I’m finally writing again! I was surprised to see my last post was back in June last year, and after two weeks off from work, I feel like I’ve got the headspace to write again. Prioritisation has been heavy on my mind over the last ~3-4 months as the scope of my role has changed, so this feels like a decent topic to get stuck into.
The most common bit of advice and feedback I’ve had through my leadership career is ‘you need to set clear priorities’. We all know that having clear priorities is important, but it’s easier said than done. As I’ve grown into more senior roles and taken on more responsibility, setting and sticking to my priorities has become even more important, but I’ve also learnt from the lessons (and pain) of not doing this well.
Setting clear priorities is important for me to do a good job, important for me to handle pressure well, but also incredibly important to avoid taking too much on and burning out.
Over the last few months, the scope of my role has increased a lot, and as such, I’ve had to make some tough priority calls and change the way I’m operating to allow me to lead effectively. Crucially, I’ve had to be very clear on what I won’t be doing.
Here’s what my org looks like at the moment so you get an idea about why this has been so important - I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t operate as a manager for three teams, a manager of managers, and set direction for my org without effectively prioritising:
Clearly, one of my top priorities needs to be to hire some managers in to some of those teams. I need to get the right team in place to free me up to operate at my best, so hiring is my top priority (nudge nudge - check out monzo.com/careers 😉).
Part of the motivation behind me writing this post is to have something to hold myself accountable to. I’m not saying I’m great at all of these things, but they’re helping me get focused and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully they might help you too 🚇
I’ve written previously about how I manage my time - rule number one is to stick to my process for this. I know this way of working works for me and I’ve had success with it in the past - so stick to it!
This has been very useful for me as they’ve been able to nudge me in the right direction where I’ve needed it. It’s also been good as they’ve been able to give me cover for some of the things I’ve had to drop or put on hold for a while. It’s been great for me to do this as I’ve had to be clear on what my priorities are ahead of our 1:1s — acting as a good forcing function for getting laser focused. Would definitely recommend you do this with your manager! 💯
I aim to be explicit with my teams about what my top priorities are at least monthly. That way they know where my time is being spent, and what I won’t be able to support on. They also know when and how to ask for my support - I’ve tried to set up some clear triggers for where I should be pulled in to decisions or challenges, and how I expect information to be pushed to me (for example, incidents my teams are handling, however minor - I don’t need all of the detail nor do I need to be across everything, but I do appreciate a quick briefing on anything interesting going on).
At the start of this year I created an internally-public Slack channel where every week (ish…) I share a digest of what I’ve been doing, where I’ve spent my energy, and some of the key lessons I’ve learnt. Anyone can drop in there to see what I’ve been upto. As I read back each week, it’s interesting to see if I’ve been focusing on the right things, and as the feedback loops are quite short, it’s given me the opportunity to course correct quickly.
I’m still learning about this. I like being helpful, and I don’t like saying no to things — but to ensure I’m doing a good job and looking after myself, I’ve had to get used to it. There’s probably a whole other post I can write about how I’ve tried to say no to things and ended up doing them anyway - but the rule is to say no where I can (or say no to something else in my top priorities so I can say yes).
Where I can’t say no, my general rule is to either a) do it (and reprioritise and communicate those changes as a result), or b) delegate. In the last few months I’ve realised more than ever how powerful (and empowering) delegating can be, and it’s helped me create new opportunities for engineers and managers in my team that I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise. I set clear outcomes to be delivered whenever I delegate, and then pop that onto my ‘Delegated - check in’ section in my priorities doc. I’ve enjoyed practicing this more recently.
My rules generally serve me well, but there are plenty of problems that I bump in to:
I constantly feel guilty about all the things I’m not doing. At the moment whilst I’m managing lots of people, I generally have weekly 1:1s with my managers and tech leads, then fortnightly 1:1s with my engineers. I squeeze my skip-level 1:1s in when I can. By not being able to spend more time with everyone in my org, I feel guilty - what if I’ve missed something? What if someone needs me but is holding back because of how ‘busy’ I am? What if I’ve missed a problem in one of the squads that I could help resolve before it turns into something more serious?
I don’t quite know yet how to properly manage this - other than telling myself it’s ok. Advice appreciated here if you’re reading this and have conquered your guilt!
I don’t like saying no. Sometimes I feel like I’ve missed opportunities because I’ve had to prioritise something else - for example, I said no to a good speaking opportunity recently because there’s just no space in my schedule (or my brain) for me to have taken it and done it justice. I know that’s the right thing to do, but it’s still a challenge…
I’ve fell into bad habits at times that have meant that I’ve worked evenings + long days just to keep on top of everything (performance review periods are classic for this). In the short-term, it’s great as I feel like I’m getting through my to-do list, but in the medium-long term, I’m left exhausted. Crucially I’ve allowed myself to miss out on things like helping get my children to bed, or turning down going out for a beer with friends, because I’m using that time to churn through my to-do list. My holiday recently was much needed, and part of that was because I was working long days in the run up. I’m not expected to work these hours by my employer btw - it was a symptom of me not sticking well enough to my priorities, and saying ‘yes’ to too many things.
I perform at my best if I’m working sensible hours, and I’ve been able to get to the gym and grab a coffee before I start work - and the more I let that slip, the less effective I am day-to-day. The challenge here is how I stick to the things I know I need to do that help me be at my best. I can do better!
I think I’ve came to the conclusion that prioritising well is always going to be a battle. I’ll lose sometimes and make the wrong calls, but as long as I’m sticking to a process that I know works, and I’m building in the time I need personally to be at my best, then I can hit a good rhythm. Staying true to my current priorities means that I’ll have more time in the future - I’ve just got to execute against them.
Give me a shout if you’d like to talk about any of this or anything resonates with you - I’m on a constant journey of learning 👨🏫