documents as they come in from the authors, taking into account the authors’ written deadlines. Usually that works fine and there’s no conflict. However, on the odd occasion I’ll get several documents in a short space of time, all of which are due in a similar time frame. If I know that I can’t do them all within the time allocated, I’ll contact my ‘point person’ and she will set my priorities. Because this client has some regulatory demands they have to meet, any document needed for regulatory compliance takes priority over almost everything else — her role is to make sure these demands are met. After she’s set my priorities, she lets the authors know where their document fits in the queue. If an author believes their document takes precedence, they have to discuss it with her — not me. So far, this has worked well. I know what I have to do and the order I have to do it; the authors are aware of where their documents fit; and my ‘point person’ is aware of the various demands on my time from other parts of the business. And I’m not continually interrupted with having to deal with conflicting demands on my time.

But what if you don’t have someone who can set your priorities, and you have to do it yourself?

One method I came across some years ago was documented by Seth B — it might be worth trying if you have trouble managing conflicting priorities; it also puts the onus for the decision back on the managers who handed out the work in the first place and forces them to sort it out:

In a former life I had to juggle multiple projects from multiple people, and indeed, some people who had a lower priority were the loudest.

I finally made a large sign that was titled “The priority order is . . .” and wrote the name of each project on cards that were arranged in priority order (determined by others). That way everyone could see (i) how many projects were in the queue, and (ii) the priority order that had been determined by the higher-ups.

The bottom of the sign said “If you want me to change this order, speak to…”.

When someone asked me to change the order, I would pull out a card with the relevant boss name and tack it at the end of “speak to…”.

Never argued, just told them that the change order had to come from the boss.

After a while they got the idea.


One comment

  1. My supervisor sets my priorities. That’s what he’s there for. If an urgent task appears, I let him know, and we ask the higher powers if needed. Everything gets done. Only the order is changed.

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