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Last Updated on February 15, 2021

How to Master the Art of Prioritization the Right Way

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How to Master the Art of Prioritization the Right Way

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.[1]

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

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Joel Falconer

Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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Last Updated on October 4, 2021

How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

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How to Stay on Task And Avoid Distractions

It has become more challenging to stay on task and avoid distractions. Unfortunately, the great benefits of today’s technologies have also become the biggest enemies of focused action. The pandemic has, of course, made its own corrections in the way we manage our time, business, family, and life. Did you know that the time-tracking market will increase worldwide by roughly 21 percent by 2025?[1]

With more and more distractions appearing in our daily lives, it’s understandable that people keep pushing themselves to squeeze every minute out of the day. But only a few realize that outside distractions are fairly easy to avoid compared to our inner triggers.

Mistakenly, we blame only outside distractions, thinking that they mess with our ability to stay on task and make it almost impossible to avoid them. However, our inner triggers are what play the biggest role in focused and productive action. While external triggers are cues from our environment that tell us what to do next, inner triggers are cues from within us. For example, when we’re hungry, we are cued to get something to eat and so on. Understanding what kind of trigger is pursuing you to take certain actions will help you determine the best solution to stay on task.

While distractions are everywhere, it’s not impossible to minimize them. Distractions itself is a topic long, wide, and deep enough for a book at least. On Amazon alone, there are more than 9000 books with a “distraction” on the cover. This once again proves our need for solid tools, systems, and new approaches to help us stay on task and avoid distractions.

Here is my formula for you to stay on task. It is not your typical “turn off your phone” and “close your emails” type of list. This formula has been crafted over years of experience, research, and knowledge. It looks deeper than external pings, rings, and dings.

I aim to give you a different perspective on how you are managing your time, attention, and decision-making. If used with one mind and willingness to truly build a skill to stay on task, this formula might be just the right read for you.

1. Manage Your Attention Before Trying to Manage Your Time

We can manage our time better if we can manage our attention. Time management depends a lot on attention, focus, and flow management, rather than planning and scheduling. Although technical support is a big part of focused action, if we lack prioritizing and attentiveness, we will eventually waste time one way or the other and make it difficult for us to stay on task. Therefore, getting clear on our intention behind the task is crucial for staying on it and not getting distracted.

Do you want to be more productive and feel good about what you accomplish at the end of the day? Do you want to have time to learn a new skill, building a better service so you can create more impact? Do you want to protect yourself from distraction, unwanted information, and more wasted time? Whatever your reasoning, if you can focus, you can get more important things done in less time. In that way, the focus is the ultimate “productivity hack.”

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We all have the same 24 hours. But what matters more than the length of time you put into a task is the intensity of focus because if you have an intensity of focus, you can reduce the amount of time spent doing it to get the same or better results. Even if you’re not in a state of flow, focus helps you get more out of the day.

A study from the University of California at Irvine found that, on average, participants (who worked in the tech field) could only work on a project for 11 minutes before being distracted. What’s worse is that it took them more than 25 minutes to regain their focus.[2]

Focus keeps you productive. It’s what determines whether you do what you want to or spend the day distracted. But it goes much deeper than this.

Being focused allows us to choose the life we want to live, not just react to what’s happening around us. So, let me give you some ideas on how to increase your attentiveness. If you want to improve your focus, you have to do more than just make yourself pay attention. Focus is as much about what you’re paying attention to as what you’re blocking out because unfortunately, the world around us is incredibly distracting and it makes challenging for our brain to focus on a task.

Learn How to Take Control of Your Technologies

There is no escaping from technology, but we need to understand that it is here to serve us, not the other way around. Many of the default settings on our devices are set to take our attention away, and it’s up to you to change them.

Create a Focus-Friendly Work Environment

This plays a massive role in your ability to focus., yet most of us don’t think much of it. Getting rid of clutter, organizing your stuff so you don’t waste time trying to find things, avoiding outside noise and unnecessary interruptions are what will help you stay on task.

Stop Multitasking

If you haven’t heard it enough times already, multitasking is a myth. When we try to do more than one thing at a time, we’re just quickly switching back and forth between the tasks. This isn’t very efficient, and it makes us more stressed. Even worse, the more you multitask, the more your brain looks for more things to do at once. It’s like your training your brain to be unproductive. However, focusing on one task at a time rebuilds your focus, lowers stress, and can even make you more creative.

2. Declutter Your Mind as Well as Your Desk

Clear space creates a clear head. It increases productivity and saves us from distractions. But clearing your desk is very technical. It’s fairly easy doable and repeatable. If you have a system in place that you love, you would only have to declutter once, and then you would just follow your path where clutter gets thrown away regularly. This allows for constant rotation of creative energy giving you space to evolve.

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However, a tidy space actually can keep you on the task only for that long. It can give you only that much of a clear head and distraction-less space. While it immensely helps to shift the energy, it will not keep you distraction-less forever, and this is where your mindset comes in. The “clear space creates clear head” is only partly true.

Clear space gives us more clear mind for that moment, but this is not your long-term solution. If you would have managed to keep your workspace clean, clutter-free, you would still have thoughts. According to research, an average person has 6000 thoughts every day![3]

Will a decluttered space be able to help you with all of them? No! But this is where the mindset work comes in. No tool, tip, trick, or hack will be able to solve your timing or focus issues. Only you can do that because you are the one in charge of your time, your commitments, your schedule, your plan, and also your mind.

If you ever tried to meditate, you know that it takes time to clear your head from thoughts, calm the mind, and thrive in presence. And it is definitely one practice that can help you understand how your mind works. If you are having difficulty staying on task, then it’s time to look for the cause.

