Any time management article will suggest that you “prioritize,” but many of us don’t really know how to do that. It seems everything is a priority. We try the “A,B,C,1,2,3,” method, but everything seems to be A1, leaving us right back where we started.
Here are three simple steps to prioritize your daily activities (your to do list), that will leave you feeling accomplished and without regrets.
1. First, you must define “priority.”
The first step of this three-step process is probably the most time consuming, but don’t skip it. It is essential to your prioritizing success.
The easiest way I can explain it is to compare the process to the steps we might go through in buying a car.
Most of us don’t wake up one morning and say to ourselves, “I need a new car,” then go to the car lot, walk up to a salesperson and say, “I need a car,” and then buy the first one the salesperson points out. Usually, we go to the car lot with a list of criteria, “must haves,” and “nice to haves,” for the car we’re seeking.
However, where does that list come from? We do our homework! We talk to our parents, our mechanic, neighbors, and others, and we get their advice. From their input, we find common criteria that match our own needs and goals.
We need to do the same thing with establishing our priorities. We need to do our homework! Some possible sources of criteria for personal and work prioritizing might include the following:
– What is my organization’s mission and values?
– What does my job description say?
– What do my customers want/need?
– What does my boss expect or think is important?
– What criteria does my most successful coworker/friend use to prioritize?
– What is the right thing to do based on my values?
– What are the goals I’ve set for myself?
– What is the right thing for my family?
– What is the right thing for my future?
By asking ourselves these questions, we should come up with a long list. We should also find that many of the items on our list are the same.
2. Second, you must prioritize your criteria for your priorities.
Take this long list of criteria and identify individual criterion that appear more than once on your list. Ones that are frequently repeated should become your top criteria by which to judge your work and the rest should continue in descending order. As you go through this process, you might find that some of the input doesn’t apply, so you might eliminate some items from the list. Others may be less important and will be secondary criteria, you would use to evaluate a to-do list item if all other criteria has been met OR in the case of a tie.
At the end of this process, you should have a list of criteria by which to judge your daily work.
3. Apply your criteria to your “to do” list.
Just like you’d take your criteria to the car lot to evaluate each car you see, you’re going to take your list of criteria for what you “should” be doing and apply it to your daily tasks. Those items that meet your most important criteria (or the most criterions) should go to the top of your to-do list.
Those that meet few if any of your criteria should go to the bottom of the list, be deleted from your list, or possibly delegated (or reverse delegated) to someone else.
It may take some practice and this system may take some fine-tuning to meet your needs, but by using it, you’ll feel more satisfied at the end of the day that you not only got thing done, but that the things you accomplished were the most important and the best things you could have spent your time on.