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Last Updated on May 8, 2019

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life

Do you ever find yourself telling a friend or colleague that you’re “so busy” whenever they ask how you’re doing? Or, that you “have a lot on your plate and hardly have any time for yourself”?

These are common answers to the question: “ how are you doing?”. Perhaps you see it as an easy response that doesn’t need much explanation.  Or, it could be that you’re in disbelief at the end of the week, wondering where all that time went.

The reality is that time is precious and waits for no man. Yet, many of us unconsciously squander time away; but when  that realization kicks in, it’s often too late, or you have little time left to spare. And, the end result of what you were going to accomplish either gets short changed or fails altogether.

Think about the time when you had to be up early for an important meeting at work; yet, the night before you were up late binge watching a TV series. You ended up waking up late the next morning and had to rush to work, leaving you flustered and not well prepared for the meeting. Did you really have to watch those TV series late into the night? Or could you have used that time for an early rest?

Or, what about  that time you had a deadline to meet, and you spent every night that week working late to complete the project. Did you really have to spend every night working late at the office? Or could you have prioritized your time better and gotten the project done during your typical work hours?

I’m sure we’re all guilty of not spending our time wisely at some point in our lives.

But let’s not focus on the time that has already been spent; instead, let’s look at how we can leverage the time that we still have!

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How to Leverage Your Time

Going back to the age-old battle of Quantity versus Quality, which do you think matters more? What if I told you that you need not worry about how much time you have left–instead, focus on how you’re making use of the time that you do have so that it’s worth many more valuable moments in the future?

That’s right. You can easily multiply or invest in the time that you have now. This way, you’ll reap many more returns in the future, instead of merely spending time at present. And, one simple way of investing in time now–so that it becomes quality time– is to Prioritize.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. It isn’t new. Yet, how many of us actually intentionally sit down to prioritize daily tasks and responsibilities? Even less likely, how many of us know a method that can help us effortlessly decide what is important enough to take up an hour of time, and what can be skipped?

Here’s an important skill I want to introduce to you:

Determine Value in Any Task or Action

Before you can decide on what to prioritize, you need to know just how important that action is.

Value is what you gain from an action that you take. It’s the benefit you’re getting in return for spending your time. Sometimes, the Value is immediate or short term; other times, it‘s only realized in the long term.

So when you invest in time, you’re actually creating future value for the time you put in now. Usually, the benefits are not immediate and will take time to manifest. But once they are realized, they are enjoyed over a long period of time.

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Reduce Time Expenditures

Time expenditure on the other hand, creates short term benefits at the cost of your current time. Usually, the benefits are quickly enjoyed, but are one-off. So once it’s done, it’s gone.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your tasks are automatically prioritized by your brain. Some tasks can get you closer toward your goals, while others don’t really get you anywhere at all. Outside of work, most people seldom plan out their tasks deliberately, which allows  them be driven automatically.

This is where you end up feeling ‘busy’ all the time because some of the actions that you’re doing don’t necessarily align with what you want in the future. The consequence is that we spend a lot of our precious time on wasteful time expenditures, and far too little on time investments.

This causes a lot of people to be stuck in the same loop, day after day, month after month, year after year.

By simply determining the value of your daily actions or tasks, you’ll already be intentionally prioritizing at a much more efficient rate. This will not only reduce time expenditure, but increase time investments that you’ll be able to use in the near future for much more important areas in your life.

Let me paint you a scenario. Say you’re going on a week long vacation to Australia. It’s your first time travelling to Australia and there are so many activities you want to do, sights you want to see, and restaurants and eateries you’d like to visit .

All this research can get pretty overwhelming and you may not know where to even start! Do I book a hotel first? Or get my flights? But what if I decide on a specific  hotel and realize it’s far away from all the major attractions? Should I then look up what attractions I want to visit first? This list can go on!

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In order to not get overwhelmed or over plan your trip itinerary, here’s where Determining the Value of each action or task can help you Prioritize effortlessly.

Start with Your Intention

What is the purpose of this vacation? Once you know the purpose of this vacation, you’ll be able to list down a bunch of tasks or actions–such as booking a hotel, booking flights and land transport, booking tickets to certain attractions, making reservations for restaurants, etc.

Once you’ve compiled your list, the next step is simply to categorize them into 3 criteria:  

Must haves, Should haves, and Good to haves.

Must haves are tasks that are absolutely critical to achieve the objective, and should take top priority for resources and time.  

The Should haves are important but not critical; leaving them out may lessen the impact of your outcome.

And, the Good to haves are just optional. Not having them  won’t affect the outcome of your goal.

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Once you’re able to sort out your list according to these 3 criteria, you’re already one step closer to prioritizing effectively and spending quality time on those Must have tasks. And, this will be a game changer. You’ll be able to easily communicate what you are spending time on, and you’ll find that you have more time to spare because it’s crystal clear what’s worth skipping out on!

