Duties versus priorities.
I had an all-day 2014 planning meeting today and it was great to get some time out of the office to chart out the year with a team of people I truly enjoy.
As we talked through the variety of responsibilities on our plates and attempted to sort them out, I realized that it is easy to get confused between duties and priorities.
"Duties" are all the things we need to complete as part of our jobs. This includes huge projects that could last a year or more and small managerial tasks like expense reports and time-tracking. Most of us are responsible for a variety of duties.
"Priorities" are different. Priorities help us rank the importance of our duties. Priorities help answer the question: When two duties need to happen at the same time, which one gets done and which one doesn't?
Our list of priorities doesn't absolve us from completing our duties -- we still have to get them all done. All of our duties are necessary for one reason or another. Instead, the priorities list helps us determine which duties we complete first, and in the case of inevitable workload conflicts, helps us decide what gets done and what gets postponed.
I have observed that priorities tend to change and evolve as situations and conditions change, whereas duties tend to be fixed over a longer-term. Similarly, we tend to get recognized for successfully completing priorities and get less credit for completing our duties. Very few organizational leaders got to positions of influence simply because they submitted their reports on time!