Do you find yourself overwhelmed and stretched thinly over dozens of concurrent tasks and projects? Is your desk piled up with papers, notes, books, folders and binders, and your to-do list looks like a tornado just came through (notes all over the place, some crossed out, some circled, some underlined…)? You need to start prioritizing!
It sounds easy because it actually is, and it will save you a lot of time and energy. And you know, when you run a business, time is money.
The first step is to establish an objective: what is that you want to achieve today, this week, this month, this year?
Once you are clear on that, devise a strategy: what do you need to do to obtain those goals? Having a strategy in place will also keep you focused.
Then look at your calendar and your work patterns. What do you find are the most time-consuming tasks that you are dealing with, what easily distracts you, what motivates you? Schedule your time, decide how to use time blocks. Determine how long should it take you to complete one tasks and plan accordingly. For example:
– 30 minutes in the morning to go over emails, missed calls, to organize your daily plan
– 2 hours to work on the most important projects of the day with a pending deadline
– 1 hour to work on the second most important project with a pending deadline
– take a break, go out, grab a lunch.
– 30 minutes to go over emails, phone calls,
Now focus on one task at a time.
Timothy Ferriss, the author of “The 4-hour Work Week” book is very clear about his priorities and his schedule: he is only available to answer phone calls and emails for a short period of time because, as he says, he’d be too distracted to focus on work that really needs to be done by him. He also realizes that he can only to so much in a day and therefore outsources tasks and projects that someone else can handle (a Virtual Assistant/ Virtual Business Manager)
But going back to you now, you might find that writing out your to-do list at the end of every day, or first thing in the morning, is a way to go: you’ll only carry over unfinished tasks, updated notes and be able to set priorities each day. With that, only put material on your desk that you’ll need for that day. The rest can stay on a shelf behind your chair or in a drawer.
Last but not least, stay organized.
Ali Halle once wrote a blog where she divided tasks into 4 quadrants:
– Urgent and Important (eg. “My big report is due in three hours”)
– Important but Not Urgent (eg. “I’m delivering a presentation next month”
– Urgent but Not Important (eg. “My library books are due back today”)
– Not Important and Not Urgent (eg. “I’m watching YouTube clips”)
Then, she offered the following tips:
– Get rid of your “not urgent and not important” activities. (Note – that doesn’t mean get rid of things that relax and recharge you: they are important.)
– Make sure that “urgent and not important” activities never get in the way of “important and not urgent” ones. Frankly, it’s probably better for you to work on your dissertation for two hours, instead of spending that time racing across town with your soon-to-be-overdue library books.
– Remember that “important” is a matter of perspective. Be honest with yourself about what’s important to you. Important tasks are ones which enrich your life: they don’t have to be ones that involve making money or advancing your career.
– Start off your day with an “important and not urgent” task. This might be writing a chapter of your novel, getting some exercise, sorting out your tax return, learning a new language… as per the previous point, you define what’s important to you.