Let’s start by making one point clear: If everything seems like a priority, there are no priorities.
Priorities require focus and being able to make judgment calls. If you’re finding yourself drawn and quartered between projects and managers, it’s for one of two reasons: You’re not 100% sure of what your responsibilities are, or your company doesn’t know where it’s going. (If you find that it’s both of these, start looking for a new job ASAP.)
Otherwise, there are three questions you can ask to start getting clarity while also showing your potential as a leader.
1. What Are the Company’s Goals?
Every company should know what problem it is looking to solve, its reason for being. It doesn’t need to be anything lofty like eradicating world hunger, but it should be specific and known to everyone who works there. Your team’s leadership should have a plan for how to fulfill this mission over time (perhaps by quarter or by year), and that should be the context for the work you do.
If you don’t know your company’s mission or goals, doing research should be your first step. Start with reviewing any founding documents, annual reports, recent presentations, or press featuring your company’s leadership. Look for statements of big ideas, themes, and performance metrics.
If your research is inconclusive, this is the time to start asking questions. Start with your manager, and be sure to share the research you’ve done. Your manager should appreciate that you are showing initiative and that you’ve already done your homework. Ask about the company’s short- and long-term goals and how your department and, specifically, your role fits into them (more on that below).
2. How Do My Responsibilities Fulfill Those Goals?
So, you’ve confirmed that your company does indeed have a future. How are you helping it get there?
Each bullet in your job description should align with moving one or more of those goals forward. You might be thinking that your sales team is the most obvious contributor, but it takes more than increased revenue to make a company run. How does your work help improve the product or service? How do you keep your customers happy or your team members engaged?
Use your description to make a personal development plan. Align your personal goals with corporate goals so that as the company performs better, you do, too. The work that lands on your desk should clearly connect to your responsibilities and your department or company goals. If it doesn’t, speak up. Ask your manager what that task is meant to accomplish and whether it takes priority over how you’ve understood the company’s plans.
3. How Can I Partner Better With My Team?
Consider this a more proactive and collaborative way of thinking “I need help.” Yes, you do need help. But if you’re struggling to prioritize, you might not be alone. You and your team can be allies for alleviating each other’s workloads and getting more done, which benefits everyone in the process.
Ask your co-workers what they’re working on (if you don’t already know from a daily standup meeting). Listen for where they may be struggling, and share your own challenges, too. Offer 30 minutes for a brainstorm to identify solutions that might work for what you’re both facing (take 15-minute turns each).
When you feel stuck at work, you’re probably also feeling that you should have all the answers and you don’t. Well, you’re on a team for a reason––use it to your advantage! Leverage each other’s strengths to make the collective load lighter and hopefully bring new clarity to what truly deserves priority.
Remember that the best steps for any problem are to gather information and create options for solutions. With these questions, you’ll get the clarity you need to know what matters most for you, your team, and your company as a whole.