You’ve set goals and are optimistic about getting results. The question becomes, how do I organize myself to get everything I’ve planned done. We often set ourselves up for failure by trying to do too much at once. These tips for setting priorities can work for people in various work environments, whether you work in an office, warehouse, or at home.
When you prioritize your tasks, how do you do it?
Do you choose the most urgent item and get to work on it right away, or is it someone else’s project that demands your attention?
When I worked in an office, many people would work on whatever project was due that day. This drove me crazy. Not because they were working on the project that was due that day, that made sense, I did that too. It was because they STARTED the project that was due that day on that day. It got so bad, that I would really have liked to have had an email signature that read “Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part”, but that would have been unprofessional, and probably sort of rude too.
Now, not all workplaces are like that, and if you are reading this, it is probably because you are feeling overwhelmed and want some tips to help set boundaries. Maybe you are already productive and want to step up to the next level.
In any event, here are a list of tips that can help anyone to set good priorities to keep ahead of heavy workloads and to met high expectations.
The Rule of Three
It is good to have a master list of things to do. However, you will run into problems if you try to do everything on the list in one day. By choosing three priority tasks for your day, every day, you are able to at least make some progress on them each day.
Now, you may think, but I can do more than three things in a day. And, of course, that is true. However, let me ask you, how many times are you interrupted in a day? Interruptions have a huge impact on productivity, whether it is someone else or our own drifting thoughts that are causing the interruption. How many times do urgent things make themselves more important than what you had planned? By choosing your three priorities of the day, you are taking control of your own time and schedule.
Even if you don’t complete your three tasks, it is guaranteed that you will have made some forward progress.
By placing like projects together it is much easier to keep a good momentum going when you complete them.
I learned about batching in my twenties when I had a warehouse job and brought the concept along with me to my office job. This method can also work at home to get things done. The point is, whatever your work environment, batching works.
When you schedule a time to do certain tasks and do them in a bunch, you can complete them much faster. For example, if you check your email constantly, you are interrupting your workflow and focus. Every time you do this it takes time to get back on task. You will be surprised how much more efficient it is to batch responding to emails to reasonable intervals of time.
Setting aside an hour to do administrative tasks, rather than doing them one at a time will also save time. Anything that you can save up, and do as a bunch rather than a one off task will help you to be more efficient.
Most people are better able to do concentrated work in the morning. By prioritizing harder “thinking” tasks in the morning, they are more likely to get done.
Likewise, “people” focused tasks, like phone calls, or meetings should be scheduled for the afternoon. Many people experience a dip in their energy levels in the afternoon and this social interaction can help to counteract that somewhat.
Don’t Let Others Set Your Priorities
There are times when you do have to listen to your boss, or your priorities are set by someone else. However, usually, you know your job best and know what is most important. By taking the initiative to set deadlines for yourself that are ahead of the deadlines set by others, you gain more control over your workflow. No one knows better than you how much time a certain task will take, or what time in the day you do your best thinking. By making your own plan to tackle work, you have more control over the outcome.
Making a To-Do List
When you write a list of what you need to do, it makes it much easier to see how much work is on your plate. This should be the first thing you do if you start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated with a lack of progress. Once you know what you need to accomplish, you can break it down into smaller tasks and set priorities.
Eating the Frog
“Eating the Frog” refers to doing that one important thing you are putting off first thing in your day. You know the thing – that person you are avoiding contacting, the bad news you have to deliver, or that complicated paper you need to write.
Whatever the important task in the back of your mind that is weighing on you, if you do it first thing in the morning, the task is done and you will have a good feeling of accomplishment for the rest of the day.
Prioritizing by Energy Level
Some days we have more energy than others. That is just the way it is. Saving a list of low-energy tasks, like filing or cleaning out an email inbox, for low motivation days it possible to still get things done.
The reverse is true as well. On days when you have a lot of energy, try to tackle some of the more difficult tasks on your list.
Related Article: How to get Moving When you Have No Energy
In elementary school, one of my teachers had a day every few months that she called “catch up day”. On catch-up day, no new work was taken on and we didn’t learn anything new. By inserting a few days into your schedule for “catch-up” you are able to clean up those things that either you have procrastinated on, or that were low priority and you have not been able to get to.
Setting Priorities Helps Achieve Balance
The aim of becoming more productive is not to feel extra pressure and stress. It is to become more efficient so that you have more space to relax. It may take a while, but, prioritizing well and setting boundaries, will help you to achieve a healthier balance in your life.