How to Prioritize When Everything Matters
Sure, making a to-do list is great, but how do you prioritize tasks, especially when everything seems to be a priority? Instead of being overwhelmed, you need to learn how to prioritize. Yes, it is quite possible, and we will tell you how to do it.
It just so happens that there are people who are focused precisely on combining competing tasks and priorities: project managers. And as luck would have it, I was a full-time manager for many years , PMP certified and all that. During this time, I’ve learned a number of useful tricks that can help you manage your office workload, as well as your ever-growing to-do list at home, with family, or with friends. Here’s how you can apply some of these techniques in your daily life.
First, answer the question: Is everything really important?
Even if everything on your plate should be equally important, you still need a way to break down where you spend your time and how you allocate it. The first question you need to decide is whether it really matters. Here are some tips to help you break through the fog and get a sense of how important your responsibilities and projects really are.
At work, you have a manager. At home, you’re your own boss. One of the main responsibilities of any manager is to help you understand what is important, what is not, and what needs to be worked on. You may have a manager in the office doing it (or you need your help to do it well), but otherwise you are in charge of your job and no one will tell you that backing up your data is more important. right now than to paint the house. It’s easy to give up and think, “This is all important,” but at work, you can bend over and tell your boss that you really need his help. At home, sometimes you just need to pick something from your to-do list and start gaining traction.
If you prioritize tasks that involve other people, such as your family, friends, and coworkers, talk to them. Ask them when they need your help, how much work is behind what you work with them on, and if they can help. If they don’t need you for another week, and tomorrow someone else needs you, or if they are not as busy as you, you know what to do.
We’ll talk about this a little later, but you probably have an idea of when each of your tasks should be completed – or at least when you want them to be completed – and how long it takes to work on each. element. Start with due dates, consider how much effort you need to put into each one and how much information you need from others, and work backwards to figure out what you should be working on right now (or what you should have already started. . , in some cases).
Keep yourself accountable
Finally, after you’ve spent some time figuring out what really matters and ranking them based on what you think you should decide first, it’s time to put it down in writing and share with everyone involved. Set expectations with others when you will do your work for them, and set expectations with yourself when you have time to work on your own projects. This is more important in a work setting, but involving others in your non-work activities can also keep you – and others – accountable.
For your priorities to matter in any way, you need some kind of personal productivity system that you are responsible for and in which your priorities will really matter. If you have a proven system, great. If not, check out our guide to creating what’s right for you .
The goal of your system, whatever you choose, is to save you the trouble of wasting time deciding what to work on next, even if you have a lot to do. I have found that David Allen’s GTD framework is one of the most effective methods for me, mainly because it focuses on what you should do now and what your next steps should be, and it emphasizes that your tasks are being kicked out of your head and into some system that will help you in your work. There are many other options, such as the previously mentioned Wunderlist or, if you work in a team, Asana , a collaboration tool that we adore .
Whichever productivity tool and method you choose, transfer your tasks and projects to it as quickly as possible. Make sure it’s something that you will actually come back to and use often, and something that is easy to fit into your workflow, and you will succeed. After all, you need something that is easy to access, easy to enter tasks, and that gives you a great overview of all the balls you have in the air at all times.
Here are the trinity: cost, volume, and time.
When I was a project manager, one of the first things I learned to judge which projects were most important or requiring the most attention was a “triple constraint” or a triangle with three equilateral sides. Each side represents the cost of the project, the scope of the project and the time it takes to complete it. Neither side can be adjusted without changing the other two sides. Your weaknesses help you identify projects that require special attention. This is true for all things, not just projects and project managers: if someone gives you more work (volume), but insists that you complete in the same amount of time (time), you will need more resources ( cost) to handle the job.
For example, if you want to paint a spare room on time so that guests from the city stay overnight, you cannot change the size of the work (the amount of work), but you can control whether you wear your seatbelts and do it yourself. at night (time) or have someone else do it for you while you do something else (cost). Here’s how you can use these three principles to organize your daily activities.
Time: work backwards from your deadlines
Usually, time is the only variable that most of us cannot change. Deadlines are deadlines and are often not set by us. This is where working backwards from the deadline is critical. Fire up your spreadsheet and mark when to complete each project or task on your plate. Then work backwards to today, taking into account everything that needs to be done for each particular case to get from here to the place, and how long it will take. When you’re done, you’ll probably see a bunch of tasks that should have started already and others that hopefully won’t start for a while if you’re going to meet the deadline. This list itself is a good indicator of your priorities, what you should be working on right now, what you should be working on next, and perhaps most importantly, what you should get help with, especially if these are tasks. it should have started a week ago.
Cost: Get help from family, friends, and colleagues.
Cost means more than just dollars. It also means people who can help you, or services you can call to help you or take a load off. Could you finish faster if someone else was working for you? What if a teammate could take some of the work out of your hands and you could take it later? There may be a program or application that can automate this process for you, and it’s pretty cheap. It might be worth spending the money, or inviting friends to help you finish your kitchen renovation before your weekend, or calling someone to install your new washing machine so you don’t have to take a break.
Scope: Don’t Be Afraid to Make Compromises
If your business needs to be completed by a certain time and you can’t get help, it’s time to sit down with the people waiting for you and start making deals. Let them know what you can do and when , and then explain what you can give them later . This is important because it sends a message that you are not trying to avoid the work that you should be doing, but that you are trying to give them something now that they can use while you continue to work in the background to get the rest. on their wishlist. The sooner you stop thinking about your affairs in all-or-nothing terms, the sooner you can flexibly say, “I’ll give you this tomorrow if you give me a week to give you the rest.”
Delegate, delegate, delegate
It is easy for us to work in obscurity, quietly hating our life and our work and becoming more and more frustrated by the minute. At the same time, there may be a friend who is willing to help if we only asked, or a boss who would be willing to help you if you asked the right questions or provided them with the right information.
We talked about how difficult delegation can be and how to effectively delegate authority in the past, but whatever you do, it’s important to remember that you need to be assertive, not aggressive when asking for help, and you need to justify your opinion with all the data you have. By now, you should have prioritized and have a good idea of what you need. Use this information to ask for help and prove you need it, and remember, don’t be discouraged if your friends, boss, or coworkers say no.
Buckle up – it’s gonna be a bumpy ride
Using this technique to set your own priorities and keep track of your own responsibilities is not just what you should do when you start feeling overwhelmed. If the walls are squeezing for you, yes, it’s definitely time to take a good, close look at what’s on your plate, what might come off, and what’s supposed to give, but waiting until you’re busy and tense will make it especially difficult to make the necessary changes so that your the head was above the water. However, it is important, and once you do it, you will never look back.
Hope you can apply these techniques at work, at home, and in your daily life. Once you really understand what you need to work on and how long it will take, you can make smart decisions about whether you can take on this big new project at work or help your best friend plan his bachelor party.
This story was originally published in 2012 and was updated on 11/22/19 to provide more complete and up-to-date information.