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Published on December 24, 2019

How to Prioritize Work When Everything Seems Important

How to Prioritize Work When Everything Seems Important

Even with all of the advances in modern technology, there are only so many hours in the day to cram in everything that we need to do. A simple “to-do” list doesn’t always cut it, and it’s easy to feel adrift in a sea of tasks without an oar. The key to managing all of the work responsibilities on your plate is prioritization.

In theory, prioritization is pretty simple: write down what you need to do and then start doing it.

Here’s the thing about prioritization though — it’s always changing. Every project manager knows that things come up, fall through, and get moved around. How we adapt to those changes can determine the success or failure of our effectiveness in completing that ever-growing to-do list.

In this article, we’ll look at various ways to help you become a master of time management at work and keep all of those proverbial spinning plates from crashing to the ground.

1. Write out All the Things You Need to Do

Becoming a master of prioritizing will have numerous benefits. You’ll get more done, climb the job ladder faster, and have more free time to enjoy life outside of work. It all starts, though, with making a list of what you need to get done.

Write down the things you need to get done at work today, tomorrow, this week, and this month. Don’t worry about the order — we’ll get to that in a minute — just write down everything.

2. Start by Asking: What’s Really Important Here?

Chances are, you have a pretty full list and that a good deal of them seem like the most important thing or at least top priorities. Some of these tasks may very well be top priorities, but others can probably wait. And they’re going to have to if you’re ever going to tackle the top priorities on your list.

Each priority will fall under: do, defer, delegate, and delete. You don’t necessarily need to assign each priority a label just yet, as there are a few methods to help you cut through the fog.

3. The Triangle of Cost, Scope, and Time

One method that effective project managers use to help with prioritizing tasks on a large-scale project is by looking at each task as an equilateral triangle. Each priority’s side can be measured by its cost (resources needed to complete it), scope (how big the task is) and time (how long it will take to complete). Here’s a graph showing the Triple Constraint, illustrated by the site Project Manager:[1]

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    You may be able to change a particular side of the triangle, perhaps reducing the cost needed to finish it, but it will likely involve altering the scope or deadline.

    Put it to use:

    If a deadline and scope can’t be changed on a task, then perhaps that project takes top priority and compromise will have to be made with cost or the scope of other tasks.

    4. Apply the Eisenhower Matrix

    “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” —President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    It was out of this quote that the Eisenhower Matrix of prioritization[2] was formed. Remember those do, defer, delegate, and delete labels we mentioned?

    Here’s where they come into play as illustrated in a graph made by James Clear:[3]

      • Urgent & Important = Do. As in, do it now.
      • Important & Not Urgent = Decide. Do it later, and decide when to do it.
      • Urgent & Not Important = Delegate. Give the task to somebody else.
      • Not Important & Not Urgent = Delete. Don’t waste your time on it.

      5. Eat the Frog… Trust Me!

      If you allow procrastination to set in, then everything else will slow down and you’ll accomplish less. Mark Twain advised that if you eat the frog first (that to-do list item you’re avoiding) then the rest of the day will feel like smooth sailing.

      How you start your day can really establish how productive you are. Identifying and knocking out your most important task (MIT) first will set you up for accomplishing everything else.

      6. Make Your Prioritization Precise With the ABCDE Method

      Everything might seem important, but it’s not and there’s a way to find out what is and what isn’t.

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      Look at each item on your list and give it a letter between A and E (with A being the highest priority). Now give each A a number in correspondence with the order you’ll do it in.

      Repeat the process until every task has a letter and a number. You’ll begin to notice with more clarity what really is a top priority and what’s a D2.

      7. Keep Things Realistic

      There’s a good chance that you’re not going to get to every single task on your list at the precise time you would like. Things change and often when you least expect them to, so it’s important to be flexible and realistic with what you can do.

      If you find yourself so busy that you regularly lack the energy to accomplish your work, then you may need to take a closer look at what can be delegated and deleted.

