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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 12, 2021

          How To Protect Your Focus From Being “Robbed” By Notifications and Social Media

          How To Protect Your Focus From Being “Robbed” By Notifications and Social Media

          Between a cell phone that’s always ringing, a plethora of social media apps vying for your attention, and a steady stream of text messages, it probably feels like you can never get a moment of peace.

          Think about how many times you’ve been working when a notification pops up on your screen. The message might be important, but more often than not, it’s just spam that pulls your focus away from your project.

          Imagine all the times you’ve been in a meeting and felt the distinctive buzzing of your cell phone. Putting a smartphone on vibrate doesn’t make it any less disruptive for its owner. You instantly divert your attention from the other human beings in the room to the device in your pocket.

          Distractions make you work harder

          Studies suggest that the average American worker is interrupted every three minutes and five seconds.[1] An estimated 6 hours of productivity are lost every day to distraction. When someone is interrupted, they not only have to deal with the disruption, but then they have to use even more time and energy to get back into their work.[2]

          It’s not only annoying to feel like you can never situate your mind on one task, but it also keeps you from doing your best work. The greatest ideas require time for mental processing. You have to do research and dig deep to come up with exciting ideas. If your focus is shallow, your ideas will never be able to develop to their fullest potential.

          Our concentration naturally fluctuates

          It would be nice if you could simply disconnect from the internet and have a consistent ability to concentrate, but that’s not how your brain works.

          If you were to visualize your concentration throughout an 8-hour work day, it might look like this graph.

          Throughout the day, you will experience peaks and valleys in your energy levels. You might feel a jolt of productivity after you go for a walk or have a cup of coffee, but there will also be points in the day–like right after lunch–where you’ll feel sluggish. You create your best work during periods of high energy and focus.

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          Protecting those peak periods ensures that you can maximize your work time. When you constantly shift your focus back and forth between your work and distractions, your brain has to work extra hard to get back on track. Opening your Facebook page or replying to your friend’s What’s App message is almost never worth the productivity cost.

          You will still have peak moments of productivity when you face interruptions, but the peaks will not be as high. This is because jumping between items wears you out. You lower your potential productivity every time you give in to distraction.

          To be successful, you have to root out anything that stands in your way. The inability to concentrate will affect your work performance, but you can take control of the situation.

          How to maintain focus in a sea of disruptions

          Being able to give your best at work doesn’t mean that you have to disconnect from the world entirely. You can still enjoy the connections you have through technology, but there are a few ways that you can keep them from having a negative impact on your work.

          One of the first things that you can do to minimize your distractions is set aside a time for them. Give yourself windows of time when it’s acceptable to look at Facebook or respond to messages.

          Start by listing out the things that most commonly distract you. Maybe you get sucked into the rabbit hole of Facebook if you get a notification. Perhaps you find that your friends texting you throughout the day pulls you from work. Whatever it may be, write it down.

          Then, set aside a time slot in which you are free to use the apps as you please.

          Plan to use your distracting apps during times when you need to restore energy. As you can see from the graph, times when you need to restore your energy are also times when you may not be as productive.

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          Instead of giving up peak energy times, sacrifice the time when you aren’t working well to engage with technology. When your recovery time has ended, jump right back into your work.

          It might seem counter-intuitive to make time for these distractions during your day, but if you create a schedule that protects periods of peak energy, you will actually boost your productivity. Instead of being inundated with notifications or thinking about the next time when you are allowed to check your messages, you’ll have designated times for that.

          Rather than shift your attention at random, you can focus fully on the task at hand until it’s your time to play on social media or check messages. Using this approach can help you regain a lot of your brain power because you won’t have to waste it on refocusing. You’ll simply do less important tasks during natural breaks in your day.

          Set up a system to limit distractions

          Just because you vow to check your messages and look at social media during certain times doesn’t keep distractions from happening. You’ll need to set up a system to keep disruptions at bay.

          You can’t always control when someone is going to send you a message or when you’ll get a notification. You can start by adjusting your settings. Most apps allow you to opt out of notifications. Stop push notifications from non-essential apps.

          For everything else, you need a different plan. We may be able to avoid opening social media tabs, but sometimes the messages still pop up on our phones. At the same time, most of us want to continue to use social media to stay connected and receive important information.

          Try planting some trees with your concentration

          The Forest app helps you train your brain to avoid distractions during work time. You can use Forest on your desktop or smartphone. The app works by enabling you to establish an amount of time during which you do not wish to be interrupted. You can adjust the amount of time from 10 minutes up to several hours.

          Refer back to the list of distractions that you made earlier. You can take the websites and apps that drain your time and add them to the Forest’s blacklist.

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            The amount of time that you wish to stay off of distracting websites and apps is called a “planting session.” When you decide that you want to “plant a tree,” the countdown timer starts. If you access a blacklisted website during the time when you are supposed to be working, the app will remind you that your tree is still growing. You will have to decide whether or not you want to kill your tree, which is harder than you might think.

              When you can successfully stay off of distracting sites for the allotted time, your tree grows, and you get coins. The coins will allow you to unlock other types of trees.

                As you continue with your work session, you can see a countdown timer and an animation of a tree growing from a seed to its full splendor. Usually Forest also includes an inspirational saying to keep you on track if your focus starts to drift.

                  To make the impact of your efforts even greater, success in Forest also gives you the option to plant a tree in real life.

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                  This simple visualization can help you break the bad habit of checking your phone or accessing websites that disrupt your thought processes. When Forest asks you if you would like to “give up” and kill your tree, most often you will realize that the reason you were heading to the blacklisted website wasn’t that important anyway.

                  Sometimes you just need a small reminder to stay on task. Use Forest during your peak productivity times so that you don’t waste the most valuable parts of your day.

                  You have to identify the distractions before you can stop them

                  You may be wondering how much of your peak productivity time you are losing to mindless distractions. The only way to find out is to take a closer look at your habits. Notice the times when you seem to do your best work. Name the sources of notifications and interruptions that decrease your attention. After you have done this, use an app like Forest to cut out the distractions.

                  Using Forest will not prevent you from being tired, and it won’t keep you from staring off into space, but it will make you think twice about wasting time on sites that distract you.

                  When you are able to experience a distraction-free work environment, you’ll recognize how much more you are able to accomplish. You’ll be able to do your work more efficiently, and you won’t feel the fatigue of constantly re-centering yourself. Soon, your desire to stay focused will be stronger than the temptation to click on your notifications.

                  Featured photo credit: Viktor Hanacek/ Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

                  Reference

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