Prioritizing Blindly

One of the most important things you can do with your time is prioritize your activities. BUT, just because you prioritize them, don’t assume it is the most effective way – why? Many people prioritize based on: how they are feeling at that moment or how they feel about the task, instead of thinking strategically about what is best to do first.

Let’s look at it this way…

Jim and Sarah are both entrepreneurs working from home. Jim has a list of different tasks which he pulls out as he starts his day.  On his list, he has to do some research about a product he would like to develop, he has to make some calls to potential clients, go through emails and go through all the papers on his desk to create a filing system.

Without much thought, he opens his computer and starts reading through this emails and responding. After two hours, he has some breakfast. Then he decides to clean up the papers he has been putting off for months, he feels a sense of urgency in tackling this task once and for all. 3 hours later, the job is finally done, although it took almost double the time he had anticipated.

He then jumped on to the net and started doing research – he was shocked when he looked at his watch and found he had spent over 4 hours surfing the net, and gathering information. The day was almost over and Jim thought it was best to rather leave the calls for another day.

Jim went through his day deciding what to prioritize based more on how he felt at that moment, clearly.

Let’s imagine Sarah has the same task list.

She pulls out the list and looks at the tasks. She ask herself questions along the lines of

  • Which tasks are going to bring me the most return on my investment in time?
  • Which tasks will have a detrimental effect on my work if left too long?
  • Is this an income producing activity?

She starts to prioritize these activities before anything else. Making calls go on the top of her list, as she knows this could lead to more business. She then thinks about the research she needs to do, emails, and the piles of paper haunting her on her desk.

She decides to do the research first, because she knows that she needs to develop more products to leverage her income in the near future. She puts a time limit on this and gets very clear on the outcome she wants. She knows she needs to do the filing and get her papers in order, but it isn’t going to bring in money or grow her business like the other two tasks.

Her emails are important, but not urgent, so she decides to scan through the new mails in case there are any urgent ones, but she prioritizes this to do after her research. At the end of the day, if she still has time, she will do the filing.

It might sound really simple and obvious, but it isn’t common practice. If you are unclear about a task, you might tend to prioritize other tasks before it. If you are not confident carrying out a task, you might do that too or if you procrastinate. You might also not want to prioritize tasks that you don’t enjoy, even though they need to be done.

Because we are predisposed to doing things that give us the most pleasure, we subconsciously prioritize tasks based on this premise instead of thinking of the future objectives.

There are many different ways to prioritize, the most effective way I find is the following:

  1. Firstly, you need to have a to-do list which actually works. Your list needs to have the estimated time it will take to complete the task and a column for the deadline. Having this visual information helps you to prioritize easier.
  2. Looking at your list – put a 1 next to all those tasks that are urgent and important to do. Depending how many tasks you have, you may or may not be able to complete them all that day.
  3. Take those items with a 1 next to them, and ask yourself
    1. What is the most important of all these tasks to do first and why? Asking yourself why is very important because it helps you to confirm you are prioritizing strategically.
  4. Start putting the tasks into your calendar for the day. This helps you to see how much you can actually fit into your day. Leave about 25% of your time unplanned – to deal with other emergencies or unexpected work that may come in.
  5. If you have more time, look at your list and think about the tasks that are important but not urgent and put a number 2 next to these. If you don’t spend time on these tasks, they become urgent eventually and then you feel like you are constantly putting out fires – which you don’t want.

It only takes a few minutes to prioritize your time effectively and it gives you the biggest return on your time! Your life is made up of how you prioritize your time – be more strategic to improve your results.

If you missed the earlier tips – read time management tips 1 and time management tips 2.

To your Success!


Kirstin ODonovan

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