Prioritizing Your To-Do List

Now that I have my to-do list all up-to-date and visible where do I start?

  • Do the fun items first
  • Do the easy items first
  • Deal with that email I just got
  • The phone’s ringing – I’ll deal with it
  • Start on the biggest, ugliest project on the list
  • Deal with the item that is due soonest

All of these are valid methods to get things done, however they may not help you get them all done. This is where priorities come into play. So how do you set priorities? Activities can be put into one of 4 categories below:

  1. Strategic Tasks:  Important but not Urgent – Planning, research, creativity
  2. Critical Tasks:  Important and Urgent – Emergencies, meetings, projects
  3. Time Wasters:  Not Important or Urgent – Idle chatting, web surfing, couch potato
  4. Interruptions:  Urgent but not Important – Phone calls, emails, unplanned visitors

The urgent things are the ones that everyone focuses on first because they are compelling, that phone ringing, the new email, the boss coming by with a new assignment…..  Some do need to happen right away such as the project with a fast approaching deadline, the monthly billing, the client meeting.

Unfortunately the ones most often ignored are important items that are not urgent. They are the ones that will help you achieve your goals and yet they have no time constraint on them. These are the things that fall in the category of “When I have some free time I’ll….”. Amazingly for me this free time never appears.

Franklin Covey suggests looking at your to-do list and assigning a priority to each item starting with Category 2, then moving to Category 1 and then 4. Category 3 should be avoided since these are time wasters that cause you to delay Category 1 items.   See Franklin Covey “How to Set Priorities” for more insights.

Now that you know the priority of each item, think about the time it will take for you do get it done and compare that to your schedule. If you have a meeting in 30 minutes but your highest priority item will take 2 hours, now might not be the best time to start it. Either carve out time in your schedule to dedicate to it or break it into pieces that can be fit into your day easier.

By knowing how much time things will take you can use your prioritized to-do list to fill in your day with the important things not the time wasters. It’s easy to chat or surf the web when you have 15 minutes until your next appointment but you may have something that will advance your goals which would be better use of the same 15 minutes.

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