Managing Competing Priorities

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I’m a wholesaler who wants to sell. But our firm is constantly putting new ideas, projects and priorities on our plates. We have sales-related goals we have to meet each week, but these other requests are not counted in how we are measured.

If I do those other projects well it means that I will make 35 calls instead of 50 for the week, but I will have have “failed.” I have brought this up to my supervisor a couple of times but her view is “do what the company asks you to do.” I don’t mind participating in company initiatives and I recognize we are the front line to test things.

But my problem is that I don’t believe I am as successful as I could be. There is a monetary reward for sure, but as importantly I feel like I go home at night and am consistently underwater. It’s a nagging feeling of failure and I don’t know what to do to reverse it.


Dear W.A.,

You might be suffering from the Zeigarnik effect! In the 1920s there was a Lithuanian psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik who studied what brings most stress to people. Imagine the 1920s – there was no internet, global competition or immediate communication. Heck, there weren’t even phones. Yet she found that people focused more on unfinished tasks than finished ones. The more unfinished tasks, the more stress we encounter. She also found that taking a break during a task helped with effectiveness. Putting one’s head down and trying to plow through things to get to the end is not the best way to relieve the stress.