Most of us would say in answer to that question “the one most important thing”.

The thing that we just have to do first, in preference to all others.

Priority is singular.

However, in most cases I see the word used as a plural, ‘Priorities’. It seems this is a new word, spawned perhaps by our instinct to cover our bets and our management arses.

We all get what ‘Priority’ means, but how do we separate the ‘Priority’ from the ‘Priorities’.

In most management situations, we do not do that separation job adequately. We end up trying to do too much, compromising the outcomes of everything in front of us.

Pick one priority, and when done, move on.

In 1997 when Steve Jobs (don’t you get sick of examples from Apple and Jobs?) returned from involuntary exile back to Apple, the company he started was on the verge of insolvency, having just lost over a billion dollars. A year later, Apple turned a $309 million profit.

How did he do it?

He focused Apple on the priority: selling the core range of two products, the PowerMac 3 and PowerBook 3.

Most of the huge range of products were discontinued, revenue did drop, but overheads dropped even further, so they made money, and were able to reinvest in the follow up innovations that changed the world.

Italian mathematician Vilfredo Pareto coined what has become known as the 80:20 rule by observing a wide range of totally unrelated situations where 80% of something was generated by 20% of the generators. The truth of this principal was observed by pioneer management consultant Joseph Juran who popularised it as the Pareto Principal.

In 22 years of consulting and contracting, mainly to medium sized manufacturing businesses, I have only ever seen evidence that the Pareto principal holds. In some cases, it is more like 90:10, so the challenge is the same one faced by Steve Jobs.

Which 80% of what you are currently doing do you no longer do?

Never an easy question, there are always reasons for everything that is being done, but survival is often about establishing the priority, and doing just that one thing better than anyone else.