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Last Updated on December 2, 2020

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

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

Everyone 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 creativity 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 loads of 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 over the long term. 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.

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. Ideally, use 10 or 15 minutes. This 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 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 they 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.

        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.

        What can you do in these cases?

        Well, 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 most importantly 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 benefits. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefits combinations.

          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: Vector Stock via vectorstock.com

          Reference

          [1] MindTools: Cost-Benefit Analysis

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          Leon Ho

          Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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          Last Updated on January 21, 2021

          How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

          How to Not Get Distracted: 10 Practical Tips to Sharpen Your Focus

          You sit at your desk, ready to finally get some work done. “Okay, lets do this,” you think to yourself. You scroll over to Word (or Excel, or Office, etc.) and open up a fresh document. You have some idea of what needs to be done, but what happens next?

          You write a few words down but just can’t stay focused. Then you say “Maybe I should wake myself up with something fun.” You go to Facebook, 20 minutes gone. Then comes Youtube, 60 minutes gone. Before you know it, lunchtime has come and half the day is gone.

          Does this seem familiar? Do you ever find yourself wasting your day?

          Well it doesn’t have to be this way, all you need to do is focus on finishing this article to find out how to not get distracted easily.

          But before we move on to the tips, here’re some important notes you need to know:

          • Avoiding distraction is tough. You’re not alone when it comes to distractions. It’s not easy staying on task when you need to work for hours at a time, but some people are able to do it. The question is: why them and not you?
          • You were never taught how to focus. It’s funny how all throughout our school days we were never taught HOW to learn and be focused, even though that’s all we did. It was just assumed, and ultimately it was hit or miss on whether or not you ended up knowing how to do those things at all.
          • The tools to help master your ability to focus. Since everyone’s left to their own devices, it’s up to you to find ways to master your focus ability. That’s what these tips are for, so you can finally stay focused and on track with what we want to accomplish for ourselves.

          So without further ado, let’s get started. 

          1. Keep Your Vision and Goals in Mind

          First things first, why do you even need to focus? Do you want to become a skilled guitar player? Do you want to write a novel? Do you want to start working from home?

          Think about it.

          Knowing why we need to stay focused can help us push through the tough and tedious parts of accomplishing our goals. That’s when our ability to focus is really tested and when it’s most needed.

          2. Reduce the Chaos of Your Day by Focusing on 2 to 3 Important Tasks

          If you have 20 tasks you need done everyday how effective do you think your focus ability will be? Terrible, right?

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          You can’t expect to do those things with sophistication if you’re too scatterbrained to focus. You need to break it down to the essentials.

          Focus on only doing 2-3 important tasks a day (even one is okay), but no more than that. It’s all you need to take steps towards accomplishing your goals. Slower is much better than giving up early because you took on too much, too early.

          3. Do Those Tasks as Soon as Possible

          In order to make sure you get those 2 to 3 tasks done, you need to do them early. This means as soon as you wake up, you’re already plotting how to do them.

          So get up, use the bathroom, eat breakfast, and do it (Yes, BEFORE work is the best time to do it).

          It’s tough, but waiting to do them only invites distraction to take over. Those distractions WILL come, and they will drain your willpower. This makes working on your goals harder to do, so don’t wait do work on your goals, do them as early as possible.

          4. Focus on Only the Smallest Part of Your Work at a Time

          An easy way to kill your focus is to see a goal for the big giant accomplishment that it is. Most goals will at least take a few weeks to months to accomplish, and knowing that can make it feel like it’ll take FOREVER to do.

          This will cause you to do one of two things:

          • You become discouraged because the goal is too big; or
          • You fantasize about what it’ll feel like to achieve the goal

          Either way is terrible for your focus and always a potential problem when focusing on the big picture or using visualization.

          So what should you do? Focus on doing a very small, minimum amount of work instead.

          For example, which seems easier:

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          Writing 200 words per day or writing a minimum of 2 sentences per day?

          20 pushups per day or a minimum of 1 pushup per day?

          The key here is to use minimums. Chances are you’ll push past them.