This can be applied to any aspect of your life, whether you’re a full-time working professional, stay at home parent, or working parent. If you’ve ever used the expression “I’ve been so busy” when talking to someone, then I’ll recommend you give this a shot.

Quantify Your Tasks

Now that you know how to determine the Value of your actions spent, the next step up to effective Prioritizing would be to quantify your tasks so that you can objectively decide which is more important. This is especially useful when you have multiple items within each Must have, Should have and Good to have criteria.

Quantifying your tasks by assigning a value will allow you to objectively see the importance, making it easy for you to know which task to work on first. This way, you can be assured that the time and effort that you’ve put into is quality.

The Missing Piece 

Time management is only one piece of a bigger puzzle of change that you can go through, to turn your life around and find more fulfilment. Often, when you find yourself going through an obstacle or limitation in life, it’s not just because of one flaw or a one off decision you made.

It’s often a process and a result of many actions that resulted to where you are now, and so you should go deeper to reflect and see how things can be done differently. And, I’ve got just the solution for you to get started on creating lasting change.

It’s really not as complicated as it sounds. You’ll be surprised to find that you already know many of these answers. What you’ll discover is that there are unique new ways to make use of what you thought you knew.

Stop delaying and invest in your time now to break free from being busy once and for all by starting a life-changing journey with us here!

Featured photo credit: Marten Bjork via unsplash.com

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

If you have so many things to do that you often find yourself struggling to finish projects and tasks and move on to other stuff, you’re certainly not alone. Studies show that over 20 percent of the adult population put off or avoid doing certain tasks by allowing themselves to be overtaken by distractions.[1]

So what is procrastination? And what can you do to prevent procrastination?

In this article, I am going to explain to youwhy procrastination is so difficult to beat and how you can stop procrastinating once and for all by following a step-by-step guide. But first, you need to understand how procrastination happens.

What Is Procrastination?

Piers Steel, the author of the book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, defines procrastination in this way:[2]

“Procrastination is to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

In other words, procrastination is doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones. The end result is that important tasks are put off to a later time.

This comic is one of the typical examples of procrastination:

    The Challenge of Getting Over Procrastination

    Human beings have limited self-control. Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist from Florida State University, has been studying self-control and he has found that just like any muscles, human’s self-control is a limited resource that can quickly become exhausted.[3] When self-control is close to being depleted, human tend to choose what’s more pleasurable– the immediate procrastinated tasks instead of the actual works.

    At its core, procrastination is an avoidance strategy. Procrastinators choose to do something else instead of doing what they need to do because it’s much easier to choose pleasure over pain.

    In short, procrastination is so difficult to beat because it is a battle against human’s natural enemy, a human weakness that is in-born.

    How to Stop Procrastinating (Step-By-Step Guide)

    Despite the fact that it’s human nature to seek for immediate rewards and procrastinate, here I have a step-by-step guide for you to follow so as to stop procrastinating.

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    1. Identify Your Triggers: The 5 Types of Procrastinator

    Identifying the type of procrastination you personally experience is an essential step for you to fix the problem at its root.

    Take a look at this flowchart here to find out what type of procrastinator you are:

      Which type of procrastinator are you? Let’s take a look at the triggers for your procrastination type:

      Perfectionist

      Being perfect is the pleasure perfectionists want. But often this leads to them being too scared to show any imperfections. Because of this, they frequently fail to complete things, as they’re forever seeking the perfect timing or approach. Tasks end up never being completed, because in the eyes of the perfectionist, things are never perfect enough.

      Instead of finishing something, perfectionists get caught up in a never-ending cycle of additions, edits, and deletions.

      Ostrich

      An ostrich prefers to stay in the dreaming stage. That way, they don’t have to work for real, or deal with any negativity or stress.

      Dreaming gives this type of people a false sense of achievement, as in their minds, they envision big, ambitious plans. Unfortunately for them, these plans will most likely stay as dreams, and they’ll never accomplish anything truly worthwhile.

      Self-Saboteur

      A self-saboteur has bought into the line that ‘by doing nothing, bad things won’t happen.’

      In reality, self-saboteurs have developed a fear of making mistakes or doing anything wrong. Their way to avoid these mishaps, is to do nothing at all. In the end, they may make few mistakes – but they also see few accomplishments.

      Daredevil

      Daredevils are those who believe that deadlines can push them to do better. Instead of having a schedule to complete their work – they prefer to enjoy time doing their own thing before the deadline comes around.

      It’s most likely an unconscious thing, but daredevils evidently believe that starting early will sacrifice their time for pleasure. This is reinforced in their minds and feelings, by the many times they manage to get away with burning the midnight oil. Often they sacrifice the quality of their work because of rushing it.

