Master These Prioritizing Tips for Better Time Management
One of the hardest things with setting priorities is deciding what to do first when you have a million things on your list. I struggle with this one all the time. However, I’ve discovered a powerful trick for reminding me of what’s most important. I’ll show you what I mean in a minute… and teach you how to put it to good use for your own prioritizing and time management needs!
“Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.” Cal Newport
I love that prioritizing quote by Cal Newport. That is a major part of the prioritizing formula for sure. Developing a clarity for what matters in our lives and schedules will help the unimportant fall away.
There’s something very powerful about visual reminders of what’s truly important.
Get It Down On Paper
Get some paper or your laptop and do some speed writing or “listing”. On one piece, write everything that comes to mind that has a set due date today, tomorrow, or this week.
On another piece of paper, or on the back, write down important things that you need to do or finish that don’t have a set due date yet — these are important to you personally or for life/work in general.
On the third piece of paper, list the things you’d really like to accomplish soon. They aren’t high priority, but you don’t want these things to be put off until next year.
On the last piece, write down things that you’d really like to do or accomplish in the future and don’t want to forget. These can be things that mean a lot to you but you don’t mind if it takes a year or two. This could also include things from a bucket list.
This is what my list ended up looking like once I categorized some of those things onto one page. You can see that my longest list is full of projects I need to finish or do in the near future. These things often get pushed back many times due to the urgency of other stuff.
Use Visuals for Optimum Prioritizing Power
Now that your work and to-dos are on paper, let’s organize them a bit. This makes them easier to keep track of and very satisfying to cross off. There are several formats that work well for categorizing lists. We’ll take a look at three of them.
love the grid; it’s a great visual for prioritizing your to-do list. Franklin Covey made this format really popular. He divided tasks into four categories called: Important & Urgent, Urgent But Not Important, Important But Not Urgent, and Not Urgent & Not Important.
I found these really complicated, so I simplified mine into easier terms. You can label yours in any way that’s helpful to you. Below is an example of one of my grids. I created this with PowerPoint, and it’s a bit fancier than you need, but it was fun to make.
The Four-Column List
If you don’t want anything fancy, then a four-column list may be just your speed. Here’s an example of my list in vertical-column form. You may want to have your paper in landscape format for extra room to write.
The Mind Map or Bubble List
This one looks like the brainstorming or mind map formats some people use for creative writing or quick-think task writing. This bubble list format has a more creative vibe to it, and puts some fun into your list-making task.
As you can see, my list titles changed a bit as I figured out what I wanted to accomplish and the wording that best fit those goals. You decide what works best for you.
The Most Valuable Hint About Determining Our Priorities
The urgent things in our lives almost always take over what’s most important to us. Many times, things in the Urgent category are related to someone else, not what’s most important to us personally. If we aren’t careful, other people’s stuff, agendas, requests etc. will constantly overrun what we need to work on for ourselves.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” However, we often get roped into completing things for others, stepping in when there’s a “fire” at work, and doing more than our fair share in general.
Figuring out what our top priorities are, and protecting the time needed to accomplish them in the face of the “urgent”, will ultimately bring us the most satisfaction in life.
Take some time to really look at the Important category (#2 category), and note how long some of those things have been shuffled around on that list…or worse yet, moved to the Would Like to Do list (#3). How does that make you feel — and what can you do about it?
Prioritizing our lists correctly can be an excellent form of self-care. Constantly putting off what matters most to you, in favor of others or “urgent” tasks that won’t bring the world to an end if they’re not done, is only hurting yourself.
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Actionable Steps for Better Time and List Management
- Do what’s most important to you first — this may be hard, but give it a try — go ahead, tackle some things on list #2 before you do anything on that first list
- If you can’t tackle those important things first — sometimes the urgent really is urgent — try alternating tasks from list #1 and #2 on a regular basis
- Delegate — we’ve heard this many times, but how often do we really do it? Give to someone else what they can do for themselves or ask for help with things that can be handled by others
Start a carpool with other parents to minimize daily pick-ups from kids’ activities — or have a coworker pitch in their fair share on a project or complete it without you …. you get the idea.
- Determine the things that provide the very best value for your time, and prioritize them more highly
- Don’t put off the hard/time-consuming things — you’ll feel better tackling those first and rewarding yourself with something you like when it’s done — having that dreaded thing off your plate can be such a relief
- Break down huge and overwhelming tasks and list them in manageable chunks
- Whenever possible, add a time cushion when you have set deadlines — write the deadline on your list as a couple days before it’s actually due to reduce stress and practice good time management
- If you can, and it makes sense, move some items to another list or get rid of them entirely — ask yourself what would happen if you simply never did that thing… would it matter in the overall scheme of life?
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Keep what’s most important to you at the forefront of your life and schedule.
Setting smart, measurable goals will help you stop putting off what’s most important to you. My friend at Iriediva.com has an excellent post about achieving the goals you’ve always wanted.
I hope some light bulbs have gone off as you realize what’s most important in your life, and the kinds of tasks you want to devote the most time to. Take time to prioritize the things on your lists and don’t sweat the small/unimportant stuff that doesn’t get done.
Read Part One of the Productivity and Time-Management Series: Increase Work Productivity in Four Easy Steps
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