What if Everything’s a Priority?

'The Prioritisation Pack'

27 March 2023
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
Short stories with key learning points for personal development and professional development. Often to make you smile, and always to make you think.
The prioritisation jar is a brilliant metaphor for showing why and how ordering or scheduling priorities can make a huge impact on your personal effectiveness

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Take a Tupperware container. Put (say) 6 table tennis balls into it. Then tip in some marbles. Finally, pour in some rice grains until the container is full.

Now, in an identical container, pour in the same amount of rice, first. Then pour in the same amount of marbles. Then, finally, pour in the table tennis balls.

The chances are the identical contents which fit into the first Tupperware container, will not fit into the second one.

The above is a metaphor for prioritising – at work and in life.

Firstly, identify the big items – the really important ones. Make sure they are taken care of first. Then fit in, around them, the less important items. Though less important, they still need to be worked in around the bigger items. Then finally, fit in the spaces all the small stuff that is part of everyday life.

If you try to do it the other way, and concentrate firstly on the small stuff, there may be no space left for the really big stuff….


Firstly, identify the big items – the really important ones. Make sure they are taken care of first. Then fit in, around them, the less important items.

There are several take-aways from this story:

  • Scheduling
  • Important and urgent
  • Build a bigger jar…?
  • Creativity

Scheduling

As the metaphor demonstrates, the order in which you do things makes a difference. So the prioritisation pack might provide one answer to the question “what if everything is a priority?”. This is because it creates the idea that whilst everything might be a priority, they are not all equal in scale, size, or importance. The rice grain might be as important as one of the table tennis balls, but can be more easily fit in around the larger, more time consuming tasks. So anyone’s personal effectiveness in managing a range of equally important priorities might be in how they actually use time, in terms of it’s allocation and scheduling: what happens and when may not best be served by doing the most important or urgent task first…For example, suppose a priority task means visiting a client away from your office. You could do that first thing: it’s 9.00, and the traffic to and from the client might be busy, causing delay; going during the day means travelling there and back – also time expensive. But going there on the way home would be a one-way journey…So whilst it is a high priority, it may not be necessary to do it first. Scheduling can make a real difference.

Important and urgent

For many, ‘urgent’ dominates the daily to do list. Tasks are prioritised in order of urgency. So time is allocated according to urgency – not importance (assuming we accept that the terms ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ are different). The prioritisation pack makes it clear that some smaller, less time consuming urgent tasks (marbles and grain) could be fitted in around the bigger, more important tasks (table tennis balls), and that starting with a load of small, urgent tasks might mean there is less room, if any, for the larger, more important ones.

Build a bigger pack…?

As Chief Brody famously said in the movie ‘Jaws’, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” – because the boat they were on well…just wasn’t big enough. And the same could be said for the prioritisation pack: maybe one solution to prioritising overload is to use a bigger container. What this means in reality is creating the extra space to allow for all priorities to be met – no matter how many balls, marbles and rice grains you have. And in some – perhaps exceptional – circumstances, this would be acceptable. But in reality, typically expanding to a bigger container would simply mean that – yes, you could get more done, but also you might over time realise that your work has expanded to fill whatever size container you’ve made available. At work, your initial, contracted daily 6-hour container has expanded to an 8, 10 or even 12-hour one…and the significant problem with that is - it is difficult then to return to a smaller container….

Creativity

The ‘prioritisation pack’ is a brilliant example of a metaphor. Metaphors help explain ideas and relationships which are often complex and difficult to understand or convey in a way that makes them more accessible and easier to understand.

If you try to do it the other way, and concentrate firstly on the small stuff, there may be no space left for the really big stuff….
Effective Storytelling - Podcast
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