If you think that another great new productivity app will solve your problems and you will finally be able to stay on task, it will not support your long-term vision. Yes, it might help for a month or two, but then what? Are you willing to go back and search for other solutions while your to-do list keeps growing and your time freedom is non-existent?

It is great to start by decluttering the mind. Support it with decluttered space on your way to great focus and productive work. Ask yourself: What is blocking you from undivided attention? Have you ever thought that you could be keeping yourself busy to feel worthy of your income? It’s a clue to your limiting beliefs! Imagine if you could replace that with a success mindset, how would your focus increase? It’s taking one mindset block at a time and working through it.

3. Work on Your Pain

What does pain have to do with focus? We waste our time when we get distracted, and we get distracted all the time. Imagine how much you would be able to achieve if you would stay focused on the task for that scheduled time, commit to that task and get it done. Who knows? You might even finish it in half the time you planned.

But let me explain to you something about pain. We allow ourselves to get distracted because it’s our decision to check that ping, ring, and ding. We decide to focus somewhere else when that ring comes knocking. We make that choice because of the pain. We feel discomfort, and we all love comfort, right? Our natural way of avoiding pain and discomfort is what makes us lean towards distractions rather than stay on task. It’s worth looking deeper and understand what are the underlying issues that you’re trying to avoid when distracted.

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Working on that pain will help you stay focused and committed to even the hardest of tasks. If you’re committed to your growth in all areas, it’s up to you to stay on task even when you don’t feel like it.

I challenge you to look where that pain is coming from that causes you to get distracted. Find it, and let it go so you can be attentive, present, and focused.

4. Rewrite Your Habits

We are in charge of building our success habits, so what are you working on today to allow yourself to stay on task with as little effort as possible? Below are the most common distracting habits that probably have been creeping into your daily routine as well.

Stop Adding Things to Your To-Do List

To-do lists give you too much flexibility, too much freedom of choice, and too much space for procrastination to creep in. Everything you’re planning to do, schedule it in your calendar instead. Plan your tasks, and put timing next to every task. Like that, you will create space for important tasks, prioritize wiser, and won’t be able to overbook your time.

If you think about it, putting your tasks into your calendar creates well-deserved peace of mind, gives you much more freedom, and keeps you productive. You’re no longer overshadowed by your never-ending to-do list that keeps growing by minutes and never gets completed. Staying committed to your calendar is a part that can’t be avoided if you want to stay on task. If it’s on your calendar, you have already committed to doing it. You have already decided that something is important enough to get on our calendar, so it’s worth your focus.

Stop Notifying Yourself and Scrolling Your Screen

Checking notifications, emails, messages as they come in. That “beep” sound distracts you in a fraction of a second, but unfortunately, it takes much longer to get back into your creative flow after an innocent “I will just quickly check-it might be urgent.”

For better productivity, you should set certain times when you allow yourself to check emails and it should not be more than twice a day. Seriously, it is enough times (I’m talking from experience). Scrolling through social media is nothing new, yet it still is the biggest time-waster. You get sucked into random posts only to realize that another 20 minutes have passed without creating results for your future. Mind your own business (literally), and create before you consume.

Stop Acting Like You’re Superhuman

Multitasking is not an admirable ability, it’s destructive behavior. You have probably heard about it, but let me remind you again: trying to do more than one thing at a time diminishes your productivity. The human brain simply isn’t designed to multitask. Your brain slows down as it switches between tasks, which takes more time and makes you less efficient.

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Focusing on one thing at a time will make you more effective. If you’re taking too many breaks, you end up lingering and not getting your focus back. Schedule your break to keep yourself in check and focused. Too many breaks lead to more wasted time. Oftentimes, it means working when exhausted. All it does is create more exhaustion and more mistakes. You may also end up facing burnout.

Do yourself a favor and make sleep a priority. The time you spend resting will pay off when you’re awake and ready to take on the world. Once you are clear on what wasted your time, create a to-don’t list to get clear on things you know you should not be doing.

5. Find Traction

We are used to thinking that the opposite of distraction is focus—where we are fully present, attentive, and focused on what it is that we are doing. But the opposite of distraction is actually “traction,” and traction from Latin is an action that pulls you towards what you want to do. So, distractions are actions that pull you away from what you want to do, and tractions are actions that move you towards what you want to do. This means that any action can be either a distraction or traction depending on what you intend to do with your time.

There’s nothing wrong with scrolling through your Facebook feed, watching YouTube videos, or playing a video game, as long as that’s what you intend to do. It’s when you do things unintentionally that you get into trouble. When you get pulled away from what you need to do to avoid discomfort, to avoid that hard work or that pressure dealing with a specific task, that’s when you allow yourself to get distracted.

So, if you’re asking if it’s possible to avoid distractions, the answer is yes. But you don’t want to do it! You want to notice these moments of discomfort and understand what causes you to get distracted. What are you trying to avoid? Why are you letting yourself get pulled away from things that you need to do?

If we dig deeper, we can see things for what they are, including ourselves, our believes, our thoughts, and anything that sabotages our focus without us realizing it.

Final Thoughts

Distractions are a very wide range of things. They are everywhere, looking for you to bring your attention to them. The good news is that you can stay on task if only you choose to. You are in charge, and now that you have a better insight into your triggers, it will hopefully allow you to get less distracted and more focused.

No matter what your distractions are, you are in control of your time, what you do with it, and where you spend it. Be sure to keep that control in your hands.

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Featured photo credit: Surface via unsplash.com

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