Is your to-do list getting longer by the hour with no end in sight? Do you feel anxious about the looming deadlines and not enough time to complete every task? Do you work hard all day and still you're never done?
It's time to clarify your priorities and to learn how to become a queen of prioritisation! This system helped me when I was a newly promoted manager with too many things to do and I didn't want to compromise my work-life balance having to work during my weekend. Sometimes, I still fall into the trap of working harder and not smarter but I quickly go back to prioritising my tasks and I get things done.
The main benefit of effective prioritisation is that you get time to do things you really want to do! You can even find the time you didn't know you had and that's the best gift you can give yourself, the gift of time.
Before going further, I think it's important that you take a moment to reflect on what you consider "being organised". The meaning for me is not to suddenly have nothing to do but to be in control of my time and to be able to distribute my work, tasks, personal items in a way that works for me. There will still be some curve balls and things suddenly in need of your attention but with the following system you will identify what to prioritise, you will have time to do it all and still be in control, like a boss!
Without further ado, you can apply the prioritisation matrix to any task, action point on your to-do list starting right now! Follow these steps and I can guarantee you that you will become known for your organization skills!
EFFECTIVE TO-DO LIST
First thing first. If you don't keep a list of what you have to do, you should start one! The list can be digital, on paper or however else you want to use. You can use pictographs for all I care, as long as you have one!
Divide your tasks into three categories:
Today - anything you have to do by today
This week - anything you have to do by this week
Next week - anything you have to do by next week
Done? Perfect! Now that you have done this part of the work, the rest will feel like a breeze.
Each morning dedicate fifteen minutes to review your "today" tasks, move things around the three categories and enjoy the fantastic feeling of ticking things off your list!
I'm preparing a great printable to help you maintain an effective to-do list and I'll share it with you soon!
In the meantime, if you want to take things further, go ahead reading and prepare yourself for the life-changing matrix of prioritisation!
THE URGENT IMPORTANT MATRIX
This approach helped me navigate tight deadlines, projects to deliver within few weeks. This principle is also called "Eisenhower's Urgent Important Principle" taking its name from the American President Dwight D. Eisenhower (he might have really coined this approach), and it focuses on using time effectively, not only efficiently. It's time to decide what should come first, last and what maybe shouldn't even be on your list to start with! Yes, you read right. Some of the tasks you may consider important are actually only distractions and not worthy of your time. Let's discover how we can spot them and truly make good use of the hours we have available.
What is "Urgent"?
Urgent activities demand immediate attention from you and they are usually associated with achieving someone else's goals. We focus most of the time on these tasks as the consequences of not completing them are immediate. For instance, your boss might have asked you to complete a presentation or report. In itself, the task might not be important but it's definitely urgent as you need to deliver results to someone else's in a specific time frame.
What is "Important"?
Important activities have an outcome that helps us to achieve our goals. For instance, you might be working on a personal project so any task linked to it would be important as it brings you a step closer to achieve what you wanted. The key here is really to keep in mind the difference between other people's goals and your own.
How do you prioritise?
Our initial tendency is to focus on urgent tasks, could be because the consequences of not delivering results could lead to uncomfortable situations or maybe because we keep putting other people's priorities ahead of our own. I know I have been guilty of that for a long time but no more as that's a firefighting attitude that leads to stress, anxiety and a general feeling of overwhelm. We need to adopt a strategic approach and make sure we're looking at the bigger picture. Some tasks can be important and urgent while others might be only important but not urgent. Which one should you prioritise?
At this point, you should still have your to-do list. Make sure it includes everything that takes up your time at work, home etc. even if it seems small and not important.
This is the order to use when prioritising:
1. Important and Urgent
These can be unexpected tasks, something you really couldn't have planned for, and others that you have left until the last minute. Of course, to avoid the second case we should eliminate procrastination but that's a post for another day ;)
Since you can't eliminate unforeseen events, the best way to plan ahead for them is to allocate some time in your schedule for "unplanned activities" so you'll always have a time reserve to handle unexpected issues. If you identify a lot of urgent and important activities that you could have expected, make sure you plan ahead now how to break down similar future tasks ahead of time. Nip them in the bud before they'll become urgent.
2. Important but Not Urgent
These activities help you achieve your personal or professional goals while also completing important work! You want to dedicate enough time to these tasks so they will not become urgent and as I mentioned in the previous point, make sure to allocate additional time in case something will not go as planned. No more stress or anxiety and a great opportunity to deliver results right on schedule!
3. Not Important but Urgent
I hope at this point you're seeing where I am going with this. Leaving some activities pending might be preventing you to achieve your goals and you should ask yourself if you can reschedule them or even delegate them to someone else. Don't be afraid to delegate as that's the only way other people are going to learn how to do what you're doing! If delegation is not possible, you should review the origin of this task. Did other people ask you to do it for them? Sometimes, it's ok to say "no", as long as you do it politely and with confidence. Please, don't feel guilty about saying no, your time is precious and we all have the same amount of hours in a day. Remember that you're saying no to the task and not to the person, it shows awareness of your current bandwidth and it's not a personal rejection.
One good trick to do if you have specific people interrupting you often asking for help, advice etc. is to schedule regular meetings with them so you can address all their issues at once, instead of doing it one by one. This approach is applicable also to friends who might be too enthusiastic and don't understand the concept of boundaries. Doing so will allow you to focus on the important tasks without wasting time.
4. Not Important and Not Urgent
These tasks are distractions. Avoid them if possible, delegate or ignore. If that's not possible because other people might want you to do them even though they are not helping you achieve your personal or professional goals, you can say "no" or set clear expectations about deadlines and politely but firmly explain that your focus will be on important activities. You need to be clear about your objectives and people, be it your colleagues or family, will begin learning what they can ask you to do and what they should avoid.
My advice is to start with a weekly plan so you can implement the Urgent Important Matrix on a small scale and build your confidence. In few short weeks, you'll become the Queen of Prioritisation and others will be asking you how you can be so well organised! Don't forget to subscribe to my newsletter to be the first to get my special printable to help you prioritising like a boss! I will publish them next week directly to your inbox.
Remember, the goal of prioritising, planning and control of your time is to gain time for yourself to do what you really care about, with poise, calm and confidence. I'm sure you can do it!
What's a task you're struggling with? In which category would you place it? Let me know in the comments or on social media!