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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

Every one of my team members has a bucket load of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creative tasks or problem-solving tasks. Each one of them has had to learn how to prioritize tasks in order to get everything done.

Despite having many tasks to handle, our team is able to stay focused and creative and work towards our goals consistently in a set amount of time.

I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours in the long run. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize things:

How to Prioritize With the Scales Method

One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days. All of this was making it impossible for her to develop a good work life balance in the long term.

After she listened to my advice about utilizing the Scales Method, she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

  • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles.
  • She could publish all her articles on time.
  • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!).

If you’re curious how she did it, read on for the step-by-step guide:

1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

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My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning, but keep it short. 10 or 15 minutes should be adequate to think about your plan.

Use this time to:

  • Look at the big picture.
  • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
  • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

2. Align Your Tasks With Your Goal

This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective as you learn how to prioritize.

It works like this:

Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money, and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.[1]

How to prioritize by analyzing benefit and time cost

    To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

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    Low Cost + High Benefit

    Do these tasks first because they’re the simplest ones to complete, but they’ll help you get closer to your goal.

    Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve it would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

    High Cost + High Benefit

    Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete, and then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

    Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new, diary-free, protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting, aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g. spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

    Low Cost + Low Benefit

    When learning how to prioritize time and tasks, this particular combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kinds of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

    These are probably necessary tasks (e.g. routine tasks like checking emails), but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

    High Cost + Low Benefit

    Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

    For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there that can make this process instant and seamless.

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    Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

    To do list example

      After listening to my advice, she broke down the high cost + high benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

      To do list with priorities

        And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only, thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

        Once you’ve effectively analyzed the cost and benefits of your daily tasks, you can dive into this Full Life Planner to make sure you complete everything on your list in the best way possible.

        Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks With Deadlines

        Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on how to prioritize based on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of setting goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be due dates set by external parties, such as managers and agencies.

        In cases like these, I suggest that, after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list in a way that helps you meet deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

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        For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

        Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates, so these are urgent and important tasks. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

        Refined to do list based on priorities

          Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to prioritize them into a workable order.

          The Bottom Line

          The Scales Method is different from anything else you’ve tried. By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work and boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

          Unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefit. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefit combinations, which can boost your career development overall.

          Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be very easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains is that you kick off your next working day by following your new master list.

          More Productivity Tips

          Featured photo credit: Scott Graham via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] MindTools: Cost-Benefit Analysis

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          Leon Ho

          Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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          Last Updated on April 19, 2021

          What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

          What Is Block Scheduling? (And How It Boosts Productivity)

          On August 6, 1991, the world changed forever when the internet became publicly available. Less than 30 years later, our lives have been irrevocably transformed. We can now learn, explore, and communicate 24/7, which is both amazing and, as we all know, hazardous to our productivity[1]. This is why the question, “What is block scheduling?” has become important.

          To be clear, the internet isn’t life’s only distraction, and while productivity has become a huge buzzword in recent years, it’s simply a measure of progress: Are you doing what matters most? Actively moving toward your goals?

          Author Neil Pasricha writes in Harvard Business Review[2]:

          “As our world gets busier and our phones get beepier, the scarcest resource for all of us is becoming attention and creative output. And if you’re not taking time to put something new and beautiful out in the world, then your value is diminishing fast.”

          Most entrepreneurs relate deeply to this sentiment. Pasricha solved his own productivity challenges by instituting “untouchable days” that shield him from texts, phone calls, meetings, alerts, or appointments of any kind. He says these focused sessions have enabled him to produce his most creative and rewarding work.

          I love Pasricha’s approach, but it’s not always realistic for me. As the founder and CEO of JotForm, I need to weigh in on a variety of daily decisions, from hiring to product roadmaps to financial planning. I suspect other founders feel the same way. Yet, I do believe in the power of focused work, which is also why I recommend block scheduling.

          What Is Block Scheduling?

          Entrepreneurs often flaunt their multitasking as a badge of honor. After all, starting a business is a tug-of-war between competing priorities.

          However, while multitasking might feel efficient, research shows that shifting between tasks can slash productivity by up to 40%. Task-switching leaves what Dr. Sophie Leroy calls “attention residue,”[3] which means we’re still thinking about a previous activity while we start the next one[4].

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          Here’s where block scheduling can shine. What is block scheduling, exactly?

          We usually become familiar with the concept of block scheduling in high school. You likely received a schedule with a certain number of classes per day, all blocked according to class time, each school year. This is basic block scheduling.

          Also called time blocking, block scheduling is the practice of allocating large chunks of time to related tasks. For example, you might designate Mondays for meetings and Tuesdays for strategy. Teachers often use block scheduling when creating lesson plans. There are many different approaches, which we’ll get to shortly.

