When urgent and important tasks pop up, you need an approach to prioritization that can help you deal with tasks in real time.
Urgent and important tasks can disrupt any schedule, no matter how carefully you’ve organized your calendar. What is the best way to handle unforeseen priorities that need immediate attention?
You probably already know the importance of planning and scheduling your priorities. (In fact, you may have learned about this topic in our ebook). We’ve found it useful to take three different approaches to prioritization:
- Macro Approach– Broad buckets of prioritization of where to spend your time based on Urgent vs. Important Criteria
- Micro Approach– Detailed planning in advance of where to spend your time based on a weighting of criteria
- *Now Approach*– How to choose what to do when unexpected options arise
The Now Approach to prioritization helps you deal with urgent tasks that are bound to come up throughout your week. This approach is about recognizing that you can’t plan for everything and learning to prioritize taking action steps to solve real-time, incoming tasks.
To effectively use your time and energy, you must develop a prioritization skillset. Prioritization skillsets that do not empower you to deal with urgent tasks in real-time are incomplete.
How to Get More Time
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Every task, responsibility, and job assigned to you has to fit within the time constraints of a single day. Though time is fixed, there are ways to get some of your time back.
- Say No
Saying no to low-level priorities allows you to spend more time on high-level priorities. It also gives you a sense of control over the limited number of hours you have in a day. Though it may make you feel uncomfortable, getting used to saying no is an important prioritization tool. It’s entirely possible to enforce boundaries by saying no to other people while preserving a relationship of respect.
If an activity can be delegated, do it. Delegation is a high-leverage activity, as it allows you to essentially be in two places at one time, thereby creating additional time. Keep a list handy of people to whom you can delegate tasks. Delegation means that someone with specialized knowledge of the task handles the task while freeing up more of your time. Though these two practices are some of the most common ways to protect your precious resource of time, take a look at this more nuanced approach:
Delegate, Delete, or Defer
For incoming tasks that are taking up too much time, ask yourself: will doing this right now give me a higher return on my time than what was already planned for this time?
If not, either delegate it, delete it or defer it.
- Delegate it: As mentioned earlier, this task will be assigned to someone else. It’s even better if this person is specialized in this type of task.
- Delete it: If the task does not have a high enough return on time spent, the wisest means of dealing with it is to forgo the task altogether.
- Defer it: Push off this task to a more appropriate or relevant time.
Each task scheduled for a day should be clearly defined by the value it provides. Complete the highest-value tasks early in the day, and then schedule a block of time later on to get to lower-priority tasks. If the tasks are not valuable enough to be on your schedule right now, implement one of the three options above.
How to Prioritize a List of Actions
When you are assigned to an extensive list of actions, it’s in your best interest to prioritize them to get the highest return on your time. If you need to prioritize a list of actions (or anything) quickly, utilize this simple method:
Compare the first action to the second action. If the first action is more important than the second, keep the first action in the #1 spot. Then compare the first action to the third action. If the third action is more important than the first, the third action moves to the #1 spot. Now start again. Compare the third action to each of the subsequent actions. Continue this process until you complete the entire list.
The list of actions should always be judged based on the amount of value they hold, not the desire (or lack thereof) that the person to whom they have been assigned has to do them. People tend to follow the path of least resistance by default, so purposefully aim to do the tasks with the highest return first.
Remember the Purpose for Prioritization
Time is by far our most precious commodity and most limited resource. To get the highest return on your time, you must put a proper approach to prioritization into play.
Developing prioritization and time management skills will not turn everyone into a workaholic, but it will ensure these individuals spend their time as effectively as possible. Efficiency is the ultimate goal of prioritization. It’s about making the most impact using the least amount of resources.
It is important to have and utilize efficient and effective strategies and tools for optimal prioritization. It is a crucial skill and habit to instill in your life if you want to achieve your highest goals.
The Bottom Line
Prioritization skillsets that do not empower you to deal with urgent tasks in real-time are incomplete.
If you use the tools mentioned above when new tasks come up, it should be easy to deal with them. When in doubt, saying no is always an option too. Don’t let other people walk all over your precious time. Take action to protect the time you’ve allotted to complete your work.
To learn more about effective prioritization and how it can help you achieve success, check out our ebook, The 10 Step Arootah Success Formula, here.
How do you prioritize urgent tasks that come up? Which approach to prioritization is most helpful for you? Let us know in the comments!