Setting priorities is important for managing your energy and time. Once you start setting priorities successfully, you’ll see how helpful it is. Having a set of priorities gives you a roadmap on what matters most. Because let’s face it… if you are not focused on those things that really matter to you then you’re spending time on things that don’t. And that is just a waste of time. Sure, you may even find that you have fun with creating different priorities. It’s nice to see a healthy list of important things. But there might be a temptation to include everything imaginable and over-organize, setting too many priorities and making it a daunting mission to get everything done. You set yourself up for failure.
The good news is that the antidote is simple. In terms of those big goals and major priorities that matter to you most, you can really only have a handful at one time. Not every goal is number one. You need to be choosy like a toddler at dinner time about how many priorities you set. You can do this and here are some ideas for getting to it.
Let’s Start with Your Incredibly Long List of Priorities
How long should your list of priorities be? Well, this is going to sound like a cop-out, but this is hard to answer because it differs from one person to another. It depends on how much time you have and how good you are at managing your time.
The best way to discover your own ideal number of priorities is measure your own performance. Make a plan to do something that can be finished in a reasonably short time (like a week or two), follow it, and then see how you did. Create a system for setting priorities and start using it to generate your daily to-do lists, and then put it into action. You’ll know quickly whether you have too much on your plate, or whether there’s room for more. Many will say that to-do work best when they are shorter and realistic. Having 3 – 5 major items to tackle. Others will throw everything down with the gauntlet and take on 10+ items to handle in a day.
Don’t Get Over-Complicated and Keep It Simple
Hey I was one of those planner-carrying avid Franklin Covey fan, but nowadays it doesn’t seem to serve my life as an entrepreneur. If you’re using a complicated prioritizing system where you have categories like A1 or C4 for your tasks, you’re definitely making things too difficult for yourself. Your system for prioritizing should be simple. David Allen of Getting Things Done suggests the use of folders. (I tried this one for a while and it was ground breaking for a time and then I got tangled with too many folders.)
There are many approaches such as ranking, rating and classifying, but whatever approach you choose should be quick and easy to implement. It should take you only minutes each day to plug in your to-do list items and prioritize. For me the prioritizing with A1 or C4 doesn’t make sense for dealing with clients and running my business. When I was an employee it worked fine because I only had one role to play. Nowadays, I lean heavily on Asana since I can track all the different projects including my own business. I’ve also played around with using even more simple tools like Trello and KanbanFlow. Trello is more like virtual sticky notes and KanbanFlow using the Kanban method of lean project management.
The takeaway here is that no tool is a perfect fit for everyone. Best to try them and see what tool fits into your style and routine. The tool that works best is the one you like to use. I could beat the drum all day about tools, but if you don’t use it regularly it just won’t work.
Go Away, Kid You Bother Me: The One Task That Just Never Seems to Get Done
One quick way to see if you have too many things on your plate to do is if there’s one item at the bottom that never goes away. If each day the same task is sitting on the bottom of your list mocking you in its “un-crossed off” state, this is a sign that you have one too many. Having this persistent undone item can always demotivate you leaving you feeling like you never fully accomplish what you desire. Those kinds of tasks need to be re-evaluated or delegated.
Trim Your To-Do List
If you had your way, everything on your list would get done each day. But unfortunately, that’s not realistic. Tires go flat, kids announce they have a science project due in the morning and dogs will throw up in your shoes. This is why you should try whenever possible to trim your list. Don’t just cut and slash like an over zealous Jedi. For each task, ask yourself whether:
- It really needs to get done now
- There might be someone else who can do it for you (Delegation is a beautiful thing.)
- You can automate the task so you don’t have to actually do it each day
If tasks really need to get done but you’re struggling to accomplish them, never be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to do everything on your own.