It happened like this. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were at a gathering of our sailing friends, and discussion turned to, of all things, work.

I was talking about my current projects, and how there are times I’m not sure which way to turn. Then, out of the blue, my husband mentioned that my project load was just like the “guy with the spinning plates on the Ed Sullivan Show.”

Now, a little background might be necessary here. My husband is a few years older than I am, so this reference didn’t mean much to me, but it got a chuckle from the over-50 crowd. They all knew exactly what this meant.

Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he showed me the clip below. Take a minute. It’s worth it.

This clip really hit home. I am that person! There are many days lately when I feel just like this guy, but I cannot afford to let any of my plates drop. 

You know the feeling, right? There is so much to do, and it is hard to effectively get everything done as well as it should be done.

Newspapers are transforming themselves at an amazing pace. Because of the need to move rapidly and because of the staffing changes we have all experienced, there are times when, as my boss, Kim Wilson, says, “We are actually building the airplane at the same time we are flying it.”

Let’s face it. We can’t do everything all at once, so how do you choose what matters most?

Some people would say to first work on the revenue-producing items. That can make sense. But if you really think about our future, it all comes down to giving our customers what they want.

That’s my simple message today.

How should we prioritise the many plates we are spinning? If we don’t produce a product that has a demand, there will be no revenue-producing items.

How do I prioritise when every e-mail, every phone call, every text, every knock at my door pulls me in a different direction?

Take a minute and pause. Shut your door or, better yet, take a walk to your favourite coffee shop and get away from the office.

Think about the things you are doing and the decisions you are making from the viewpoint of your customers. Are the changes you are making going to make their lives richer, better, fuller, or easier?

If not, you really should stop and ask yourself if what you are doing is going to make a long-range difference.

Ultimately, we have to make our organisations more nimble and reactive to our customers’ needs. And those needs change, sometimes without the courtesy of a heads-up.

Spend more time listening and less time running around frantically trying to get some things done. Remember Stephen Covey’s “big rocks first” concept? In our case, the big rocks are our customers.