          Eventually your minimum will increase, and you’ll slowly improve your ability to stay focused on the bigger tasks.

          5. Visualize Yourself Working

          I briefly mentioned in tip #4 that visualization techniques can hurt you more than help you sometimes. But there is a proper way of using visualization, and it’s by visualizing yourself actually WORKING (not as if you’ve succeeded already).

          Champion runners use this technique to great effect, usually by working backwards. They imagine themselves winning at first, then they act out the whole process in reverse, feeling and visualizing each step all the way to the beginning.

          A quicker and more relevant way to apply this would be to imagine yourself doing a small part of the task at hand.

          For instance, if you need to practice your guitar but it’s all the way across the room (let’s assume maximum laziness for the sake of this example), what should you do?

          First, imagine standing up (really, think of the sensation of getting up and then do it). If you really imagined it, visualized and felt the act of standing up, then acting on that feeling will be easy.

          Then repeat the visualization process with each step till you have that guitar in hand and you’re playing it. The process of focusing so intently on each step distracts you from how much you don’t want to do something, and the visualizations “ready your body” for each step you need done.

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          All you need to do is apply this process to whatever it is you need to focus on, just start with the smallest motion you need to do.

          6. Control Your Internal Distractions

          Internal distractions are one of those problems you can’t really run away from. You need to find ways to prepare your mind for work, and find simple ways to keep it from straying to non-essential thoughts as well.

          A good way to prime your mind for work is to have a dedicated work station. If you always work in a specific area, then your mind will associate that area with work related thoughts.

          Simple enough, right? When you take breaks make sure to leave your work station, that way you’ll know when you’re “allowed” to let your thoughts roam free as well.

          Deadlines are useful here also (use Pomodoro method for example, see tip #9). This method helps keep your mind from wandering around since you’ve got that looming deadline coming along.

          Ultimately though, silencing those unwanted thoughts is all about getting some traction going. So instead of focusing on what’s happening internally, focus getting something done (anything!). Once you do that, you’ll see that all your thoughts will be about finishing your task.

          7. Remove External Distractions

          This tip is straightforward, just get away from things that distract you.

          Is the television a distraction? Work in another room. Are the kids distracting you? Get up earlier and work before they wake up. Is the Internet distracting? Turn off the modem.

          It’s usually obvious what you should do, but you still shouldn’t overlook this piece of advice.

          8. Skip What You Don’t Know

          This is a tip I don’t see often enough, if you hit a snag in your work then come back to it later. Focus your attention on what you CAN do, keep working “mindlessly” at all costs. All this means is that you should focus on the easy parts first.

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          Eventually you can come back to the more difficult parts, and hopefully by then it’ll have come to you or you’ll have built up enough momentum that it won’t break your focus if you work on it.

          9. Improve Your Discipline With Focus Practice

          There’s a few focus exercises you can do to improve your overall discipline.

          The first one is meditation, which is basically the definition of focus in practice. Think about it, you’re literally just sitting there doing nothing. It’s a great method for building focus ability, de-stressing, and giving you greater control over your emotions. You should definitely give meditation a shot.

          The second exercise is the Pomodoro method. These are basically “focus sprints,” and each one is followed by a solid break. Like real sprints, you’ll get better and better at doing them over time. Each interval improves your ability to stay focused when it matters, so it’s more than worth your time to try this out.

          10. Manage Your Momentum

          Momentum is like a discipline lubricant‒it helps ease the process of sticking with goals. That’s why I think it’s important that we never take true breaks from our goals; we end up losing momentum and relying on discipline to get back on track (not an easy thing to do).

          This means each and everyday we need to do something significant to further our goals (yes, even weekends and holidays). And when I say “significant,” I don’t necessarily mean a big task‒but rather, any task that brings us closer to our goals.

          For instance, if your goal is to be a freelance writer, then write one single pitch on a weekend. If your goal is get healthy, then go for a short 5 minute walk even on Christmas day.

          Nothing big, nothing crazy, only stuff that is significant enough to contribute to the success of your overall goal.

          More Tips on Staying Focused

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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