The Working With... Podcast | Episode 31 | How To Prioritise Your Day

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In this week’s episode of The Working With… Podcast I answer a question about prioritising the tasks you do each day.

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Hello and welcome to episode 31 of my Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week it’s all about prioritising, and how to prioritise your daily tasks. I know this can be difficult because we often feel every task has a priority and so deciding what must be done and what you would like to do can be overwhelming sometimes. Getting good at this takes a little time and continuous practice but it is possible.

Before we get in to this week’s question, could you do me a little favour? If you like this podcast or any previous episode of the Working With… Podcast and you feel what is discussed could help someone, please share it with them. This way, together we can help a million people discover the wonderful benefits of being better organised and becoming more productive. 

Okay, it’s time for me now to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice, who has found her voice again, for this week’s question. 

This week’s question from from TJ. TJ asks: 

 How do you use the concept of "priority" in your daily tasks? Is it strictly an indicator of "importance" or does it serve some other function in your system?

Excellent question, TJ. 

For me a task becomes a priority when it is important to me and the work that I do. Seldom does a task for someone else become a priority unless it leads directly to achieving something important. Let me give you an example. If I have a task such as write this week’s blog post and a task to review a presentation for a client. The priority for me would be write the blog post first as that directly contributes to my goals and purpose. Reviewing the presentation, while important for my client, it would only be done after I have written the blog post. It would still get done that day, but I would not drop everything else to review the presentation file for my client. For me, my higher purpose is to help as many people as I can get better at productivity and time management. The blog post would help more people. The presentation helps one person. Bear in mind, the presentation review still gets done that day, it’s just a question of priorities and in which order I would do the tasks. 

Another reason I would choose to write the blog post is that it requires a lot more creative energy. Reviewing a presentation is simply checking keywords, spelling and grammar. Writing a blog post requires creativity and thought. I know my brain’s ability to be creative is much better in a morning, so that task would get done first. 

To get better at deciding what your priorities are I would always suggest that tasks that contribute to your higher purpose, your goals and the things you want to achieve should always come first. They should be your priority. The dangerous trap we often fall in to is when we want to please people. When we prioritise pleasing other people we sacrifice what is important to us for what is important to someone else. That never leads to a good outcome for us. 

Of course to get better at prioritising we need to know what is important to us. I find a lot of people have never taken any time out to think about this. That is a mistake. When you don’t know what is important to you, the things that are important to other people will always become your priorities. If the only important thing about your work is the pay cheque every month, then the priorities of your boss and colleagues will become your priorities. Your own career, happiness and development will not be a priority. You will just do work set by other people, you will never volunteer to be involved in projects that develop you, you will never grow your own skill set and you will never go very far with your career. You will be, in effect, stuck in a dead end job. A dead end job of your own making. There’s no one else to blame… Really.

If you haven’t done so already, I would recommend you take a piece of paper and write out the fifty things you want to do in the next ten years. This is a great exercise because if forces you to think about what you want and not what someone else wants. When you do this you will find the first ten to fifteen things are easy. It’s after you have twenty things on your list when things get harder. Then you have to force yourself to go deep and think. What you will find revealing is the things you come up with after the first ten or fifteen. These are the real, subconscious things you really want to do and it will tell you a lot about what is really important to you. It might be travel, it might be a beautiful home, it could be experiences you want to experience in your life or it could be skills you want to acquire. All these are good things. 

So how do you prioritise on a daily basis? For me the best way to do this is to ask the question:

What two tasks could I complete today that would have the biggest impact on my goals/projects?

This question is powerful in that it really focuses your mind on the things that are important to you. What you are looking for are the two tasks on your daily list of tasks that you feel will take you a little closer towards achieving what you want to achieve. Something as simple as going out for a walk at lunchtime would contribute to your goal of losing some weight, or spending thirty minutes on the outline of the book you want to write. Anything like these would be good tasks to prioritise as they are focused on the things that are important to you. 

Now of course, I am not suggesting you exclude everyone and and everything from your priorities. That would be impractical. What I am saying is that you should never forget about what you want. If your career is important to you and you want to climb up the company towards senior management, then your boss’s priorities may very well be also a priority for you. If your family and friends are important to you, then prioritising spending time with them is also important. What is important is that you get to choose what is important to you and what is not. Not someone else!

I always recommend you only prioritise two tasks in this way. Two tasks are achievable. If you start getting greedy and try to achieve four or five such tasks per day you are going to fail to complete them every day. When that happens the power of your two objectives for the day loses it’s power. Two tasks are achievable and once they are completed you will feel great. 

Now for the rest of your daily tasks I would suggest you prioritise eight more tasks. This means each day you have ten tasks that you have assigned a priority. Your two objectives and eight other tasks. The reason for this is that we all probably have more than two tasks we need to complete each day. Some are more important than others. Some must be completed that day others not necessarily. By selecting eight further tasks as would really like to get done today—but it would not be the end of the world if you don’t—it helps you to keep focused on other projects and keep things moving forward each day. 

The beauty of prioritising in this way is that you are always moving forward on your goals and projects. Nothing gets missed and you are forced to stay focused on what you want every day. The problem most people find is when things get very busy in their lives, and it will from time to time, it is far too easy to lose focus on what is important to us and end up sliding towards doing work that is not important to us. We start to feel busy and overwhelmed which leads to stress and a feeling we are running around in circles achieving very little. This method of prioritisation allows you have two tasks every single day that you can focus on getting done. 

I mix my two objectives for the day up quite a bit. On busy days, when I have a lot of classes and meetings I would make them easy tasks to complete not requiring a lot of time to do. On less busy days I will choose tasks that may take longer. This is why when you do your Golden 10—the daily mini-planning session at the end of the day—you can see from your calendar how busy you are going to be and make wise choices. 

It doesn’t take a lot of effort to prioritise your day, but it does take commitment. Spending ten minutes at the end of the day to look at your calendar, your tasks for the next day and selecting two tasks to be your objectives for the next day are well worth the time. This ten minute period, and that’s all it takes once you get in to the habit of doing it, can transform your productivity. It can focus you on what is important to you and it can keep you moving in the right direction. And that is what being productive is all about. 

I hope that helps you. Please remember, if you have a question you would like answering on this show, please drop me a line either by email or by DMing me on Facebook or Twitter and I will be delighted to answer your question.

Thank you very much for listening. It just remains for me now, to wish you all a very very productive week.