Priority – People or Tasks?

What’s more important in a busy business day? The tasks to be done or the people that are working with you?

Not always an easy decision.

How many times do you get to the office, feeling ready to tackle the tasks of the day, and one of your employees comes over with an HR issue? The air quickly whistles out of the balloon as all your best laid plans of getting a productive day under your belt are thrown out the window.

Or …

It could be that the e-mails in your inbox are coming in faster than you can even read them, never mind address them. And, they are keeping you away from engaging, motivating and delegating to your people who are waiting for your direction.

When we are faced with changes, transitions and even day to day challenges, we can find ourselves lost on where to focus first. We often will veer towards general tasks or people. But, in actually there isn’t an “or”. It is an “and”. People and tasks are interrelated.

Part of the challenge is that we, as people, tend to have different orientations on what to focus on first. According to part of the Myers-Briggs personality test, there is a component that evaluated an individual on a scale of Thinking (task) to Feeling (people). For more information, visit When reading through the lists, we can see that it is important to have both elements.

An additional way of looking at this is that different sides of the brain tend to be dominant in the different tasks. According to Iain McGilchrist, a leading expert in brain research, the left side of the brain has a narrow focused attention for the task at hand and the right side of the brain is more broadly vigilant and used for connections, often with other people. Again, both are needed for our success in the workplace. For more information on the updated research finding on the side of the brain, visit

Still the question remains – what to prioritize and focus on first? People and tasks.

While there isn’t a cookie-cutter answer, some guideline questions to ask are:

1. What are the demands of my workday and what makes realistic sense?
We often have rose coloured glasses on when going to work. If we tend to get into back to back meetings, we may want to come into work early or stay later to get the non-people activities done – or maybe have an hour or two of closed door policy.

2. When do I spend my time putting out fires and when do I do my proactive work?
If we only react to fires, we keep a frenetic busyness going and accomplish very little. It is important to bring meaning and purpose into our work and the work of our people. Taking time to strategically move the business forward motivates ourselves and others to get more done and have less challenges.

3. If I wasn’t here, who would be doing my duties and are they fully trained enough?
Ensuring we have a sustainable business is important and it is larger than any person. Spending time on training and developing others to keep the practices going is vital. Just like teaching a child to cook for the first time however, it will initially be messy as everyone learns the new skills. Patience is important and will be rewarded in the long run.

4. How balanced am I in getting both my tasks done as well as maintaining healthy relationships?
If we tend towards one area in general – people or tasks – we may be bringing this tendency to the workplace and causing an imbalance. The opportunity is to develop our abilities within ourselves and on the team to ensure that both tasks are done and healthy relationships maintained.

5. How do other people manage the same challenges?
We all have our natural tendencies, habits, and blind spots. Watching others can open our minds to new approaches we may want to try. Curiosity and trying new things can be fun and expand what we can accomplish at work.

Taking time to reflect on the tasks and the people at work often answers the question of what to focus on. And, when in doubt, ensure to allocate time for both and see what happens. As we embrace both, we often find they can support each other, not compete.

Cheryl-Dean Thompson is the founder of The Art of Growth Consulting Inc. and she believes in bringing out the best in every person. For more information on her training programs and executive solutions, visit

Posted in Business.

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