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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

7 Proven Techniques to Set Priorities That Work

7 Proven Techniques to Set Priorities That Work

The key to staying productive and focused is to set priorities that maximize your time. You can create a mental picture of what you want to achieve in life and schedule your tasks to align with that picture. By doing this, your priorities will reflect your goals and help you effectively stay on track.

Why Is It Important to Set Priorities?

Setting priorities will enable you to:

Live a Full Life

Some people believe you have to sacrifice an aspect of your life to gain in other areas. You don’t have to. You only need to learn how to set priorities that cover all areas of your life.

Setting priorities gives you a sense of what you need to do and when. It will also relieve you of the stress of missing out on an important task. You will have free time to relax and develop a focus on the next task.

Unleash Your Creativity

Understanding what you need to achieve your goals will declutter your mind and enable you to be more creative. You need a high level of creativity to complete your task. Otherwise, your tasks will become boring and exhausting.

Feel a Sense of Success

Anytime you tick a box or cross off a task you have accomplished on your list, you will have a sense that you are moving in line with your life mission. Every completed task takes you forward, while every missed deadline moves you backward. Setting priorities will build the confidence you need to take on bigger goals and responsibilities.

5 Questions to Help You Set Priorities

Brian Tracy, a well-known motivational speaker and self-development author, recommended five questions[1] you can constantly ask yourself to be certain you are living in line with your top priorities. Here are the questions:

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1. Why Are You Being Paid?

Ask yourself if you are doing what you are paid to do. If you are an employee, ask yourself, “What will I be doing if my boss is present and watching me?

Here’s how to answer the question. List all the tasks you have been paid to carry out. Request that your boss or team leader rank the tasks in order of importance. Henceforth, work on tasks that your boss considered to be the most important. If you are an entrepreneur, prioritize the most important tasks that align with your goals.

2. What Are Your Most Valued Tasks?

Recall that 20% of your tasks contribute 80% of the value to your work. Which of your tasks contribute the highest value to your business?

3. What Are the Key Results You Need to Complete a Task?

Figure out the actual results that you need to achieve in order to perform your job. Find out the most important aspects of the key result areas.

4. What Can Only You Do That Makes a Big Difference?

What is that one thing only you can do that can impact your business or organization positively? Performing this task efficiently can positively impact your career and business.

5. What Is the Most Valuable Thing to Use Your Time for Now?

This is an important question in managing your time effectively. Figure out the most important tasks you should be spending your time on and complete those tasks before anything else.

While these questions can enable you to set priorities that work, here are seven ways you can set priorities to complete your daily activities.

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7 Effective Techniques for Setting Priorities

1. Highlight Your Core Values

What are the things that matter to you, those things that you cannot trade for anything in life? Write them down!

You can create a table that covers all your life aspects: your family, career, business, and self-improvement. Then, list the three most significant priorities in each aspect.

Once you have done that, allocate 80% of your time to accomplishing your top priorities. You can complete other tasks that are less important with the remaining time.

2. Align Your Schedule With Your Core Values

Your daily schedule should revolve around those values that you cannot compromise. How much time you allocate for each task reveals what your priorities are. People often spend time on things that don’t count while losing sight of what’s truly important. You don’t have to do it all; you can delegate menial activities while you focus on tasks that demand your skills and experience.

3. Identify Urgent Tasks

The Eisenhower Matrix brought to fore the significance of setting priorities. The matrix showcases your urgent and important tasks, helping you label the things that can’t wait.

Some tasks, such as sending emails or completing your reports, should take the upper part of your list because an uncompleted report can delay your presentation with your boss. It’s important to find out your urgent tasks and complete them as soon as possible.

Eisenhower recommended that you delegate that which is “urgent and not important” while you focus on the things that are “urgent and important.”

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4. Analyze Which Are Your Most Productive Days

Each day comes with its meaning and purpose. One of the best strategies is to find out the particular day you are always at your best. It could be a day off from work or weekend. Once you have made this discovery, attempt the most urgent and important tasks on your list as much as you can on this day.

5. Prepare Ahead

How do you plan? Highlight those tasks that may be on your list for the next day at the end of each day. Creating a list for the next day will give you the sense that you are making progress in life. You can wake up the next day to work on the priorities you have already set confidently.

6. Know That Setting Priorities Is a Skill

No one is born with prioritization skills. It takes learning and constant practice to become perfect. Once you set priorities over time, you will build the ability into a skill set. When it becomes a skillset, you will see the evidence in your life and family.

7. Create a Timeline

Set a timeline when prioritizing your tasks. You have to be realistic when setting priorities. Avoid stacking your priorities; instead, spread them over a specific time frame.

Building a timeline for some specific priorities will eliminate the stress of being under pressure when they eventually become urgent. While some people function better under pressure, many don’t. Therefore, create a timeline and spread your tasks over it, from the most difficult to the simplest.

Bonus: Eliminate Distractions

Distractions are important enemies you need to deal with when you need to achieve your set priorities. Limiting distractions will enable you to focus on what you have set your mind to do. It takes focus to achieve your goals in life.

