The Potluck Strategy for Prioritizing


One of the most common complaints from employees is “My plate is too full.” Employers hear it all the time and grapple with ways to take a little off the sides or share the load with everyone in an equitable way. Finding the balance that makes everyone happy is tenuous at best -- if not impossible.


When you take a little off the sides, you find out later that they actually like the sides. If you take a big chunk out of the middle and give it to someone else, it leaves one employee feeling empty and inadequate while the other feels like he was just named Employee of the Year.

The recipe for resolving the myriad issues that employees have been stewing about can be masterfully created with two essential ingredients: a strong leader with a vision and an open-minded team of employees. The bible reminds us that “Without a vision, the people perish.” There are many spiritual nuggets in the Book of Proverbs, but this one is apropos.

As a school leader, I encourage those in my charge to apply the Potluck Strategy for Prioritizing -- to which I get a few scowls, grimaces, and chuckles. I continue by explaining that when you attend a potluck, you’ll always find a few of your favorites on display. You might also see a few things with familiar ingredients, though you’re not sure what they are.  You’ll also find a few dishes that don’t look palatable at all, but you know your friend’s girlfriend or your boss’ wife made them, so you have no choice but to scoop a little of the gooey, custard-textured concoction onto your plate -- filling it completely.

The Potluck Strategy simply means that you start clearing your plate by eating your favorites first. Next, you try those mystery dishes with familiar ingredients. Finally, you take a bite of the gooey, custard-textured concoction.


Here’s how you apply the potluck approach at work in three easy steps:

  1. Start with tasks that you like. If you enjoy building strong relationships with your customers or stakeholders, perhaps you’ll choose to spend part of each day returning phone calls and replying to e-mails. I love my middle school students, so I do my best to spend the bulk of my day in classrooms watching them learn or in the cafeteria learning names and what they like to do.

  2. Next, work on those things that aren’t your favorites, but you know they need to get done. Use this as an opportunity to seek wise counsel. Find out from your co-workers what their strategies are for completing tasks such as this. In my role, culling through pages of data is my least favorite thing to do, but it’s necessary if I want our students to grow  -- academically and emotionally.

  3. Finally, complete those things that you don’t like at all, and give your best effort every time. Attitude is important, so take some time to examine yours. As a child of God, remember who you’re representing. In my school, I’m on my feet 90% of the day. Most days I log 10-15,000 steps per day on my Fitbit. I’m exhausted by the time I make it home, but I’m doing what God called me to do, and that’s the most important ingredient in this recipe for success. I hope it’s your main ingredient too.

Michelle Harmon-Malone, Blogger