Time Management Tips: Prioritizing
Effective time management begins with learning how to prioritize the right things. Often times we get caught up in what is going on around us that we become reactive to our environments and forget to consider the bigger picture. When emails, phone calls and "crises" come our way, we usually drop what we're doing and reconfigure our day around solving these incoming issues. This makes us purely reactive to what is going on around us and leaves our big-picture priorities in the dust. By getting a better grip and understanding on how to prioritize these incoming interruptions and issues, we can tackle them systematically and still contribute daily to our long-term goals and keep ourselves moving forward. Consider the following time matrix:
This is a useful tool for helping you think through what really deserves your immediate attention, what can wait, and what can be delegated or dropped all together. The idea is to focus more of your time and attention on Quadrant II tasks, "Important, but not Urgent". By "living" in this Quadrant II realm more each day, you prioritize the things that matter to you in the long run. These are the items that you should be creating time for by scheduling them on your calendar and in your daily routine. You should be creating goals around moving these ambitions forward. Don't wait for the time to be available for these things. Waiting for a break in your daily schedule to work on your passions means letting a dream slowly slip away. Tackle it head on by making these things a priority.
Here are some tips to stay the (Quadrant II) course:
1. Write it down - Start to clarify your values by writing down what is important to you as it pertains to each of your roles (mother, wife, professional...). Create goals for each role and track your progress. Writing all of this down and referring to it often ensures that you stay motivated and you become aware of your weak areas and which roles you are not fulfilling like you'd hoped.
2. Learn how to say "no" - This is a difficult one for some people, including myself. I never want to let anyone down, so sometimes I bite off more than I can chew, but doing this can be detrimental to keeping focus on your own priorities. Say "no" by expressing your appreciation for being asked and politely explain the reasons why you must say "no" at this time. This will ensure that those Quadrant III interruptions don't monopolize your day.
3. Start with your morning routine - Create a morning routine that includes at least one of these long-term goals. For example, you can work on relationship building goals by consciously doing something small for your significant other each morning like thanking him for remembering to do something, making him coffee, leaving him a note...etc. You can work on exercise goals with a minimum morning commitment, like 5 pushups. Choose when you want to increase the commitment, but sometimes increasing the commitment too quickly ends in a complete abandonment of the goal. The trick is to start small and make sure you have committed completely to the small goals before increasing the commitment.
4. Ask yourself if something can be delegated or dropped - When a request comes your way, figure out if there is someone else who can do this task or if there is someone else who is better equipped to complete the task. Sometimes we are asked to do something because we are the ones most likely to say "yes", but remember tip number 1. Saying "yes" to everything is a slippery slope. Often, the people who find it difficult to say "no" also find it difficult to delegate. Try delegating a task by finding the right person for that task and explaining that in order to finish your day's list, you are enlisting their help and are available to answer questions that arise. Drop something all together if it does not add value to your life or contribute to your goals in any way.
5. Evaluate your to-do list often - Our days can fill up quickly which means that priorities can change and some tasks can move from important to unimportant depending on those changes. Make sure to go through your list regularly re-evaluate your priorities when necessary.
Once you have a grip on how to prioritize your ambitions and your day-to-day tasks, you can begin to hone your time management skills and make significant progress toward accomplishing your goals with small, everyday strides.