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Aligning Your Priorities With Your Manager’s Expectations

How to work smarter, not harder: Essential tips for effective one-on-one meetings with your manager.

By Keith Tatley  •   March 30, 2020  •   3 min read

Agreeing on priorities for the week ahead is one of the most powerful things you can do in one-on-one meetings with your manager. It can save you time, help you get work done and perhaps most importantly, keep the relationship with your manager healthy.

Why priority alignment is an essential part of one-on-ones with your manager

The consequences of not sharing and aligning your priorities with your manager can be dire, because:

  • You can be working hard, but wasting your time on work that your manager doesn’t find very valuable.
  • Your manager can think that you’re not a good performer, not because you’re not working hard but simply because you’re not meeting their expectations.
  • Your manager can experience delays in their own work because they are waiting for work from you.

Myth: my manager tells me what they want from me.

⚠️ Warning: Far too many employees think that they’re doing well in their jobs, only to get to their performance review and get an unexpectedly low rating.

In a perfect world, you should be able to rely on your manager to keep you informed of their priorities and expectations, but the reality is that your manager is a fallible human being just like the rest of us. Priorities change over time. All of this means that your manager probably has expectations that they have not shared with you.

Fact: it’s your responsibility to ensure that you’re working on the right stuff.

Instead of relying on your manager to tell you what they want, take a proactive role to agree on your priorities with your manager.

Some of the powers of aligning priorities include:

  • It should go without say, that prioritization is an effective time management skill because this increases your focus on what is important. I find that my one-on-one meeting with my manager is a good reminder to check in with my own priorities.
  • Showing your manager that you prioritize your work demonstrates professionalism and builds their trust in you.
  • Aligning priorities lets you achieve more with less because you know exactly what you have to do to meet your manager’s expectations.
  • Aligning priorities means your manager isn’t wondering what you are working on because they know in advance.
  • Agreeing priorities in advance ensures that you have your manager’s buy-in and support.

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

– Camille Fournier, The Manager’s Path

You know how frustrating it is when you can’t finish your own work because you’re waiting for work from someone else? It’s the same for your manager. You don’t have to work any harder, just work smarter by finding out what your manager needs from you and do that first.

How to record and organize your weekly priorities

You can’t be a one-on-one meeting pro if you don’t focus on your priorities. Achieve a pro-like focus by aligning your priorities with your manager in your one-on-one meetings. Discussing the week ahead is such an important part of every one-on-one meeting that I give it its own time slot on the one-on-one meeting agenda. Aligning priorities is the key to working smarter, not harder because this is how you will know what work to focus on.

“People think focus means saying yes to the things you have got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other ideas that are there. You have to pick carefully.”

– Steve Jobs

The way I record & organize priorities is that I have a specific section for my priorities on the Fellow.app meeting agenda. When I prepare for my one-on-one meeting with my manager, I list my priorities in order. During the meeting, it’s a simple matter of rearranging (dragging-and-dropping) priorities based on our discussion.

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