Six Tips on How to Prioritize for Control Over Your Working (and Life)
Date Published: Oct 28, 2021
Regardless of your profession, how adept you are at prioritizing is in large part what separates those who are deficient from those who are competent from those who are exceptional. Approaching all tasks as priorities; being unable to shift focus with changing demands; having unrealistic project completion assumptions; not aligning tasks with long-term goals - these are just some of the negative outcomes when prioritization skills are not optimized.
Prioritizing is not just about creating to-do lists and crossing off items. It’s not merely about responding to emails or meeting deadlines. Prioritizing means having control over your responsibilities. Maximizing prioritization will reorient your focus to tasks that are truly valuable to your work and your life. Learning how to prioritize can make you more productive, reduce stress and instill a sense of ownership over your professional and personal time.
Here are six tips on how to prioritize for control over your work, which can alter the arc of your day towards progress and fulfillment.
1. Create an All-in-One List
To effectively prioritize requires understanding the entire scope of your responsibilities. Get a full picture of what you need to accomplish by putting all tasks - even the most mundane - into a list. This all-in-one list should include professional and personal duties. Yes, picking up supplies for your kid’s school project and a one-on-one meeting with a supervisor are cataloged on the same to-do list.
2. Align with Long-Term Goals
This second step is where you transform a to-do list as a surface-level time management tool into a method to bring structure and real value to your daily life. Take a look at your to-do list and identify tasks that are necessary to meeting long-term goals. The underlying question here is: what are you really working towards?
This of course requires that you have outlined clear long-term goals. If you haven’t, set sometime aside to work on them. This likely will not be an exercise that you can do in one sitting. It requires some self searching and time to distill dreams and desires into concrete ideas.
If you do have specific long-term goals, they deserve to be revisited regularly to ensure that you are working effectively to meet them. Whether your goal is to become a C-level executive, finish a significant overhaul project at work, or learn to play the violin, it will be easier to reach these goals if you break them down into smaller, time-relevant segments. An annual goal, for example, can be deconstructed into quarterly and monthly task lists, from which weekly to-dos and daily priorities will follow.
Managers should be encouraged to review employee goals regularly with their team and set timelines and action items for how personal and team goals are to be achieved. This exercise can be part of a larger employee wellness program and a continuous employee performance management initiative that, when done right, noticeably elevates employee morale and engagement with work.
3. Categorize for Importance and Urgency
Now that you have all your tasks in one spot and have identified which tasks satisfy important goals, it’s time to dive into the nitty gritty of prioritization. Learning how to prioritize for control over your work can take a few approaches when categorizing tasks, but ultimately each methodology is doing the same thing: identifying which tasks are urgent and important.
A well-proven approach is categorizing tasks as urgent and important and prioritizing them as such:
Urgent and Important: priority tasks - get them done first!
Important: work on these uninterrupted - block off time on your calendar to complete them with focus.
Urgent: delegate - avoid these time-wasters that put you on your heels and “putting outfires,” rather than having a proactive approach to work that targets valuable tasks.
Neither: eliminate these from your list - don’t be afraid to cross off items that you do not complete!
4. Multitasking Is Okay - Only if the Tasks are Easy
Managing two or more tasks at once is relatively easy if the tasks themselves are easy. Filling out work tickets while responding to emails is an example of work that can be performed in tandem. But is it easy to write an important document or memo while responding to email? How about pulling and analyzing data while trying to give feedback on a presentation? Work that is difficult in nature - that requires a higher level of detail, attention and skill - should be performed with your full focus. Studies show that trying to complete difficult work while multitasking can lead to a decline in performance. This is never good, especially if it is important work.
To stay focused, identify likely distractions - such as group chats, noisy shared spaces or emails- and avoid them during the time set aside to work on the project. If you have been charged with two competing priorities - such as pulling data and reviewing a presentation - choose the task that is more important and give that your full attention until it is complete. Be sure to check with teammates or supervisors on the deliverables and communicate that one project will have to be pushed back.
Pro Tip: Mastering how to prioritize for control over your work means being a good communicator so that everyone is on the same page when priorities shift.
5. Do the Easy Tasks First When Feeling Overwhelmed
Sometimes you stare at your task list and inertia sets in. You think: I can’t do all of this, so I might not do much of any of it. When this happens, acknowledge that you are feeling overwhelmed, and that is perfectly okay.
But you have to get motivated again. To do so, try working on tasks that require little time and effort. Clearing out these tasks can give you space and reduce that not-so-nice sensation of feeling like you are drowning in work. Crossing off easy tasks can give you a sense of accomplishment and propel you into those important tasks that require your full attention and talents.
Remember though, that this tactic of doing quick tasks first should be limited to when you are feeling overwhelmed, and should absolutely be used to launch you into other work. Regularly performing easy tasks first or not segueing onto bigger responsibilities then becomes a procrastination tool, rather than a work smart one.
6. Review and Reflect
Since your priorities are constantly shifting, reviewing and updating them regularly - sometimes several times a day - is part of the prioritization process. However, a top-notch prioritizer will also reflect on their to-do list. Rather than reviewing the task list for purposes of time management and meeting deliverables, somebody really good at prioritizing will also consider if their prioritization approach is keeping them in control of their work, while driving them towards long-term goals.
Prioritizing for Success
These six tips on how to prioritize for control over your work will help you make the most of your day - both at work and at home. A big takeaway here is to prioritize in a way that ensures you are working towards true purpose. Being busy and crossing off to-do items is not progress. Taking a step back and evaluating priorities so that all work is performed with intention and drives value will help you to avoid wasting time on to-do items of little importance. Prioritize thoughtfully, align tasks with enduring goals and watch your work performance shine and your stress levels fade away.
Priority Management is a worldwide training company with 55 offices in 15 countries. We have successfully trained more than two million graduates in Priority workshops. Our programs help companies and people be more effective and manage their workflow in and out of the office by providing tools, processes and discipline. Simply put - A Better Way To Work! Clients range from Fortune 500 companies, small-to-medium businesses and government/military employees.
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