Podcast 095: Prioritizing

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This is podcast 95 and it’s about prioritizing. I’m surprised to look back and see that I haven’t talked about this concept much! It came up last night with my coaching group as we started our month of focusing on time management.

Speaking of the group, May has just begun, so it’s not too late to join the group. You can find out details on my homepage, cluttercoach.net.

Lack of prioritizing is a big reason that people get overwhelmed and do nothing, or they focus on the wrong things because they’re not looking at the big picture. To me, the most important factor in choosing priorities for how to spend your time each day is how well they reflect your life goals. After all, there’s no point in being productive and efficient if you’re spending time on things that don’t matter.

This is an important topic. Many people never write down their goals, for a variety of reasons. It’s said that writing them down is a better indicator of achieving them than not, so it’s a good idea, but at the very least, you should have an idea of what they are.

A tool life coaches use is the Wheel of Life. You can google that and come up with tons of examples. Basically, it’s a pie chart with each slice assigned to an area of your life, such as family. There are basic categories, but you should feel free to add your own or rename them. It’s your life, they’re your categories!

A pie chart is a good technique because it shows you graphically how big each slice is relative to the others. Most wheels have each slice the same size, but it’s worthwhile to draw them to reflect what’s happening in your life and see where you’d like to make changes.

After you have a good idea of what your goals are, ideally in an at-a-glance format such as the Wheel of Life or a short list of evocative phrases, you can refer to it to screen your activities. Note that this is not only for being productive. Fun, recreation and social life should also be in your pie so you have some life balance. But even balance is optional! There’s no rule that says all your slices have to be the same size. They just need to reflect how you want to live your life.

If you think of projects and to do’s associated with your goals that you’re not ready to tackle yet, capture them in a master list. Podcast 35 was about this topic. Use this list for everything that pops into your head that you’d like to do, accomplish, be, have, experience, etc. That way your mind can rest and you don’t have to keep reminding yourself of things you can’t do right now.

Goals and therefore priorities change over time. Don’t be afraid to alter your list if you start down a path that turns out not to be right for you. As I’ve said many times, you don’t necessarily know where a path will go until you walk on it for awhile.

Often you’ll find that the slice that needs some help is one containing a goal you’re procrastinating on. Maybe it seems too big or not do-able at all in your current situation. It qualifies as something that’s important but not urgent and we all know that humans are prone to focusing on urgent tasks at the expense of ones that are actually important. But if you’ve affirmed it as a value in your life, it’s time to prioritize it.

So the sequence is this. Look at your to do list and make sure each to do is related to pushing forward one of your life goals. Screen it using your pie. If you don’t have such a list, make one now! This list is of current stuff, not your daily to do list.

Now you make your daily to do list, making sure to include tasks that are important along with all the urgent ones, although I suggest being honest about what is truly urgent and that only YOU can do. Mark each task as being urgent or important, although some can be both.

Next, prioritize your list so that you are doing as many important tasks as you can while still getting the urgent ones ticked off. Depending on how your particular list looks, you could alternate, starting with an important task. Or you could do only important tasks till lunch, then do the rest in the afternoon. I like this strategy because urgent tasks usually come with an adrenaline rush that can keep you going in the afternoon. You want to save your valuable mental energy time for the important tasks.

Mixing it up a bit can also help lower your resistance to the important tasks, which by definition will be small steps that advance your goals, not entire projects. Refer back to podcast 24 for more detail on that point. Small steps are ones that you are totally clear on and know you are capable of doing. Once you check one off you can go on to the next thing.

It sounds straightforward, but it does require some work and attention; first, to come up with your goals pie and second, to get used to screening your to dos based on your goals and values. But this is how you get to look back over the past year and feel good that you made some progress, however small, on what’s really important to you.

What you can do now: get one of those Wheels of Life and fill it in! If you’ve already done that step, start a master list. If you have that too, look at your current projects and apply the screening technique to the first one.