Take these steps to eliminate the threats to your focus and productivity:

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Turn off Social Media Notifications

You cannot do without your smartphone, but you can manage how you use them. Shut off your social media platforms when you are busy or spending time with important people in your life. Every time you are under pressure to check your notifications, switch off your phone or put it in another room and focus.

Take a Break

Your body is designed to go on breaks. Do not deny yourself that opportunity to renew and refresh your mind. Maximize your break time to do things that give you joy and happiness.

Take Care of Your Body

Physical health plays a crucial role in achieving your set priorities. Exercising and eating healthy food can help you stay fit to accomplish your goals

Complete the Most Difficult Task First Thing in the Morning

You are at your best when you have just woken up. It is reasonable to get those tasks that you dread off your list immediately. This will enable you to free up more productive time later in the day.

Do Away With Toxic People

Toxic people are those who have unhealthy habits. Staying around them can drain you of the strength and motivation you need to keep attaining your goals. Rather, surround yourself with productive, ambitious, and focused individuals. According to Jim Rohn,[2]

“You are the average of five individuals you hang out with.”

Final Thoughts

A sure way to stay focused and productive is to take consistent actions that are in line with your goals. The ability to set priorities that work is highly significant to help you become more successful.

List your core values and match them up with your daily schedule. Then, figure out your most important tasks and do them when you are at your best. Don’t forget to hang out with people that will constantly remind you of your goals. Set priorities, focus, and repeat the process.

More Tips on How to Set Priorities

Featured photo credit: Firza Pratama via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Brian Tracy International: 5 Key Questions For Setting Priorities
[2] Goodreads: Jim Rohn Quotes

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on January 27, 2021

8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

8 Reasons You Have Trouble Concentrating (and Their Solutions)

What were you doing when this article caught your eye? Chances are, you were having trouble concentrating on another project.

Even before COVID-19, balancing your work, family, and social life made concentrating a challenge. These days, it can seem downright impossible.

Don’t let a little bad news—or good fun—break your focus. Here are eight reasons why you might have trouble concentrating, each with its own solution for getting back on track:

1. Digital Distractions

Right now, do a little experiment. Pull up your browser history, hit Ctrl+H, and see where you’ve been all day. Frightening, right?

You jumped in and out of email. You bounced from social media to digital publication and back again. Oh, and look at those half-dozen retail sites you scrolled through looking for a new pair of shoes.

Then, there’s your smartphone. Every few seconds, you get a new notification from Twitter, Instagram, or CNN. Each time, your eyes dart from your computer screen to your phone. You’d hate to miss something, right?

The Fix: Schedule Your Day

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, you can put together a daily schedule to help when you have trouble focusing. While a little flexibility is important, you should set aside blocks of time for tasks you know you’ll need to complete.

Schedule time to:

  • Read and respond to work emails
  • Make headway on your top two or three work projects
  • Engage in professional development
  • Do household chores
  • Help the kids with homework
  • Run that Zoom tutorial with your partner again

Leave short gaps in between as buffer times in case something goes over the intended time. Everyone needs to unwind with a good distraction now and again. The key is controlling when you do so, rather than letting it control you.

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2. Daydreams and Memories

Remember that little café where your spouse proposed to you 15 years ago? Wouldn’t your dining room look great with the same little tables and subway tile on the floor?

Everyone loses themselves in daydreams and memories sometimes. Your mind wanders to the future or the past because those places are more pleasant than the spreadsheet you’re struggling to fill out. This causes you to have trouble concentrating on what you need to focus on.

Nonetheless, you have a deadline to meet, so how can you keep yourself focused when you have trouble concentrating?

The Fix: Stay in the Present

Daydreaming isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Imagination can provide a spark of creative genius or visualization of what you want in life. You just need to do it when it makes sense, not when you should be focusing on work.

Stay in the present by keeping your daily to-do list on your desk. When your mind starts to drift, pull yourself back to what’s right in front of you. Ground yourself by focusing on something real, like your breath, before turning your attention back to the task at hand.

With that said, make time to let your mind wander on occasion. Allow yourself the luxury of dreaming when it’s not pulling you away from something you need to get done.

3. Headaches

Nearly everyone has had a headache at some point during their lives. While you might be able to power through a mild one, a splitting migraine can destroy any hope you have of concentrating.

Headaches and migraines are caused by a wide range of issues, including stress, lack of sleep, diet, eyestrain, and medications[1]. Throw a global pandemic on top, and it’s no wonder your head is pounding.

The Fix: Use Your Head

Like that bottle of hand sanitizer, keep your headache and migraine medications on hand at all times. If getting to the pharmacy is a challenge these days, migraine services like Nurx can diagnose you and deliver medication to your door.

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If your headache isn’t severe, try a medication-free approach. Some people find relief simply from drinking water, applying a cold compress, or inhaling essential oils.

4. Racing Thoughts

When is that project due? I’ve got to get something for Jane’s baby shower. I’m almost out of shampoo. I need those audit figures. What do I make for dinner tonight?

