Is your to-do list overflowing with tasks? Do you end up rushing from one thing to the next, dealing with whatever’s most on your mind at the time – and shoving everything else aside for another day? How many times have you thought to yourself “I have so much to do today, how am I ever going to get it all done?” Failing to prioritize your work load usually results in being extremely inefficient and extremely stressed out.
So how can you start concentration on what really matters, instead of on what seems most pressing? Regardless of whether you are a student, work at home mom, a web designer, or a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, prioritizing your work is critical to your success. When you prioritize, you’re determining what needs to get done, and in what order you should perform those actions.
Hearing all the women at the second Unconference talk about needing a time management workshop again was a great inspiration for me. As a continuation of one of the conversations, I'd like to provide you with my methods of organizing and prioritizing my activities.
First, set your life goals. Think ahead for the next ten years and decide what you want out of life. Do you want to travel the country? Do you want to have a beautiful vegetable garden in your backyard? While it is certainly important to get your day- to-day things done, it’s also important to schedule in time for activities that will help you achieve the ‘higher level’ goals you’ve set for yourself.
Second, start a master list. Make a list of everything that you want to accomplish, in no particular order. You don’t need to list routine tasks (like lunch) or menial tasks (like checking your email). The master list is a holding place and a reference so you don’t forget any activity and so that you’re not trying to remember everything that needs to get done. This may seem obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people try to organize their activities in their head. You’ll feel a lot better with everything on paper so that you can see it in one place.
Next, assign each activity a level of urgency and importance.
- Urgent and Important (eg. “My big report is due in three hours”)
- Important but Not Urgent (eg. “I’m delivering a presentation next month”)
- Urgent but Not Important (eg. “My library books are due back today”)
- Not Important and Not Urgent (eg. “I’m watching YouTube clips”)
Generally, it’s not too hard to decide where a particular task or activity fits. The key is not to confuse a task’s urgency with its importance. For example, it might be annoying to be fined $2 for your library books being overdue, but it’s not really an important consequence in the grand scheme of things. On the other hand, missing the deadline with your big report might have huge negative consequences on your career.
These levels of urgency and importance are not set in stone. Your activities will change in priority over time. Just because you assign a medium priority to one of your activities today, doesn’t mean it has to stay a medium priority. It may turn into a high priority or a low priority in the future. Also remember that “important” is a matter of perspective. Be honest with yourself about what’s important to you. Important tasks are ones which enrich your life: they don’t have to be ones that involve making money or advancing your career.
Finally, focus on completing a few activities a day. Choose some from each of your urgency and importance levels, and you’ll get more done each day. I recommend you choose three high priorities, two medium priorities, one low priority. Get rid of your “not urgent and not important” activities. So each day, you’ll have a total of 6 activities to focus on.
You’ll be able to stay on track by making a daily or weekly schedule. Use a tool, such as my time management worksheet to plan your week. Because I'm a WAHM (work at home mom), I like to balance my home life and work load, which you'll see reflected in the worksheet. Schedule in time for each of your priorities, leaving some free time throughout your day for getting daily things done (dusting, cooking, etc.) and relaxation.
When scheduling, remember how your body functions at different times in the day. I find that I’m most productive when I start my day with an activity based on achieving my ‘higher level’ goals (like getting some exercise or learning a new language). This allows me to move on to my urgent and important activities, and get them out of the way. Then, it’s pretty smooth sailing the rest of the day. However, some people are able to better focus in the afternoon or the evening, so high priority activities are sometimes better left for this time of day for some people.
There will be days where you’re invited out for lunch or a meeting and you can’t get to one of your accomplishments. You can always move things around and push certain tasks to tomorrow. I try to do this with the less urgent priorities. Of course, while I do allow for flexibility in my schedule from time to time, I don’t make a habit out of doing this.
Most of the time, I stick to getting my priorities accomplished unless something very palatable arises that is important enough to me to push some of my originally assigned activities to tomorrow or another day. If you did not accomplish one or more of your activities from yesterday, those priorities should be on your list the next day, along with other activities from your master list to take the place of those activities that you did manage to accomplish yesterday.
