The adage says, “We all have the same 24 hours a day”. Yes, it’s a cliche, and it likely more annoying than helpful – but it is true. We can’t create more time out of thin air, but we can use it more effectively.
Sometimes we can become paralyzed when there is so much to do, we don’t know where to start. That is why prioritizing your tasks is so important. Knowing what you need to work on and when you need to do it will only increase your productivity. Prioritizing and making a plan can help you to move forward, one step at a time.
Yes, you can accomplish your to-do list and move forward. Prioritizing can be done. Here are ten tips to help you get started.
- What is Worth Prioritizing? The first step is often the first step. Take a moment to reflect and determine what is truly important to you. The tasks you prioritize need to reflect your core values. If you are laser-focused on your career, then career tasks are naturally more important. If you are family-first, then those tasks may rank higher in priority.
- Make a List. A great way to start prioritizing is by making a list of everything you want to accomplish. You can focus on the short-term, long-term, or even better – both. Don’t worry about editing as you go; focus on thinking of as many goals/tasks/to-dos as you can.
- Rank Your Priorities List by Urgency. Take the list of priorities you create and rank the tasks by urgency. This usually means ranking the tasks when they are due, but don’t forget your core values. One way of breaking these lists up is in these three categories: (a) URGENT (complete ASAP) (b) IMPORTANT (need to address soon) (c) LEISURE (can focus on these in your free time)
- Break Your Large Tasks into Smaller Pieces. Strive to break your large tasks into smaller pieces -like a jigsaw puzzle. This makes the task more manageable and lets you have more control over the moving parts. Some smaller parts of your large task might need to be completed earlier than others. It is easier to prioritize when you know this. For another perspective on this see the previous blog post “Why I Wash the Towels First“
- Delegate What you Can. Don’t waste time prioritizing the tasks you don’t even need to do. Figure out if any of your tasks can be delegated or outsourced. Yes, you can ask for help and pass some tasks along to others. Give them an opportunity to say ‘yes’.This will save you time and energy. You can focus on the more important priorities while the smaller details are handled by someone else.
- Set Deadlines for Each Task. Set some deadlines for each of your tasks. Simply setting a deadline has been shown to help people follow through. Try to set your deadlines a little earlier than you need. This will help you stay ahead of things and gives you a buffer if you can’t deliver.
- Look for Opportunities for Growth. An interesting, if a somewhat esoteric tip, is to focus on tasks that grant you growth opportunities. We must continue to broaden our horizons and skillset, so focusing on tasks that help you do this makes sense. If all else is equal, but one task allows you to learn something new, or update your current skills, consider choosing that one.
- Start With Your Most Important Task. Another classic tip to try you might have heard referred to as “eat the frog.” The idea here is that you start with your most important task, that way you know you at least finished that. Some people choose their most hated task to do first. The same idea applies, though; it’s all about getting it over with ASAP.
- …or Don’t. Contrary to the last tip, sometimes you are so unmotivated that you don’t have the energy to tackle anything important. If that feels like you, then start with the absolute easiest, no-brainer task you can. Sometimes doing that is enough to build your momentum so you can tackle the high-priority stuff.
- And Then. ACKNOWLEDGE each completion. This is a SUCCESS! It is easy to focus on what is left to do, feeling overwhelmed, and as a failure. Choose to focus on what you accomplished. Take joy in each action you completed. This, too, will help you to move forward.