Do you often find yourself saying, “Where DID the day go” and then feeling not only unproductive, but ineffective too? Too often we’ll plug away at our ‘to do’ lists, getting lots done here and there, but at the end of the day the realization hits that there’s very little to cross of the list, and worse yet, the big ticket items didn’t get completed. Despite utilizing time management techniques such as time blocking, there may be an important step that’s missing. To improve time management skills, we need to prioritize.
What comes first?
Sometimes life will dictate what comes first on our list of things to accomplish. Got in a fender bender? You’ll need to quickly deal with insurance and car repairs. Have a big presentation tomorrow? There’s no putting that off. Our daily grind can be so much more efficient and effective once we put in order of importance our key tasks for the day and work on the list from most critical, down. Start with the most urgent matter. The bigger the consequence for not completing it, the higher priority it is assigned.
Deciding what’s important
It’s human nature to be more attracted to doing the things we feel comfortable doing, and also those that are most positive, which is why we usually do those first. However, as we all know, we contend with a lot of distractions every day, so what we thought would be a quick call or easy task ends up taking up too much time for the priority items to be completed. When you think of what’s important, look at the big picture as well as the level of difficulty.
Tackling goal-based activities
Our personal and career goals also dictate how we prioritize tasks. When we commit to a goal, it often means that some things will have to give in order to see success – at least for the time being. We can’t worry what others will think; we have to forge ahead, stay up late on occasion, roll up our sleeves and dig in. If we’re about to lose a valuable client for example, we’ll drop everything to make sure we can provide what they need in order to maintain the relationship. People can get more caught up on tasks, and find that they plough away every day at things that mean very little, without looking at their long-range goals. People often say they don’t have time to work out, to take a night class, or look for a new job, but what’s really going on is that they don’t make time. It all boils down to goals and values.
Tips and tricks to mastering prioritization
Most people have a few tips and tricks to not only prioritize better, but in also tackling that to do list. Here are some that have worked for me:
- Start with a to-do list – don’t worry about the order just yet
- Number them in priority starting with the urgent items and deadlines first
- If an item makes you cringe, it’s a good indicator that it needs to be dealt with sooner than later
- Estimate the time needed for each task and try to stick to it (use the time blocking method)
- Ask for help
- Learn to say NO more often – when appropriate
- Make sure that priorities are YOUR priorities, or at least related to your goals
- Delegate! Low priority tasks can often be done by someone else – it’s OK to give up the reigns and trust someone else to succeed
- Re-think what’s important. If it’s causing you stress, it won’t make a difference to your career or personal goals and you aren’t letting anyone down, maybe it shouldn’t be on the list at all
- Use technology! Many tasks we strive to get done on time can be automated: banking and bills, home security, shopping, meal planning…even remembering to call your mom on her birthday! There are many apps and devices that make life so much easier so be sure to take advantage of them.
Finally, remember that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. We can be busy, but are we accomplishing anything important? Managing time is not easy, but it’s so achievable. We all have tasks to tackle and some are more unpleasant than others, but one thing is for sure: how great it feels to scratch that ‘big ticket’ item off the list!
“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe