Setting priorities involves achieving a balance between accomplishing daily tasks and working toward reaching long-term goals. It’s easy to become so focused on the things you need to do each day that you never make time for, or even forget about, the things you need to do to reach goals or accomplish bigger projects.
- Make a List
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It’s important to write tasks down on a to-do list, rather than trying to remember them in your head. If you go off your memory alone, you’re very likely to only accomplish pressing, urgent, day-to-day tasks that must be done now, always neglecting tasks that can be put off for one more day, causing you to stop working toward long-term goals.
- Find a System that Works for You
Once you have a list going you can work on prioritizing your tasks. There are a number of different ways you can do this, depending on how well you stay on top of day-to-day tasks and how many long-term goals and big projects you’re working on.
One system of prioritization is to assign each task on your list into a category of “high,” “medium,” and “low” priority, being careful not to leave all the tasks that will help you reach your long-term goals in the “low” category. High priority tasks should be important ones that need attention today. Medium priority tasks should be attended to soon, but can wait until tomorrow. Low priority tasks can be put off for several days or longer, but must be moved into the medium and high categories in due time.
Another system is to rank each task on your list by assigning it a number, with number one being the most important task on your list that you will attend to first, number two being the second most important task that you will get to next, etc. But you must include a threshold number in your list that serves as the cutoff for “must do” and “can wait one more day.”
The Teux Deux tool is great for prioritization, simply drag and drop tasks in the order you want them, there is even a holding area for those “someday” tasks so even if you don’t want to do it now you won’t forget about it.
- Understand the Difference Between Important and Urgent
An urgent task is something you must attend to immediately, and a lot of urgent tasks in one day can mean putting off ones that are important and very often have higher priority than an urgent task. For example, a phone call from someone you’ve been trying to get in touch with can take urgency over an important task, even though it may be more necessary for you to finish the important task than to take the call.
If you find yourself constantly putting off important tasks with high priority in order to deal with urgent ones, it’s time to start saying no to urgency and strike a balance between the two. You may want to set aside a time block of one or more hours during the day when you work on important tasks without any interruptions, and make very few or no exceptions.
Organizational management expert Stephen Covey’s Urgent-Important Activity Matrix identifies the differences between these two types of tasks, and can also help us recognize that sometimes they are one in the same. Covey organizes tasks into four categories that show how each group takes priority over the next:Important and Urgent
- Important but not Urgent
- Not Important, but Urgent
- Not Important or Urgent
The distinction lies in recognizing that the urgency of a task does not make it important, and that sometimes important tasks should take priority over seemingly urgent ones that can actually be put off, such as a phone call you could return later, at your convenience.
- Learn to Work Toward Long-term Goals on a Daily Basis
The these tasks may not be pressing or urgent, there’s no time like the present to start working toward making them happen. Start by making a list of all the long-term goals you want to reach, and then begin listing the smaller tasks you need to accomplish to reach each of these goals. A good rule to follow is to accomplish one task per long-term goal each day, however small, so that you are constantly working toward reaching your goals and gauging your progress. Seeing your accomplishments add up toward the larger goal over time can be very rewarding.
- Understand that You Can’t Do It All
Since some of the items on your list are there as nothing more than a friendly reminder, for now at least, accept the fact that you will not accomplish every task on your list. Make sure you give top priority to items that will make you feel like a failure at the end of the day if you don’t accomplish them, and attend to these items first. At the end of the day, you want to feel like you’ve made progress by crossing the most important items off your list.