Welcome to the CSAE Blog

Click here to return to the CSAE Blog main feed.

How to Prioritize What's Most Important (When It Seems Like Everything Is)

How to Prioritize What's Most Important (When It Seems Like Everything Is)

Do you get done what you need to in the day?

How do you meet higher and higher expectations with limited human, financial, and time resources?

How can you stop worrying, "Did I get it all done?"

You may be thinking: I've read all the books, attended the seminars and tried systems out there about time management and efficiency and they're more hype than results. Why are we still talking about this?

Well, true, and, no doubt your list keeps getting bigger rather than smaller, right? So, what else is possible?

From having worked with hundreds of coaching clients and leaders of organizations, I can tell you our own high expectations is one of the biggest obstacles to gaining perspective on this issue. And I get it. You want to add great value, you don't want to forget anything, you need to add value to your members, and you have a lot of important people depending on you. You are passionate, you are dedicated, and you are known for being able to deliver at the eleventh hour. So, there's nothing wrong with having high expectations, given your good intentions, as long as they don't roadblock your greatness.

So, let's break this down into a few really great tips that will help you sleep at night, knowing you've done the best job you possibly can. Notice I didn't say, "get it all done." What these tips are designed to help you do is get the most important things done.


1. Big Rocks First

What are your most important priorities for the association? These are, what Steven Covey would say, your "big rocks". When our workload is off-kilter, probably your big rocks are not your priority, but rather it's the pebbles (smaller less important priorities) or even sand (the small things in life -- ever waste an hour on Facebook?) taking up your time, energy and attention. Granted, you may have folks pulling you in many directions, but you always have your strategic and operational priorities to ground you.

Action: Post your big rocks front and centre. (And, by the way, you are a big rock!)


2. Schedule Time

Once you know your big rocks, schedule them in. First. Schedule both from a weekly time perspective (time to dedicate to strategic projects) and position operational priorities in Q1, 2, 3, and 4. You cannot do it all in Q1, nor do you want to be scrambling at end of year.

Action: Schedule in your big rocks (fit the rest around them.)


3. Accountability Partner

Having someone depend on you will make you more likely to follow through. Study groups got me through uni, my coaching partner made me a better coach faster, my bookkeeper calls me out on accounting mistakes (so not be audited by the CRA!) Do you have a fellow association executive, your own coach, or an internal colleague who you can give the task of holding you accountable to specific "big rocks"?

Action: Ask someone to hold you accountable to a big rock that's not current a priority but needs to be.


4. Say "Yes"

What have you always wanted to make things happen for the association? What brings you great joy and matches your strengths?

We often have lots of opportunities to do great things -- participate I our own development, read a great thought leadership book, take a walk midday to clear our head -- but say no or back out last minute. There's always something to do! But what if these things will make you happier, more efficient, andmore resourceful to the association and recharged?

Action: Say "yes" the next time an opportunity arises that's aligned to your big rocks!


5. Say "No"

If we're going to say "yes" to things, we need to be great at saying "no." There's only so much time in the day. Are you doing things you don't even recall saying yes to? Still doing things just because you've always done it? Do you pick up the slack for others? Rather than just drifting through your day, consider if you really need to say yes to a request, to stay late, to answer that phone call, to keep going to that committee.

Action: Say "no" to the next thing that's not a big rock.


6. Say "Maybe"

Buy yourself time to decide if you should say "yes" or "no" by giving a "maybe". Evaluate if a request is actually a big rock. "Sounds interesting -- let me get back to you." Buy yourself time and space to say "yes" to the right things.

Action: If it's not a big rock, try a diplomatic "maybe."


7. Love Up Your Timer

My biz mentor Kim Shepherd taught me to work flat out, uninterrupted and undistracted for 45 minutes of every hour then, when the timer goes off, take 15 minutes to play, respond to emails, or squeeze in "pebbles." This improves productivity and guarantees time every hour to spend on big rocks. This shift actually makes you more productive plus gives you guilt-free time to fit in other smaller things in life.

Action: Trial using this approach at least once within the next 24 hours.


8. Shut Out

Shut out distractions. Turn off your ringer or park your cell in another room, put a "please do not disturb" sign on your door, go to a quiet coffee shop, turn off your social media notifications, or get up early before others wake up. It takes up to eight minutes to get refocused post-distraction, so try to eliminate it.

Action: Try one distraction reduction technique at least once in the next 24 hours.


9. Tune In

When you are doing something important, such as a project with a deadline or even in leisure with your family, are you truly tuned in and present? The single best piece of advice someone gave me before my wedding (and there was LOTS of advice) was to be fully present every single second of this special day. Nineteen years later I can remember minute details, and yet I cannot recall what I did yesterday!

Action: Pick one big rock to truly tune in for.


10. Ask for Help

When you're stuck, frustrated, unsure, or have a great idea, ask for help. It gives others an important role to play in your life, and allows you to have a partner to ensure you're successful. It can also act as a built-in accountability partner. Few great things were ever achieved alone -- no great book ever published without an editor, no conference hosted without a team, no Olympic medal won without a coach. Who is helping you?

Action: Identify one big rock you need help with and ask for it right away.


When you recognize your own greatness and value the time you need to spend on the important things in your career, you will be that much more resourceful -- caring, productive, helpful, focused, grounded, etc. As we enter 2018, it is the perfect time to focus on how you need to show up as an association executive to best serve not only the membership, but yourself too. When you are performing optimally, the ripple effect will be felt coast-to-coast.



Sarah McVanel, MSc, PCC, CHRL, CSODP speaks for a wide range of associations and organizations nationally about how to leverage the exponential power of recognition to retain top talent and fuel healthy cultures. She is a Certified Senior Organizational Development Professional (CSODP), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL), and member of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS). She has a BA in Psychology, Masters in Family Relations and Diplomas in Human Resources and Healthcare Administration. She has over 17 years' experience including at a senior leadership level in healthcare and now owns a boutique consulting firm, "Greatness Magnified." She is an author of peer-reviewed journals, articles, two books, "Forever Recognize Others' Greatness: Solution Focused Strategies for Satisfied Staff, High Performing Teams and Healthy Bottom Lines" (2015) and "The FROG Effect: Tools and Strategies to Forever Recognize Others' Greatness" (2016) and the recognition membership portal "The FROG Portal". Visit her at www.greatnessmagnified.com and download free resources to recognize and retain your members today!



Once you've set your priorities and determined your own self-worth, the next step is helping others to realize your value. An important aspect of this process is prioritizing an "everyone wins" scenario. The Art of Negotiation event from CSAE Manitoba will help attendees realize their goals and get the most for themselves and the other party from negotiation practices.



Sarah McVanel, Leadership, Professional Development


Guest Contributor, Governance / Leadership, Communications



0 ( 0 reviews)

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Blog

Whitelist csae@csae.com to ensure subscription notices arrive in your inbox.

Spot a typo? Email steven@csae.com.

Want to Contribute?

CSAE is looking for people from the Association Community who want to share their passion, interest, and advice with their peers via CSAE content channels.

This is an opportunity to help others and increase exposure for yourself and your association.

  • Uncategorized
  • CSAE Speaks
  • Education
  • Events
  • Membership
  • Op-Ed
  • Marketing
  • Publications
  • Guest Contributor
  • Web / Technology