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Last week I was trying to organise my to-do list, I had a multitude of things I wanted to get done, and all of them seemed vital. I found myself trying to complete every task I had on that list by the end of that same day. It’s easy to view to-do lists this way, however we more often than not get overwhelmed by the amount of tasks on our lists, and therefore prioritising these tasks can be difficult.
What can happen when we don’t prioritise effectively is we get so stressed by the amount we have to do that the quality of our work declines, we can miss deadlines and our energy depletes. So, what are we meant to do when all of our tasks seem equally important? Here are seven specific techniques you can implement in order to speed through your to do list and be the most productive team member.
Broaden your gaze.
When deciding on your tasks for the day or for the week, you need a wider lens. The ability to see the bigger picture is a crucial to your success. Sometimes we tend to view our tasks with tunnel vision, unable to get a sense of that bigger picture. When you are devising your to-do list, ask yourself about your own overarching goals, do you have any looming deadlines? Do you have daily or monthly metrics or targets to achieve? By starting with the bigger picture, it’s much easier to filter down your goals into weekly or daily tasks to pop onto your to-do lists.
Successful prioritising rests on the foundation of remaining organised. I know, much easier said than done. I have been known to write 3 physical versions of my to do lists, which essentially evolve into sticky notes covered in crosses and different coloured highlighter. What I took from this is that remaining organised is essential, by storing our to-do lists in one centralised location, we are ensuring that our goals and tasks are in one accessible spot where we can easily keep ourselves on track to achieving them.
Embrace the Quadrant Life
The Einsenhower Matrix is a four-quadrant grid where “Important” lies on the X-axis and “Urgent” on the Y-axis. With so many tasks on our plates these days, it’s hard to tell what is truly important to our bigger goals. This grid allows us to place a task into one of four categories: Important/Urgent (Q1), Important/Not Urgent (Q2), Not Important/Urgent (Q3), Not Important/Not Urgent (Q4). And that’s the order we should do them in. It’s a simple system that forces us to assess list items accurately. This system really helped me organise my priorities on a weekly basis, by ranking my tasks within the four quadrants, I could clearly see where I needed to focus most of my time and attention.
Qualify every task.
This is a system you can implement alongside the four quadrants. By qualifying tasks, we are asking, does it deserve a place there? With each one, we might say:
· Can I delegate this to someone else? Or is it crucial that I do it?
· Is this a task I could do later? Or does it need to be done now?
· Is this task in alignment with my bigger goals? Or is it a distraction?
· If this task has been on my list for a long time, should I remove it entirely? Or is it worth doing?
Prioritize important yet small tasks.
There are a few things on our to-do lists that are the first to go when we get busy and start to feel stressed, yet in hindsight these are very important to our success. These tasks usually pertain to our own health care. For example. have you ever skipped lunch because you were too busy? Have you stayed up until the middle of the night finishing a project? Have you stayed at your desk all day, neglecting getting outside for some fresh air? These tasks aren’t always made a priority when we are feeling the pressure, yet they are tasks that maintain our longevity throughout the working day. If we can prioritise these tasks, even just one per day, we will find that we retain our focus and productivity when working through our to-do lists. As Dale Carnegie reminds us, “nothing can bring you peace but yourself”.
I am completely guilty of this, but we need to stop putting a million things on our daily to-do list. Realistically we will never get through all of them. This unfortunately can sets us up for disappointment. We might be more successful if we underestimate how much we can do in a day and overestimate how much time each thing will take. This means we will be focusing on completing our most important tasks for the day, then if we have time leftover we can move into our less urgent tasks.
Write your tasks out as actions
When we write out our to-dos and choose what our priorities are, make sure that (in addition to being real), we are being specific. List the priorities according to ACTIONS, not just a general goal. (i.e. don’t list “Events Project” on the to-do list. Write out actions like: “Call Sophie to clarify details” or “Brainstorm 10 ideas for the proposal.”) Again, we want to set ourselves up for success. Creating opportunities to give ourselves clear “wins” is going to make the priority-choosing process even easier. And it will make achieving goals easier, too.