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      Chicken

      Chickens lack the ability to prioritize their work. They do what they feel like they should do, rather than thinking through what they really need to do.

      Prioritizing tasks is a step that takes extra time, so chicken will feel it’s not worth it. Because of this, they usually end up doing a lot of effortless tasks that don’t contribute much to a project. They’re incessantly busy on low-impact tasks, but seem oblivious to urgent, high-impact tasks.

      2. Face Your Triggers and Get Rid of Them

      Whether it’s fear of failure, overwhelming feelings, avoidance or convincing yourself you’re just too busy to get something done, you can improve your ability to be productive by eliminating your procrastination triggers.

      For Perfectionists, Re-Clarify Your Goals

      Much of the time procrastination tendencies form simply because we’ve outgrown our goals. We’re ever-changing and so are our wants in life. Try looking over your goals and ask yourself if they’re still what you want.

      Take time out to regroup and ask yourself what you really want to achieve:

      • What steps do you need to take?
      • Is what you’re currently doing reflecting what you want?
      • What do you need to change?

      Write things down, scribble them out and rewrite.

      For Ostriches, Do the Difficult Tasks First

      Even if you feel you’re not a morning person, the beginning of the day is when your brain is most productive. Use this window of time to get the more difficult stuff done.

      If you leave your difficult tasks to later, you’re much more likely to put it off because you’re tired and lack motivation.

      Finishing lots of simple tasks at the beginning of the day such as reading all the new emails only gives you a false sense of being productive.

      For Self-Saboteurs, Write out a To-Do (And a Not–To-Do) List Each Day

      Writing things down is powerful and psychologically increases your need to get things done.

      Each day, make a habit of creating a list of the tasks you know you’ll try and avoid. By doing this, it brings these ‘difficult’ tasks to your mind’s attention instead of keeping them locked away somewhere in your avoidance mode.

      Remember, think how satisfying and productive it feels to cross of a completed task.

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      For Daredevils, Create a Timeline with Deadlines

      It’s common to have a deadline for a goal which seems like a good idea. But this is basically an open invitation for procrastination.

      If it’s a self-created deadline with no pressure, we tend to justify pushing it back each time it comes into sight and feel we haven’t yet done ‘enough’ to get there.

      Create a bigger timeline then within that, establish deadlines along the way. The beauty of this comes when each deadline completion is dependent on the next. It keeps you on track and keeps you accountable for being in alignment with the overall timeline.

      For Chickens, Break Tasks into Bite-Sized Pieces

      A lot of the time procrastination comes from overwhelming thoughts.

      If something feels too big to tackle and we don’t know where to start, it feels like a struggle. This is also true if our goal is too vague and lacking direction.

      Break down larger tasks into smaller ones and turn them into daily or weekly goals. Smaller steps may seem like the slower approach to achieving a goal, but it often leads you much more quickly to where you want to be due to the powerful momentum you get going.

      3. Take Planned Breaks

      The human brain isn’t designed to work continuously on the same task and this could be a reason for procrastination.

      Make sure you take regular, structured breaks away from your task so that you can come back refreshed and ready to be more productive.

      A break as short as 5 minutes is enough to keep your mind sharp and wards off fatigue. I recommend you to use the Pomodoro Time Tracker. It is a great tool to help you take breaks at set intervals. Simply start the 25-minute timer, and follow the prompts.

        4.  Reward Yourself

        It’s important to acknowledge and reward yourself for achieving even the small tasks. It creates a sense of motivation and releases those feel-good, productive emotions that spur you on to achieve even more.

        Make your reward proportional to the task you completed so getting a bite-sized task done gets you a cup of your favourite coffee or snack. Then plan a weekend away or fun activity for the bigger stuff.

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        Personally I try to make staying focus more fun by using the app Forest. It turns productivity into a game. In the game, you can plant a virtual tree at the beginning of your work time. If you maintain focus for the duration of the timer, you’ll grow a tree to add to your forest. It’s rewarding when you can eventually grow a forest.

          5. Keep Track of Your Time in a Smart Way

          If you want to prevent the bad habit of procrastination from coming back, keep track of the time you spend every day.

          By having a clear idea of where you spend your time, you can always review your productivity and know which areas to improve.

          It’s not easy to keep track of every minute you spend throughout the day so I recommend you to use the app Rescue Time.

          It gets you a categorized breakdown of how you spend your time and helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task. You can even label activities as productive and non-productive so as to block your biggest distractions.

            The Bottom Line

            Procrastination exists for many reasons and only you know for yourself what these triggers are.

            Understanding what procrastination really is and the source of your avoidance tendencies is important in moving them out of the way and help you start the productivity momentum.

            Make procrastination under your control!

            More About Procrastination

            Reference

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