Mel Savage Executive Coaching

How Leaders Prioritize Their Work

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If you have more work on your plate than you can do (or want to do), then here are the first three strategies I offer leaders to prioritize their work and take back control of their time.

When a work colleague asks you “how’s it going?”, how do you normally respond?

When I was at McDonald’s, the standard answer was often “I’m so busy”.

I said that all the time.

Sometimes all I could muster was a good ol’ eye-roll.

In some ways, how busy I was somehow equated to my importance (in my own mind). It was a sign of status, or something.

I mean, I don’t think that’s logically true. It was just a thought I used to think. And I don’t think I was the only one.

But that “I’m so busy” response actually does a lot more damage than you think.

Firstly, it keeps you operating in this hustley, hamster-wheel energy that’s go-go-go.

That alone is physically exhausting and makes it harder to do your best work.

Second, it feels a bit out of control… like all this work is happening to you, or something.

It makes it sound like you don’t have control over your workload.

But you do.

Look at your week.

If you have 25 meetings, 2 presentations to write, and 100 daily emails in your inbox, etc, etc, that’s because you agreed to do that work.

You know what? You don’t have to go to all those meetings.

And you could get help with those presentations.

And you could set boundaries around your inbox.

I’ve got news for you.

There’s always going to be too much to do.

People are always going to be offering you more work than can be done.

It’s your job to prioritize.

If you have more work on your plate than you can do (or want to do), then here are the first three strategies I offer my clients to prioritize their work and take back control of their time.

1: Use The 4-D’s Strategy

It’s not that all the work on your plate isn’t important. It’s just too much stuff. Working at this level is eventually going to burn you out. And you won’t be good to anyone.

So you must be more rigorous with what you agree to doing. That’s where the 4 D’s come in;

DEFER: Negotiate the timeline. Does it really need to be done this week, or is that just going to make someone feel better?

DELEGATE: Use it as a growth opportunity for someone on your team.

DECLINE: You can just say no. I always say “A good strategy is about what good ideas you say no to”. Stay focused.

DO: Take it on. But make it a zero-sum game. So if you take something on, something else always has to give.

You can use this as a filter for your current workload and anything new that comes across your plate.

2: Use a Top-Down Approach to Work Hours

Most people use a bottom-up approach. They look at everything they need to do, add up the hours, and that’s how much they work.

Instead, I recommend a top-down approach. Set a cap on the number of hours you’ll work in a week. When you have a cap, you’re constantly re-prioritizing what fits into those hours.

It forces you to make hard choices. This will be uncomfortable at first.

But the benefits are you waste less time. You don’t burn out. And you create a workflow that’s sustainable long term.

3: Watch Your Mouth

Stop saying things like “I’m so busy” or “things are crazy right now” or “I have too much to do”. These are statements that frustrate, panic, and create anxiety.

In fact, I would recommend rethinking any narrative that sounds like you have “too much to do”. It’s just going to cause you suffering.

If you worked 60 hours this week, it’s because you chose it. That may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s also an empowering place to live. Because if you have the power to choose 60 hours this week, you have the power to chose 50 hours next week.

Bottomline: Leaders Prioritize Their Time

Leaders lead. And that includes your time. Prioritizing your work is sometimes hard, but that’s why you’re a leader. If it was easy – anyone could do it. 


I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.

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