Does that sound familiar? Racing thoughts are common, especially among busy people, but they aren’t conducive to keeping your brain on track and focused and often cause you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Meditate and Be Mindful

If you’re like most people, your mind is lost in thought 47% of the time, causing concentration problems.[2] Meditation is a great way to clear the clutter and focus on the present.

The good news is that meditating is easy. Simply sit somewhere comfortable, take off your shoes, and set a timer for ten minutes. Then, just focus on your breathing. Don’t try to control it; simply notice your inhales and exhales, and let thoughts pass unjudged.

Mindfulness meditation, described above, is just one type. Mantra and movement meditations are also popular. Figure out what works for you, and keep those racing thoughts at bay.

5. Unresolved Issues and Arguments

Life is messy, and if you’re like me, one of the greatest concentration-killers is unresolved disputes.

Maybe you argued with your partner last night. Perhaps you both went to bed angry, and it’s been bothering you all morning. Or maybe you’re fed up with a co-worker who always talks louder than is necessary because they want everyone to hear about their latest date.

Your anger and annoyance won’t solve these issues, but they will distract you from your job.

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The Fix: Get Some Closure

Instead of leaving an argument up in the air, try to solve it. Stick to the point, stay calm, listen, and bring the disagreement to some sort of resolution.

If a co-worker does something to irritate you enough to interfere with your ability to concentrate, pull them aside and tell them. Be rational—not angry—and try to understand what might motivate their actions. Otherwise, nothing is going to change, including the fact that you’re having trouble concentrating.

6. Lack of Sleep

Poor sleep isn’t just a health issue. It also hinders your ability to concentrate during the waking hours. There are medical reasons for poor sleep, like diabetes, sleep apnea, respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. For those, you need to seek medical advice and treatment.

For most people, poor sleep is the result of mental health struggles and anxiety about finances, kids, parents, or maybe that job change you’ve been considering. You have a lot on your mind, and this causes you to have trouble concentrating.

The Fix: Have Some Sweet Dreams

Losing as few as 16 minutes of sleep can throw you off your game the next day. Getting to sleep might be as easy as changing your mattress or your pillow, but the bigger culprit may be your routine. Key steps include:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
  • Control your exposure to light at night, including smartphones and computer screens. Use that time to confront those weighty things on your mind by making a list of concerns or updating your to-do list.
  • Avoid overeating. Large meals close to bed can make you feel bloated and uncomfortable.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine. Both substances interrupt your natural sleep cycle.
  • When you do lie down, turn off the lights and close your eyes. Take some deep breaths, and drift into dreamland.

7. Lack of Exercise

For many people, exercise lands at the bottom of the to-do list. When they run out of time, they skip it—at the cost of their concentration.

Even moderate, regular physical activity benefits your physical health, improves your sleep, lessens anxiety, and increases mental acuity. If you aren’t making time for exercise during the day, you’re hurting your ability to stay focused.

The Fix: Get Moving

Not everyone is an athlete, and not everyone wants to work out under the scrutiny of their fellow gym-goers. At the end of the day, what matters is sustainability. Rather than launch into that soon-to-fail New Year’s resolution approach to exercise, start with literal small steps, like walking the dog or taking the stairs.

If it only takes you five minutes to eat that protein bar at your desk, use the rest of your lunch break to take a walk. Even if it’s around the block, you’ll come back feeling refreshed.

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8. Boredom

If you’re bored with a work project, it’s easy to fall victim to even the smallest distraction. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll have trouble concentrating on it. If you’re bored with life in general, you’ll find it difficult to focus on much of anything.

Boredom leads to a lack of motivation, which leads to fatigue, which leads to scrolling through your Facebook feed for hours, killing your ability to focus. Depression and boredom are tightly linked.

The Fix: Get a Fresh Perspective

The pandemic has put a stranglehold on our social lives. Despite the restrictions on seeing other people and going out in public, you need to find a way to put the “social” back in your life. Work-life balance is important, especially under these circumstances.

Even if you’re not comfortable with eating at a restaurant or visiting Grandma, there are things you can do. Zoom and Facetime are good options, but you might also think about having a couple of friends over on your patio while maintaining social distance. Keep it short so no one even has to use your bathroom.

And about that boring work project? Tweak your attitude by thinking about how it will benefit your client. Find a way to make it fun, perhaps by discussing it with colleagues who make you laugh. You can check out more ways to make boring work interesting in the following video:

If all else fails, just muscle through it. Mark it off your list, and move on to something more engaging.

The Bottom Line

Concentration requires a lot of energy, motivation, and focus. That’s why most people have trouble concentrating. When there are all sorts of sounds, lights, and people competing for your attention, that combination can be elusive.

Do your best to remove distractions, clear your mind, and take care of yourself. Those work projects will practically check themselves off once you get into a groove.

More to Help You Concentrate

Featured photo credit: Rabie Madaci via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Headache: When to worry, what to do
[2] Columbia University: How Meditation Can Help You Focus

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