How to Prioritize Tasks and Manage your Time Better
“I wish I had an extra day to finish this.”
“I wish there were a few more extra hours in the day.”
“I have so much to do, so little time in hand.”
How many times do you think or tell this to yourself? Pretty often, right?
From responding to numerous emails, answering calls, firefighting crises at work, to attending to daily routines and tasks, there is a lot to do in a day. How do you manage all of these effectively?
The answer lies in prioritizing tasks.
When you prioritize your tasks, you are able to stay focused, reduce stress, accomplish more, increase productivity, and finally manage your time better.
Prioritization of tasks is a skill that requires a lot of practice and mindfulness. When you practice it daily and make it your routine, it ends up becoming a habit.
Here are four essential steps that will help you prioritize your tasks better.
1) Create a task list
To begin with, create a task list with all the tasks at hand. For example, you can align your task lists with each of your goals or projects. Break down each task into smaller chunks and assign a timeline.
For example, if you’re working on launching your lifestyle blog — break it down into tasks such as brainstorming niche ideas, selecting the right hosting platform, creating a content calendar among others.
This helps you stay more focused and track progress. In case you have any interruptions in between completing a task, remember to come back to the task and complete it before you move on to the next task.
One popular model is Tony Robbins’ Rapid Planning Method which emphasizes tasks that are associated with your long-term goals. This model has a three-step approach.
At the beginning of the week, write down your long term goals and why they are important to you
Now break down the goals into smaller tasks and chunk them or group them so that when you accomplish doing this chunk of tasks you reach a step closer to your broader goal.
c) Creating blocks
The next step is to create blocks and assign chunks to these blocks. The blocks should be created according to their importance.
2) Analyze tasks – do, defer, delegate, delete
Once you have accumulated all the tasks you need to accomplish for the day, analyze each of the tasks closely.
One of the popular strategies to do this is the famous 4Ds that stands for Do, Defer, Delegate, and Delete.
In his productivity book ‘Getting Things Done’, David Allen has suggested picking up a task that can be done within 120 seconds. This is a great tip because it just helps you to give a kick start to your productivity for the day. A 120-second task can be anything, as simple as a phone call or writing an email.
What do you do when a colleague just drops by and requests you to take a look at something? Or you receive an email asking you to think about a new project?
Instead of jumping at it right away, create a ‘defer’ folder and keep the task in the folder and finish the current task. You can use any tool like a Trello board or a separate email folder or a simple excel sheet to create your defer list.
What is important is to go back to this defer list later in the day and take action on them. Remember, defer means to do it later instead of ignoring it completely. This is another effective way to stay focused on the task at hand.
Delegation is a great way to manage your time better. To do this, look at your task list and pick up tasks that can be delegated to a peer or a subordinate.
However, you shouldn’t be spending more time on delegation because the ultimate goal is productivity and efficiency. If you have a big task at hand, you might want to delegate a small portion of it to someone else while you can use that time to do something more important.
Drop tasks that are neither important or urgent.
3) Use the prioritization matrix to categorize tasks
Our minds are always clouded with random thoughts and tasks that we need to do instead of things that are already completed.
This is called the “Zeigarnik effect” named after the Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.
Research study has proved that one way to get rid of all these mental notes is by actually noting them down in a piece of paper. Using a prioritization matrix comes in handy while noting down your to-do list. A prioritization matrix helps you to sort your tasks so that you can focus on more crucial tasks and cut down on the others. A typical prioritization matrix looks like this.
4) Adopt a prioritization method
There are different prioritization methods that can help you to prioritize your tasks effectively.
One popular model is the Ivy Lee method for prioritizing your daily tasks. This 100-year old method is a simple yet effective one.
The rule says, at the end of the workday, list down six tasks that you want to accomplish the next day. It should be ordered according to their urgency. The next day, focus on the first task and concentrate on it before moving to the next one. At the end of the day, tick off the ones accomplished and create a fresh list with the ones pending for the next day.
All tasks may appear to you as super urgent. Knowing how to prioritize tasks will only help you to focus on your broader goals and manage your time better.
Remember, no one knows the secret to freeze time, but those you see around you achieve a lot more have actually learned the art of prioritizing tasks and managing their time effectively and efficiently.