In order to keep your ongoing list small, say NO to people sometimes. You are not other people’s gopher. Do your work and help other people with theirs when you have something to offer, but don’t do their work for them. Also, learn to delegate things to the people that are supposed to be doing them. Why book your plane tickets when you can hire someone to do it for less than your time is worth.
To summarize: Set your life goals. Start a master list of everything that you want to accomplish. Assign each activity a level of urgency and importance. Focus on completing a few activities a day using a schedule like my time management worksheet. Be Flexible. Say no. Delegate.
Comments are welcome below.
Amanda Suzzi is a homemaker, providence roller derby darling, independent consultant, indie crafter, wife and mother of two girls, professional writer, online marketing maven and a bon vivant on a budget.
Waking up with no agenda can all too easily mean a day spent in your pajamas, with no aim and no direction. That’s why I think it’s incredibly helpful to create a loosely-held routine and task list to my week.
On Wednesday evenings, I like to sit down with a cup of tea and, with my husband, chat about the next week ahead — what’s on our dockets, what errands need running, and a quick financial update. From this discussion, I add to my basic routine for the week. If I know there’s a basic routine to my week, I can approach my days with purpose and direction. I don't have to stick to the routine - things do come up, but it's a great kickoff point.
I use my weekly checklist to check off things that need doing for the week. Then, when I pick out a few tasks for each day, it’s less overwhelming than looking at one big list with a lot to do. I focus on lower-energy tasks in the morning, when my energy level is at its lowest. I like to focus on tasks that require more energy when my body has the most energy — soon after lunch, in my case. Basically, I work with my natural rhythms, instead of fighting them.
Once the kids are in bed, it’s good to have a little quality down time with your spouse or by yourself, so that you’re recharged for the next day’s work. It’s hard to do, I know, when you finally get some free time to pick up the mess and finish folding the laundry. But have a cut-off time, so that you don’t lose your mind with your never-ending to-do list. The laundry can wait for tomorrow.
From our conversation at the Unconference on July 29, 2009, I've learned quite a bit:
- Get up and Move! When you're feeling stagnet, go for a jog, walk, or stretch - it helps get te creative juices flowing again.
- If you can do it in 2 minutes, just do it - ie when you're sorting the mail.
- Take time to dream of the bigger goals and break them into attainable bits
- Have seperate workstations for the 'creative' and the 'business'
- Intermingle the fun clients and tasks with those that pull you down. Find a balance so your highs and lows average out.
- Neotice your monthly cycle and schedule accordingly. Give into desires to cry, but not in front of clients.
- Schedule in more sex. You'll be happier and less stressed.
- and so much more...
Do you enjoy having a predictable routine? What makes your days at home run smoother?
Download the free Worksheet and learn how to manage your time effectively.
Uncovering the My Soul at Work Unconference on Wednesday, July 29th is in the MySelf section because you have to start with Self to create!
Our theme is "Creating our Future" and the agenda is set by you. Our topic structure is parallel to the structure of this site. As our leadership practice moves from within and outward, so too, does our future:MySelf MyTribe
What will be the topic areas or "sessions" if you will? With this minimalist structure we are asking you to tell us what you most want to learn, discuss, share, aspire for in each of these realms of our complex being.
So many choices...but really just begin now...tell us what topics you want to learn about most or what YOU would like to present at our Unconference on July 29th.
Begin now, post a suggestion, share your opinion, tell us what you are most interested in.
Importantly tell us more about, what you want in Creating your Future!
I have a things to do before I die list, that’s about 300 items long and halfway done. There are some things as simple as making perfume from flowers, and as complex as walking the length of the great wall in china. I chose these things because they’d be great memories to look back on. It is both a personal list, and a list of things everyone should experience. I hope the writing bug bites me again sometime and I’m inspired to write a novel based upon my adventures.
You never know how much time you have left, and trying to cram a list of things into that unknown time can be futile. I’ll do them as life presents the opportunity, but I’m trying to live every day to the fullest in the meantime.