It’s no surprise to anybody that today’s world bombards us with more information than we care to have and more distractions than we can reasonably handle. There’s a lot of information to screen, prioritise and try to focus on (you may at this very moment have two screens, email, Facebook, Twitter, your mobile and other things demanding your attention – so thanks for putting it here!).
Clearly this situation can be overwhelming and can create confusion about what is important. The answer is almost always prioritisation; unfortunately there is never enough time to do everything, there is always enough time to do the most important things, and to focus on them until they are done right.
Put simply, prioritisation is ‘doing first things first’ or evaluating items and ranking them in order of their importance and urgency. But before being able to prioritise, we need to know our goals or what we are trying to achieve. If we don’t know the end game, how do we know what is most important and urgent? Goal setting is an entire topic on its own to discuss, however at a simple level, you can prioritise based on:
- Value or profitability of tasks
- Others’ dependence on you finishing mission critical tasks
- Customer relationship considerations
- Alignment to KPIs and Company Goals
- Your own working preferences – some of us work best in the morning, some best at night. Do the hardest tasks when you are at your most productive.
What NOT to prioritise on:
- The fun tasks – we all like to do the fun, interesting, innovative tasks first
- Tasks in your comfort zone
- Low value, non-critical tasks
- The easy things – get the hardest bit done first, or you’ll run out of time or run out of steam.
A key to all of this however is having the personal discipline to stick to the plan. The best laid plans go to waste without good execution.
Some tips for personal discipline and focus:
- Turn your email pop ups off (or turn your email off entirely for a super critical task)
- Just say no – saying no can be hard, we all want to please managers, customers and peers, but if it gets in the way of your priorities, sometimes we have to say no
- Delegate – where possible, delegate the tasks that are distracting you from achieving your priorities
- Defer – book time for non-prioritised tasks. Once you’ve put time in your calendar, you’ll stop worrying about it and can focus on the task at hand
- Don’t procrastinate!
- Remember it’s not the amount of time you put in overall, rather, it’s the amount of time that you spend working on high-priority tasks