          First, here’s why it matters. Business is essentially problem-solving. Creating strategies, writing code, developing products, and all the myriad activities that entrepreneurs tackle demand focus and minimal distractions. They’re also inherently human tasks that won’t easily be replaced by AI, which means your business depends on your ability to go deep.

          Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Success in a Distracted World, said in a 2017 interview:

          “Focus is now the lifeblood of this economy.”

          Entrepreneurs use their minds to launch ideas and create value, so the ability to concentrate is “almost like a superpower”[5].

          Block scheduling can also help you to produce higher quality work in less time. Parkinson’s Law holds that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,”[6], which is why setting time limits can deflate a ballooning task.

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          How to Use Time Blocking to Boost Productivity

          We all have different rhythms and responsibilities. Personalization is the key to successful time blocking, and it will require some trial and error. Here’s how to get started.

          What is time blocking?

            1. Assess Your Calendar

            Evaluating your current schedule can be surprisingly difficult because few of us can accurately estimate how much time a task requires. If it feels easier, track how you actually spend your time for a full week. Note each activity—even 10 minutes of email and 15 minutes of social media scrolling between meetings.

            Once you know how you’ve been spending your time, it’ll be easier to know what to keep and what to throw out when you begin to make your new schedule.

            2. Look for Patterns

            After you’ve documented a full week, group tasks into categories. For example, you can include the following categories:

            • Administrative
            • Meetings
            • Creative work
            • Email
            • Personal time.

            You can also label tasks based on how you feel while doing them, or how they influence your energy levels on a scale from 1-10. Do whatever makes sense for you.

            3. Arrange Your Time Blocks

            Experiment with different block scheduling patterns. For example, one morning may look like this:

            • 8-9am: Respond to emails
            • 9-10am: Write up marketing proposal
            • 10-11am: Brainstorm and plan for Client A’s project
            • 11am-12pm: Meet with Client A to discuss ideas

            However, you may find that you’re more creative immediately after waking up. In that case, you’d want to move “brainstorming and planning” to an earlier slot. If responding to emails is best for when you’re feeling a little lethargic after lunch, put it there.

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            Read your emotions and abilities throughout the day to tap into what is going to work best for you.

            Ultimately, the goal is to avoid switching mental gears throughout the day, week, and maybe even the month. I realize this isn’t easy, especially for entrepreneurs, but it can be incredibly valuable.

            Spending a full day on projects you dislike, such as administrative work or meetings, might feel daunting, but blocking them into a single day can make the rest of your week infinitely more productive and more enjoyable. You’re free to tackle all the entrepreneurial challenges that get your blood flowing.

            4. Create Day Themes

            If you’re someone who has to focus on many things during a single day or week, you may find it more beneficial to create themes for each day instead of blocking up your day into individual tasks. For example, you can set Mondays as Brainstorming/Planning days, Tuesdays as Administrative days, etc.

            If you take this route, I suggest always scheduling in at least one Family day. It will ensure you make time for the important people in your life and give your brain time to rest.

            Benefits of Block Scheduling

            Once you’ve answered “What is block scheduling?” and know how to use it correctly, you’ll find that you receive many benefits. Here are just a few.

            Battle Procrastination

            If you have your schedule set and know you only have an hour to get a particular task done, it will be significantly easier to avoid procrastinating.

            For more on how to stop procrastinating, check out this article.

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            Create Realistic Time Estimates

            Once you’ve been working with time blocking for a while, you’ll learn which activities take the most/least time. You may have to adjust your schedule during the first month or so to get it right, but be patient. You’ll continue to learn to realistically estimate how much time a particular task will take.

            Develop More Focus and Attention

            When your schedule doesn’t leave much room for scrolling through social media or chatting with coworkers, you’ll find your brain is more devoted to paying attention to the task at hand. You’ll respond to the limits you set for yourself and will focus to get things done.

            Final Thoughts

            Most founders crave freedom. Yet, school schedules, jobs, and social norms condition us to work with a traditional schedule and reactive mindset. Before we know it, we’ve re-created a working schedule that traces back to the 19th century, even in our own companies. Block scheduling is not only a tool to maximize productivity; it’s a way to reclaim your time[7].

            In my 14 years at JotForm, I’ve realized that business growth means doing more of what makes the biggest impact. I don’t always succeed, but I try to focus my time and energy where it matters, and I know that busyness is not synonymous with productivity.

            If you feel the same way, give time blocking a try. Share your experiments in scheduling with colleagues and family members so they understand the changes and can support you.

            Finally, don’t worry about getting it right immediately. You may need to get under the hood of your calendar and tinker around a bit. Find what works for you, then protect your new schedule at all costs.

            More Tips on Time Management

            Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

            Reference

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