Prioritizing Your Work-Lessons from the Navy Seals

Typically when our workload increases or timelines shorten, we can easily become overwhelmed and stressed.  The ability to prioritize becomes clouded and we run in circles, performing a little bit on each, but never get any single priority complete.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent many weeks with former Navy Seals.    Regardless of the situation, or location, when they go in to survival mode it’s simple:  1) Air, you can only live 3 minutes without it   2) Shelter, you can die of hyperthermia within hours  3) Water, need it within 3 days   4) Food,  typically 10 – 15 days.

Think of how a simple set of rules could be applied to our workload.   Here are some thoughts I’ve effectively used in the past with the foundation that safety is a precondition for everything.   1) Legally required/ethical – Do the stuff that keep us legal   2) Produce the product, ship it, and collect the money,   3) Re-prioritize the rest based on  the value it creates for the customer, company and shareowner.  If it doesn’t pass this step then it shouldn’t be done.

What are your three questions for productivity?

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About the author


Jay Townsend is Executive Officer and Sr. VP of Celanese Corp, and has been with Hoechst & Celanese for over 26 years. In his free time, he enjoys big game hunting, fishing and spending time with his family at their Delaware beach home.

There are 2 comments. Add yours.

  1. Michael says:

    Hi Jay, I would like to add a framework that I have found to be useful over the years. It is referred to as the “Eisenhower” scheme. Former U.S. President Eisenhower simply differentiated between important and urgent and came up with a 4×4:
    important and urgent = do it right away;
    important, not urgent = put it on your schedule;
    urgent, not important = find someone competent to delegate to;
    not urgent, not important = trash bin.

    • Admin says:

      Michael, certainly another very good, pragmatic approach to prioritization. What’s interesting, we use a similar 4×4 in defining markets to pursue with many of our businesses. For example, new products in new markets, existing products in new markets etc. It helps assess “difficulty”, probability and timing, all of which lead help in prioritization. Jay

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