      8. Identify Your 20% Task

      The Pareto principle states that to reach true efficiency and effectiveness nirvana, you should get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your effort. This can be easier said than done, but there are some tips you can use to put into practice.

      If you could only accomplish five things what would they be?

      Now take away three of those. What are they?

      Now pick just one.

      That’s an MIT.

      9. Stop Checking Your Email So Often

      You’ve probably heard it before, but when it comes to prioritizing work like a boss, it’s worth mentioning again.

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      Stop checking your email so often. According to a survey of nearly 20,000 working professionals, the most successful ones had a very specific trait in common — they were incredibly good at managing incoming emails.[4] They knew how to filter which emails tied into their highest priorities and that’s what they focused on.

      Besides, don’t make checking emails the first thing to do at work! Here’s why.

      10. Revise and Reevaluate

      Our lives are constantly changing and the stars are never going to always perfectly align for every single thing on your to-do list. Deadlines get pushed around, projects get dropped, and everyday life can get in the way.

      Senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Robert Pozen, recommends looking at your schedule for the next day each night before going to bed and revising and reevaluating your items as necessary.[5]

      11. Make the Most of Modern Technology

      An easy-to-use time management and planning tool can really help with knocking out all those priorities. No matter how busy your life is or how much is on your plate, keeping it all organized is going to be essential for getting most of it done.

      Maybe you’re a Google spreadsheets sort of person or perhaps you want an app with all the bells and whistles. There are plenty of options out there, so find one that works for you and put it to use.

      12. Take a Tip from Warren Buffet

      A big part of shortening the path to reaching those Mount Everest long-term goals is clearing out the clutter that gets in the way.

      Warren Buffet reportedly told his personal pilot to make a list of his top 25 goals.[6] He then told him to circle the five most important. Everything else was to be avoided as these things may have seemingly been important, but not of enough importance to deserve the same energy as the top five.

      13. Are You Delegating? Because You Should Be

      The “delegate” part of the four Ds can be tricky for some people who may not feel comfortable asking for help, but it’s a crucial skill to learn. Your boss may be able to help if you reach out. The intern or new hire may be eager to learn a new aspect of how your business functions. Somebody else on your team may be more skilled at a particular task than you.

      If you learn to become comfortable with delegating certain duties when needed, you’ll accomplish those MITs quicker.

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      Learn how to delegate effectively in this guide: How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (Step-By-Step Guide)

      14. The Leaky Boat Conundrum

      Keep in mind when prioritizing those tasks just how valuable your time is. Time spent working towards the wrong priority is wasted time. It’s easy to start a project (the boat), but run into a change that alters its outcome or level of importance (the leak), yet we feel compelled to finish it and find ourselves paddling a sinking boat. Sometimes, the best idea is to move to a new boat rather than fix the leak.

      15. Apply the 5 Whys

      Developed by a Japanese industrialist,[7] this method for determining the importance of a priority is incredibly simple. Here’s the deal:

      Write down the task and why it’s important.

      The fewer times you have to refer back to why the task is important, the more important it is.

      If you need to remind yourself why it’s important numerous times, the benefit of completing the task probably isn’t that great.

      Learn more about the 5 Whys technique here: How to Use the 5 Whys Method to Solve Problems Efficiently

      16. Don’t Let The Bumps Derail You

      There are going to be those days when the frog gets the best of you and everything on your plate looks like an MIT. Everybody has those.

      The important thing for any project manager, entrepreneur, or successful person in general, is going to be consistency when developing and working through that to-list.

      There will be leaky boats and times when there’s nobody to delegate. Take a step back, take a closer look at those work priorities, and stay focused .

      Bottom Line

      We only spend around 40 percent of our workday on primary tasks, with things like checking emails, meetings, and trivial tasks eating up the rest of the day. If you learn how to prioritize effectively, however, you’ll soon find that managing that giant to-do list is easier and finishing those must-do tasks happens quicker!

