Did you know that prioritization is an art? In fact, it is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you. Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed with tasks at work, school, or in your personal life, prioritization can bring clarity and successful time management into the picture.
Prioritization involves taking a good look at what you have on your plate each day and figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave for the end. This is a skill that takes a good amount of analysis and clear-headed thinking, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it will make your life easier and more seamless.
How to Achieve Effective Prioritization
There are two approaches to prioritizing the tasks in your to-do list that I often see.
Tackle the Biggest Tasks First
The idea is that by tackling the biggest and most important tasks first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method, which follows this idea.
Once the big things are off your plate, you feel less stressed with the small tasks that await afterward. For some, this seems to lead to a smoother process when trying to get things done.
Tackle the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily First
Proponents of this method believe that by establishing priorities and tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness after a few quick wins.
If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls, and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.
This can also lead to less stress as your mind won’t be pulled in so many directions if many small tasks are marked off your list.
With either of the above approaches, you’ll need motivation to carry out the tasks that you have prioritized. Check out this Actionable Motivation On Demand Handbook to give yourself a boost and get things done.
Your Approach for Prioritization
When tackling simple prioritization techniques, it’s important to go through a few simple steps to prepare yourself to get things done. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Find Your Stress Triggers
The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies entirely on your personality, work ethic, and way of organizing your life.
Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks, or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed.
At this point, you need to first discover what will stress you out more. Do you get anxious and stressed when faced with a few large tasks or many small tasks? Whichever causes the most stress is the one that should get done first.
2. Make a To-Do List
Without a to-do list, it’s impossible to prioritize, as you don’t know exactly what needs to get done each day. For the best results, try making a daily, weekly, and monthly to-do list. This will keep you organized and ensure you don’t miss any important work or urgent tasks.
3. Analyze Costs and Benefits
Each task on your to-do list has a cost and benefits that come with it. The highest priority tasks are often those that are high cost/high benefit, but the tasks you should focus on first with your prioritization method are usually low cost/high benefit tasks. This is known as the Scales Method, and you can learn more about it here.
4. Know Your Peaks and Troughs
I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at a specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming and try to keep my schedule flexible enough that I can adapt.
If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.
What time of the day do you often feel most productive? That is the time you should work on your high-priority tasks. The times when you are feeling sleepy or unmotivated are best used for low cost/low benefit tasks.
The Bottom Line
Prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. Most will work for a group of people and will help get them on track.
What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of prioritization rules until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.
If the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.
Once you’ve discovered what motivates you and helps you feel the most productive, stick with it until you feel you’ve lost touched with a sense of accomplishment. That’s when it may be time to move on to a better prioritization system for your changing needs.
More Time Management Tips
- How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster
- The Ultimate Guide to Prioritizing Your Work And Life
- 10 Practical Ways to Improve Your Time Management Skills Drastically
Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com
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