American influencer and keynote speaker Stephen Covey, once said: “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
By prioritizing what’s on your schedule, you simply accomplish as much as you can in the time that you have, shuffling tasks in order of their importance. But when everything qualifies as important, this can be particularly difficult.
However, scheduling your priorities gives you an opportunity to focus on which priorities are vital within your available time. This leads you to question what is most important to you and encourages you to decide what things need to be done in order for you to be productive and reach your goals.
But regardless of your profession or industry, having so many tasks to do at once is a little overwhelming, and it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Read on to find out how to:
- Create an effective to do list
- Identify important vs urgent tasks
- Address your to do list
- Minimize your multitasking
Create an effective to do list
Traditional to-do lists don’t work for everyone; some prefer to store everything mentally. However, by physically writing everything down, you can begin to prioritize your tasks.
At this stage, you can simply place everything that needs to be completed on the list, forgetting about the order in which you do so. To make life easier, you can add an estimated time of how long it is going to take you to do everything.
If you’re not one for writing things down, there are many digital apps that now allow you to create personalized lists on your smartphone, which can be accessed anywhere.
Identify important vs urgent tasks
Once you have listed everything you have to do, it’s time to sort this list into what needs to be done first, what tasks can wait and what tasks don’t need to be on your to do list at all.
According to trainer and life coach Di McLanachan, the reason people have difficulty prioritizing is because they don’t know the difference between important tasks and urgent tasks. Important tasks are defined as those which “directly contribute to the achievement of your job objectives and the functioning of your organization, in other words, the work that you are paid to do.”
Urgent tasks, however, are those which need to be completed soon or there will be a negative impact. However, these tasks often get allocated a higher priority than they warrant because they are easier and quicker to complete.
McLanachan says these tasks “are continually put ahead of tasks that are genuinely important but don’t yet have a close-in deadline. The end result is a potential crisis situation, with important tasks, crucial to the functioning of the business, now threatening to cause a major crisis if they are not dealt with immediately.”
Addressing your to-do list
When it comes to determining which tasks should be done first, you should try to follow this rule: if the task is both important and urgent, i.e. deadline-driven projects, then it should be addressed first. However, if the task is important but not urgent, it should be addressed second, such as planning, admin tasks and relationship-building.
Only then should tasks that are urgent but not important be done, i.e. mail and pressing matters; followed lastly by tasks that are neither important nor urgent, including time wasting or pleasant activities.
After you have sorted your tasks into these four categories, you can start listing them in the order they need to be completed and prepare them to be actioned. If tasks are non-urgent and unimportant, they should be taken off your to-do list, as they only serve as distractions from the more time critical tasks.
Minimize your multitasking
A lot of us like to think we are good multitaskers. However, the concept of multitasking is largely a myth; the human brain is not designed to process more than one thing at a time. In fact, your brain is actually incapable of handling more than one thing at once, and when you think you are multitasking, your brain is simply switching from one task to the other.
For this reason, starting a number of tasks at the same time means not a single one will get your undivided attention, and you may find tasks are completed at a slower pace. If you have set your deadlines too closely together, it’s likely that you’ll end up missing them as most of your time will be spent switching from task to task.
Instead, focus on one task a day, or a week, depending on how big the task is. This way you remained focused on the task in hand, you can complete it to a higher quality, and you’ll be able to start ticking things off your list quicker.
Prioritizing your workload doesn’t simply mean prioritizing what’s on your schedule, it means dedicating some time to thinking about what tasks are most important, what tasks need to be done within a certain time frame, and what tasks need to be done in order for you to reach a particular goal. Once you have determined the difference between tasks that are really important, and those which don’t need your attention straight away, prioritizing your work will become second nature.
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