      More About Time Management

      Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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      Jeremy Diamond

      Jeremy is a lawyer and entrepreneur. He is the Senior Partner of Diamond and Diamond Lawyers, a national law firm based in Canada

      How to Prioritize Work When Everything Seems Important 9 Reasons Why Motivation Matters in Leadership How to Advance Your Career (and the Big Mistakes You May be Making)

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      Last Updated on January 24, 2020

      10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

      10 Good Habits To Have in Life To Be More Successful

      Habits are behaviors and patterns that you showcase by default. They enable you to carry out crucial activities like taking a shower, brushing your teeth, getting prepared for work.

      Interestingly, you follow this routine every day without considering them. Your unconscious habits create room for your brain to perform more advanced activities like problem-solving and choosing what book to read.

      Everyone has habits, and several of those habits are activated every day. I would classify them into three groups:

      • The first category includes the habits that you hardly notice as they have become a major part of your life- such as brushing teeth or wearing clothes.
      • The second category comprises good habits to have to be more successful-like eating healthily, exercising your body and reading books.
      • The last group consists of those habits that are harmful-like procrastinating, smoking or overeating.

      Habits are fundamental to becoming successful in life — or probably ending up a failure. Yet, as significant as habits are, some lack the knowledge of their capabilities.

      Habits are default activities that you engage in without giving an afterthought. They are automatic behavioral or mental activities. They help you carry out some actions without exerting too much energy. They simplify your life.

      Several people aspire to break bad habits. For instance, some people diet to stop overeating. They exercise to reduce obesity. Habits can hinder or impact your performance and productivity.

      That’s why I would share 10 good habits to have to be more successful in life.

      1. Begin Your Day with Meditation

      I recommend mindful meditation early in the morning. This practice helps you to be in the present moment. Consequently, it enables you to be mindful of challenging situations during the day.

      Different stressors may trigger as you go through the day; meditation helps you to remain calm before taking on the challenges.

      Personally, it helps me to devise strategies and think about ideas. Meditation is a good habit to have if you want to be connected to what’s significant in your life.

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      2. Be Grateful for What You Have

      Sometimes, you waste time thinking of what’s not enough. You become immersed in those daunting challenges. However, challenges justify the presence of hope. When you have life, you have expectations. You will be free from challenges when you are six feet under. The only strategy you have to stop focusing on your problems is to focus on what you have.

      Gratitude is a time-tested pathway to success, health, and happiness. It redirects your focus to what you have from what you lack. Here’s what James Clear does every day,[1]

      “I say one thing I’m grateful for each day when I sit down to eat dinner.”

      3. Smile

      Can you pause and smile before you continue reading this?

      Now here is what just happened based on research conducted by the Association for Psychological Science; you set a pace for living a happier life when you smile. A genuine smile or what’s called a Duchenne smile is a good habit to have if you want to find spiritual, emotional and mental peace of mind.[2]

      Smiling induces the release of molecules that function towards fighting stress. The physiological state of your body determines the state of your mind. When you slouch or frown, your mind takes cues relating to unhappiness and depression. But, once you adjust yourself by putting up a smile, you begin to feel a new level of excitement and vibrancy.

      Can you smile again?

      4. Start Your Day with a Healthy Breakfast

      Starting your day with a healthy breakfast is a good habit to have and forms a crucial part of your life. Nevertheless, about 31 million Americans skip their breakfast each day.[3]

      If you are fed up hearing that breakfast is a crucial component of your day, you are only fighting the truth. If you want to become more successful, you need to ‘break your fast’ with healthy foods every morning.

      This habit is not difficult to form if you usually rush out the door every single morning. You can wake up earlier to fix yourself a meal so you don’t break down during the day.

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      Get inspired by these 20 Healthy Breakfast Choices That Will Save You Time.

      5. Exercise Daily

      One of the good habits to have is to exercise your body and muscles every day. You don’t have to run a marathon or lift a weight. You only need to engage in less strenuous activities that oxygenate your blood and inject endorphins in your body.

      Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, classified exercise as a good habit to maximize his already jam-packed schedule.[4] He said,

      ‘I wake up by 5, meditate for 30 minutes, seven-minute workout times three, make coffee, and check-in.’

      He said on Product Hunt that he follows this routine every day as it gives him a steady-state that empowers him to be more productive.

      6. Manage Your Time as You Manage Your Finance

      Another good habit is the act of managing your time effectively. This goes a long way to impact your achievement.

      Time management is what separates the successful from the rest of the world as we all possess the same amount of time. How you leverage time determines your potential to succeed in life.

      So how do you manage your time effectively?

      Here’s Jack Dorsey’s recommendation in one of the Techonomy events;

      “I accomplish effective time management by theming my days and practicing self-discipline. These themes help me handle distractions and interactions. If a request or task does not align with the theme for that day, I don’t do it. This sets a cadence for everyone in the company to deliver and evaluate their progress”.

      And this is Dorsey’s weekly theme:[5]

      • Monday – Management
      • Tuesdays – Product
      • Wednesday – Marketing and growth
      • Thursdays – Developers and partnerships
      • Fridays – Culture and recruiting
      • Saturdays – Taking off
      • Sundays – Reflection, feedback, strategy, and preparing for Monday

      No wonder he was able to run two companies when others were struggling with one job.

      7. Set Daily Goals with Intentions

      Everyone has goals. It may relate to business or personal life. The truth is, we’re all tending towards a particular direction or another. Nevertheless, while long-term goals can offer you direction, it’s your daily goals that you establish that help you develop short-term goals that are essential for your success.

      Long-term goals may not give you the motivation you need to keep on. But when you implement your short-term milestones daily, you become fired up, and you can overcome the challenges that come with taking on bigger tasks.

      Here’s the main truth:Successful people don’t set goals without establishing their intentions. According to Jennifer Cohen of Forbes,[6]

      “What helps you to achieve your desired expectation is ensuring intentions accompany your daily goals.”

      Be intentional about your daily goals!

      8. Seek Inspiration

      It is usually difficult to be inspired for a considerable length of time. Sometimes, you become discouraged and feel like giving up on your goals when things are not working out as intended.

      A practical approach to stay on top of the situation is to inspire yourself each day. When you wake up in the morning after meditation, watch some motivational videos, and let the story of great leaders inspire you.

      Establish what Anthony Robbins called the ‘hour of power.’ Determine how many minutes you spend but make it count. Inspiration is the fuel for achievement because when you can conceive it in your mind, you can accomplish it.

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      Michal Solowow, an investor and the founder of Mitex, a construction company puts it this way,[7]

      “The problems I encounter in everyday life motivates me to find solutions. This is a self-propelling mechanism. becoming a billionaire was never a motivating factor.”

      9. Save Steadily, Invest with All Prudence

      I can exhaust the good habits to have without talking about saving and investing. Most times, you overlook the significance of saving for the future when you are living in your present moment. According to CNBC, a $1000 emergency will propel several Americans into debt.[8]

      However, it is not enough to save, and you must invest your fund and be wise with it. If you pay attention to this now, you will set yourself for a life of success in the future. Ensure you save at least six months in your emergency account so you can be prepared for any future emergency.

      10. Budget and Track Your Spendings

      Benjamin Franklin warned of taking the precaution of little expenses. He said,

      “A small leak sinks a great ship.”

      It is easy to discard little expenses, but the truth is they always add up. This happens when you fail to budget.

      Budgeting is a good habit to have, which can impact your financial life significantly. The money you spend on extravagant lifestyles can be saved and invested in your future.

      The Bottom Line

      Endeavor to cultivate these good habits to have to become more successful as you journey through life. The quicker you cultivate them, the faster you achieve your goals.

      More About Habits

      Featured photo credit: Andrijana Bozic via unsplash.com

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