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How To Organize Your Life By Priority And Not Urgency

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Lists, notes, follow-ups, calendars — these are all great tools to manage your ever-growing list of things you need to accomplish on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. But are they the right way to manage what you need to do? For you to visually understand the importance of what you need or have to do?

How many times have you spent Sunday night putting together a list of things that must get done, only to have one event throw it all away? How many times have you looked over that list at the end of the week and wondered “why do I not feel fulfilled?” or “why did I spend the whole week firefighting instead of doing what was really important to me, my team, my family, and my work?”

Perhaps the answer is not in what you need to do, but in how you organize the doing of those activities. In an era where we have notifications coming to us from a variety of sources, it is easy to confuse what is urgent with something that is important and let it move to the top of our list. It is even easier when these items have dates assigned to them which quickly push out our calendar of to-dos in favour of these requests.

If you take a step back to look at the post-its and items on your lists of what you need to do, you will probably start to see a trend. You’ll see those things you have

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 to do, those you need to do, and those you want to do. Stop right now and go look at your last to-do list. What did you need to do? What did you want to do? You can easily see the buckets and overlaps, but once you truly understand what they mean, when those urgent items come to you, you’ll know where to put them.

Have

Items I have to do are items that, regardless of what is on my list to of items to do, have to get to done. If I am looking at my list with a timeline of a week, it becomes very easy to identify the when I have to get these things completed. Whether it’s personal or professional, you know the items that go into this bucket. If you are training for a marathon and want to do it right, you have to train, if the servers go down at work and you’re the go-to gal, you have to get them back up and running.

We want to keep this list small. Take a look in your “have” circle — what are the items driven by? Who is driving them? Is it you? This is doubtful— items we have to do are often driven by external factors: our boss, our family, our friends, etc. They are driven by others. My daughter wants to go to soccer practice, so I have to drive her (otherwise she cannot get there). I have to finish the end-of-year report for next week (not by choice, I think the following week would be fine, but I’m not setting the priority).

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Items we have to do are where our stress comes from because we feel we have no other choice.

Need

When you look at your list of things to do, you know the items that need to get done. These are the ones that you have prioritized as being important to get done so you feel like you have accomplished what you set out to do this day, week, month, etc.

You need to get this item completed — you are driving the priority of what needs to be accomplished. This is where the majority of our internal conflict arises from. In general, we will classify nearly everything as a “need” until this circle is bursting in size. But if you look closely, you might start to notice that what you think you need to complete, what is really important for you to get done this week, is not at all. Instead, it is something that you really want to do to make you feel fulfilled.

Want

How many items on your list do you want to accomplish and finish this week? Why? What makes those items so special that you are willing to push them to the forefront of everything you want to do? What do they give to? How to they benefit your wellbeing? What makes them differ from a need?

Simply put, our wants, whether professional or personal, are the collection of our pursuits that let us go to bed at night feeling like we’ve really accomplished something. They are that simple.

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Think of the Software Developer who has to complete a project on Friday. He needs to check in the code on Wednesday but he wants to refactor it on Thursday. If he only does the first part, he will have accomplished the goals of others by completing the work and satisfying his professional requirements, but what he really wants is the feeling of getting that last thing off the list which his team might not really be pushing for.

What we want to accomplish will always be a large, ever-changing bucket of items going in and out. I want to learn to play the guitar, now the cello, now run the Ironman, etc, etc. Completing a “want” will always make us happy because it is directly attributed to what we want to accomplish — not what someone else does.

Putting it all together

The goal is a better understanding of where our priorities come from so we can better handle and manage them — not to find a faster way to check the boxes off on our list. If we know what we have to do over what we need and want to do, all of a sudden the priority ranking of our items changes to what we really feel we should do to feel accomplished at the end of some period in time.

Can items jump between circles? Can items jump between categories? Sure they can. As a “want” starts, it is something basic, undefined, a thought or idea. But as we refine it, put body to do it, the path to accomplish the want and the desire for it turns into a “need” that you must accomplish irrespective of its priority or time of the week.

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Not sure how to get started or where to begin in classifying what’s on your list? Here are some easy steps to take.

  • Draw 3 circles on a page. Label them have, need, and want.
  • Throw everything you want/must do that week into each circle (don’t overload your circles or you might feel pretty down at the end of the week — keep them legit).
  • Now, look at what exists between each circle. Are there conflicting priorities? Can you see what will be overridden where simply by visually seeing it?
  • Where are the similarities? Are your needs being derived by your wants? Can you really accomplish that many things?
  • Now, track throughout some arbitrary time period. What did you accomplish? What moved between circles? What was in direct conflict? What external urgencies pushed what was important to you out of the way? How close did you get to accomplishing what you wanted to accomplish?
  • Now, do it again and again until what you have to do, need to do, and want to do align to work with each other, leaving you fulfilled in what you’ve accomplished.

If you’re in the scenario where you have this massive want circle, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Underline the top ones you want to work on and focus on this week.

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Featured photo credit: Alejandro Escamilla via images.unsplash.com

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