You’ve worked so hard to prioritize your time and it’s going so well, when BAM, an incoming task disrupts your carefully-organized day. Unfortunately, that’s life and the world doesn’t stop in favor of your priorities. Business professionals must master the dance between their predetermined priorities and daily fluctuations at work. But how and when should you change your plans to handle unforeseen tasks that might need your immediate attention? It all depends on prioritization.
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 come up throughout your week. This approach is about recognizing that you can’t plan for everything and that you must learn to prioritize taking action steps in order 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. While you should plan your days in advance, having a process for handling incoming choices allows you to have better judgment on time management leading to more productive days.
Prioritize Your Day in Advance
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 else) quickly, use this simple six-step 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.
- 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.
You should always prioritize actions based on the amount of value they provide you, not the desire (or lack thereof) that you have 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. Prioritizing your day works well until new factors come into play that disrupt your schedule.
Time is by far our most precious commodity and most limited resource. To get the highest return on your time, you must be more proactive than reactive as often as possible. Being proactive keeps you efficient, and efficiency is the ultimate goal of prioritization. Prioritization helps you make the most impact on your goals using the least amount of resources. Yet sometimes you will encounter urgent tasks. Because incoming tasks are often lower-priority distractions from your higher-priority goals, you should ask yourself in these moments, “Will doing this right now give me a higher return on my time than my preplanned schedule?”
For instance, if you receive a text message from a friend who wants to unpack all the drama from the latest Netflix series while you are working on an important project, do you stop your workflow and attend to the text? Not if you’re attending to a higher-priority goal. With the Now Approach to prioritization, you will likely continue with your project and chat with your friend after your high-priority work is complete.
Alternatively, if you are working on a project and you receive a text message from a friend who is in immediate danger and who needs your help, ask yourself, “Will not doing this right now give me a higher return on my time?” If you follow the Now Approach, you will likely choose to help your friend who is in dire need of help and finish your work as soon as your friend is safe.
Use the Formula
If the action that you consciously intended to do, the INTENDED ACTION (IA) is a HIGHER PRIORITY than another POTENTIAL ACTION (PA) that comes your way in any given moment, continue on with your INTENDED ACTION (IA).
If the INTENDED ACTION (IA) is a LOWER PRIORITY than the POTENTIAL ACTION (PA), change course and do the POTENTIAL ACTION (PA).
Where > = Higher Priority
Where < = Lower Priority
The INTENDED ACTION is an action that you have predetermined was your top priority according to set criteria that reflects and aligns with your highest values.
Make better choices with how you spend your time. You might assume that once you answer all of your emails and texts, you’ll get to your priorities. But what happens? The day ends and you don’t get to them. The key to success is to design a system whereby you stay focused on the important (your top priorities) and ward off the unimportant (temptations).
The 4 Choices of Time Management
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 those 24 hours.
Ultimately you should follow the concept of the Eisenhower Box in which you have four choices: do it now, decide to do it later, delegate it, or delete it.
- Do: If the incoming task provides a high return on your time, do it immediately.
- Decide: If the incoming task is important but not urgent, push off the task and plan for a more appropriate or relevant time.
- Delegate: If the incoming task is urgent but doesn’t provide a high return on your time, assign it to someone or something else (technology) to take the reins.
- Delete: If the task does not reap a high enough return on time spent, the wisest means of dealing with it is to forgo the task altogether.
Learning to say “no” to incoming tasks is a mindfulness exercise and requires you to consistently evaluate which tasks will give you the highest return of productivity on your time. If you are a leader, people will clamor for your attention all day. 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.
The Bottom Line
While you should plan your days in advance, having a process for handling incoming choices allows you to have better judgment on time management leading to more productive days. 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? Let us know in the comments below!