Being able to prioritise is a skill – it is your ability to see what tasks are more important at each moment and give those tasks more of your attention, energy, and time. You focus on what is important at the expense of lower value activities.
Simple example is that although your goal and priority is to get that certification you need for a new job but you definitely do not want to lose your present job by missing the report submission deadline!
We all have many things to do, and we never have time and energy to do them all. We don’t have time and resources to do them equally well either. Many things will be left undone, no matter how hard you try. Prioritising is a way to solve that frustrating problem.
One key reason why prioritising works, and works well, is the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule states that 80 percent of our typical activities contribute less than 20 percent to the value of our work.
Prioritizing is about making choices of what to do and what not to do. To prioritise effectively you need to be able to recognize what is important, as well as to see the difference between urgent and important.
The important, or high priority, tasks are the tasks that help us achieve our long-term goals or can have other meaningful and significant long-term consequences.
At first glance, many of the tasks we face during a day seem equally urgent and important. Yet, if you take a closer look, you will see that many of the urgent activities we are involved are not really important in the long run. At the same time, things that are most important for us, like improving ourselves and our skills, getting a better education, spending time with family, often are not urgent. So what happens in essence here is that we focus on urgent matters which neither give us any satisfaction nor take us closer to our goals. It only gives us sustenance and approval of our bosses at work and probably the mother in law at home who feels the house is well run.
With good prioritising skills, you finish as soon as possible all the important urgent tasks, the ones that would get you into a crisis or trouble otherwise. Then, you focus your attention and try to give more and more time to those most important, but not urgent tasks, the ones that are most rewarding in the long run.
Prioritising principles can be applied to both planned and unplanned activities.
Make a to-do list. For the next seven days, this list will be your primary touch point for completing tasks and assignments in the workplace. Many people find it helpful to start by writing down all of their pending projects in no particular order. For now, the important thing is to just get them on paper and to consolidate all of your little lists into a single, comprehensive to-do list. Multiple lists are not an option!
The key to success is not prioritising your schedules
but scheduling your priorities
~ Stephen R Corey
Beside each item on the list, write down its actual due date. Don’t establish due dates based on when you would like to have them completed. Instead, write down the date when the task is actually required to be completed. Here is something though – if someone else’s list is dependant on your work, then it is good etiquette to give it priority.
Not all tasks are created equal. You may find you have tasks due immediately that have minimal consequences should you decide to put them off for a few extra days. On the other hand, you may also have tasks with extremely significant consequences that aren’t due until next week. In that case, the smart move might be to put off the tasks with limited consequences so you can get started on the highly important tasks right away.
Here is a little tip, set aside some time every week (or more if possible) to clear up the little “stand-alone” tasks on your list like a phone call to “a-not-so-close and not-so-sick but very emotional aunt” who wants to hear from you. You will actually feel that nagging feeling go away and you will focus more clearly on more important matters.
Do remember that these lists are not carved in stone. Reassess and re-evaluate them often as priorities and deadlines do change.