Famous author and business consultant Jim Collins says, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”  Three?  That’s it?  Yes, three.

If you struggle to properly prioritize projects and tasks, take heart – you’re not alone.  Many people find prioritization extremely difficult, as everything seems to be due yesterday and to have equal levels of importance.  Sometimes it feels like your only option is to respond to the latest email you’ve received or call back the last person who has made a request, because stopping to prioritize would simply be a waste of time – and time is the last thing you have!

When everything is a priority, nothing is.  Stephen Covey reminds us that the trick is not to prioritize your schedule, but instead to schedule your priorities.  Here are three ways to get this done:

Ask what must be done now

To do our best and most efficient work, we must systematically look through our to-do list and projects, then ruthlessly decide what must get done.  By ignoring the distractions and keeping focus on what must be completed, you’ll be much more effective and much more likely to complete the tasks you’ve chosen to prioritize. 

What if a new priority comes up that must be dealt with immediately?  No problem.  Before you take on the new priority, demote one of the others that you were working on, so you continue to only have three. 

Focus on quick wins

Is there something on your list that won’t take a long time, but will have a big impact when it is finished?  Great!  Prioritize that item.  If you’re the bottleneck on a project or approval process, prioritize the tasks required to get that process flowing again.  You’ll make your co-workers happy and you’ll be pleased with the feeling of accomplishment.  Accomplishment builds enthusiasm and your faith in yourself. 

Limit yourself to three key priorities

If you’ve looked at your to-do list and scheduled eight priorities, you’ll find that you still don’t know what to work on first.  Your energy will be scattered, and you won’t be able to finish the most important work.

Your ability to prioritize your work is a key requirement for being a wildly effective compliance officer.  By properly prioritizing and staying focused, you’ll be the most powerful professional you can be.