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  • Writer's pictureScarlet Spark Team

Even-Over: A Powerful Tool for Effective Prioritization

Updated: Aug 11, 2023


A flock of birds crossing the road


At Scarlet Spark, we surveyed leaders at 60 animal advocacy organizations around the world and found they had one glaring challenge in common: a sense of not having enough time.

While we don’t know of any tools (quite yet) to expand time itself, in this guide, we’ll share one of our favorite prioritization tools to help you make better use of the time you have.


Why prioritization matters:

Before we explain what this tool is and how it works, let’s touch on the three main reasons prioritization is such a powerful antidote to a chronic feeling of time scarcity.

  1. Focused progress: When we know which work matters most and which is best to pause or postpone, it lets us focus. The result is faster progress, along with a greater sense of accomplishment (which prevents burnout and further fuels our progress).

  2. Thoughtful progress: A small number of priorities doesn’t just support work speed and quantity, it also helps improve quality. Constant context switching (even inside our own minds) impairs strategic thinking, causes mistakes, and increases stress and fatigue.

  3. Aligned progress: Last but not least, having fewer priorities allows organizations to align their limited time and resources to achieve big results. To quote the spiritual teacher Sri S. Satchidananda, “There’s no value in digging shallow wells in a hundred places. Decide on one place and dig deep.”

Given all the psychological and organizational benefits of strict prioritization, it’s no wonder research shows that companies with fewer org-wide priorities outperform their stretched-too-thin peers.

How ‘even-over’ helps you prioritize:

Given the importance of prioritization, we’ll share several prioritization exercises and tools in future guides. For now, we’ll begin with one of the most simple yet powerful prioritization techniques we know called ‘even-over.’

Even-over was popularized by Holacracy, an organizational governance method designed to enable agile and adaptive self-management. In short: it’s a system that lets employees take aligned and decisive action without stopping to wait for orders or ask for permission.

How even-overs works:

  • Even = higher priority

  • Over = a lower priority (yet still perfectly reasonable and often tempting option)

Your even-over audit:

Even-overs apply to just about every area of work where you have to make decisions – especially if you need several people to make similar decisions quickly and independently. Use the tool below to audit the clarity of even-overs across your company:

Category
Even
Over

Strategy: how we’ll achieve our mission and vision

We’ve chosen to focus on _____ even…


over ________.


Example:

  • Farm animals

  • Wild animals

  • Asia

  • The largest cities

  • Systems change

  • Other animals

  • Companion animals

  • Other regions

  • A large number of cities

  • Behavior change

Objectives: most important results to achieve

It’s most important for us to achieve _____ even…

over ________.

Example:

  • 10 major donors

  • 70% repeat volunteers

  • 90% engagement

  • An on-time MVP release

  • 80% client NPS

  • Many small donors

  • More new volunteers

  • Hiring more people

  • Adding more features

  • Saving time on service

Priorities: most important deliverables or focus areas

We’ll focus our time and resources on _____ even…

over ________.

Example:

  • Growing IG followers

  • Increasing close rate

  • Improving onboarding

  • Recurring donors

  • Diet change

  • Facebook or LinkedIn

  • Reducing time-to-close

  • Increasing hiring speed

  • New donors

  • Other purchase changes

Values: how we collaborate and make decisions

In all our work, we choose _____ even…

over ________.

Example:

  • Progress

  • Inclusion

  • Courage

  • Context

  • Learning

  • Perfection

  • Speed

  • Comfort

  • Control

  • Being right


Bonus: Try this prioritization exercise on a department, team, and individual level!

How to set even-overs:

Often, just the simple act of filling in an even-over chart unlocks the clarity you need. When in doubt, try asking the following prioritization questions:

  • What must we absolutely achieve to stay on track with our vision or plan?

  • What would be nice to achieve but not essential?

  • How would we stack rank each of these options from most critical to least essential to achieve during X period?

  • If there is no way for us to achieve all of these results or deliverables, which one would we have to pause? Which two? Which five? Etc.

  • If we could only achieve one of these results or complete one of these deliverables this [year / quarter / month], which one would we choose?

  • What might distract us from what’s truly most important for us to do or achieve?

  • What won’t we do here that might be totally reasonable to do somewhere else?

If you notice prioritization resistance within yourself or others, apply a timing frame. Of course all of the options you’re considering are inherently important (especially if you’re trying to decide between different causes or animals). The question isn’t what or who matters most but what will have the biggest impact on your overall mission and vision to do first.

If that doesn’t help, consider what even-overs you are implicitly choosing and whether they are serving you well. For example, many companies have hidden priorities such as results even-over sustainability, progress even-over mental health, growth even-over culture, efficiency even-over accessibility, and so on. What even-overs might lurk in your work?


How to use even-overs:

In-the-moment prioritization: You can ask even-over questions as a prioritization exercise any time you or your team face resource constraints, feel a sense of overwhelm, or simply need to get aligned.

Proactive prioritization: To create even more clarity team and org-wide, you can also document and discuss your even-overs proactively. For example, add even-over examples to your list of company values; articulate even-overs as part of your strategic plan; explain your even-overs during your hiring and onboarding process; make a team-wide ‘to-don’t list.’


How to get started:

Complete the even-over audit above on a company or group level and share it with your collaborators to check for alignment. Decide whether you need to: recalibrate on what matters most, reduce your number of priorities, and clarify your even-overs with others.


You might just save enough time to take a long break and spend it with an animal you love! (Yep, that’s love even-over email.)



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