Are you working from task to task without giving much thought to your busy schedule? What are you busy doing? Are you spending time focused mainly on your highest priority goals?
Prioritization is a difficult undertaking. If you’re not intentional, you could make the mistake of spending your valuable time focused on things that are of lower importance than things that are of higher importance. Common sense dictates that this is clearly not in your best interests. You should be prioritizing actions that have a greater impact on your top goals above those that don’t.
There is often a mismatch between “what we do” and “doing the right thing.” We mistakenly assume that just because we are busy, we must be busy doing what is important. For most people, that’s just not what happens because they don’t have a prioritization process. Then they wonder why they can’t get to their highest priorities. The key is to have a process that ensures that you focus your time on your top priorities so that you will achieve the greatest return on your limited intrinsic resources: time, energy, discipline, and focus. We don’t want to “major in minor things.”
So, how can you start prioritizing your goals?
If you don’t learn how to focus on your highest priorities, you will spend too much time on mediocre lower-level priorities, and that’s what your life will end up being – mediocre. You literally reap what you sow. By the way, if you don’t prioritize what you want for your life, the chances are that somebody else will! That will likely mean that you will end up handling their priorities!
People often mistakenly focus on simply being more productive. While it is important to be productive, it is more important to be productive on what matters the most. That means that you should focus on how much value you create, not on volume. Produce more of that which aligns with your highest values – don’t just produce more. If productivity was the measure of success, we could produce large amounts of manure and call it a productive day. But manure isn’t very valuable. However, if we produced the same quantity of gold or diamonds, our day would be far more valuable!
The key to prioritizing your time is to identify what means the most to you. First, set goals based on your highest values. Having a mission statement for your business or personal life is a great way to figure out what means the most to you. Literally what you value the most. From there, you set goals and prioritize those goals based on the impact that the goal will have on accomplishing the mission, which is the ultimate value. The greater the impact, the higher priority the goal is. From there, devise plans with action items. The actions that will have the greatest impact on your goal will be prioritized higher than the lower impact actions. The idea is to create the greatest value per unit of time.
High Leverage Activities
A great place to spend your time is focusing on how you can get more of it. One way to do that is to focus on what are known as High Leverage Activities (HLA). HLA’s are those activities that will get you results faster while spending less of your valuable intrinsic resources, such as time and energy. Conversely, Low Leverage Activities consume a lot of resources while providing a low return on them. Getting into the habit of identifying HLA’s and pursuing them will jump-start the return on your resources exponentially. For instance, spending your time on hiring people to delegate to is a HLA. You can then literally be in two places at the same time. You are trading a little bit of time, an intrinsic resource, and money, an extrinsic resource, for time, which is our most precious resource.
A friend of mine told me this the other day when I mentioned that I was too busy with my new business to recruit and hire an assistant, and it hit home with me. He said, “if you don’t have an assistant, you are one!” I not only hired an assistant for me, but I hired a whole admin team to support us.
Another HLA is utilizing technology to get things done faster. For instance, if you can spend an hour creating a macro to automate a process that takes you 20 minutes each day to do, that is a great use of your time and is therefore a HLA. You are trading in 1 hour to save yourself 20 minutes per day. That 1 hour pays for itself in 3 days! For some reason, most people don’t think this way because they mistakenly compare the 1 hour to the 20 minutes. This is a blind spot, otherwise known as a cognitive bias. It is an error in thinking. They don’t think about the future positive rewards. We aren’t programmed that way, so we need to change our wiring to do so.
Beware though because technology can go either way. While the technology age has brought about many productivity-enhancing tools, it has also brought about even more gadgets that completely waste our time and are even worse than Low Leverage Activities. They delude us into thinking we are being productive when in essence we are really just wasting valuable time focusing on the unimportant such as endless social media, unnecessary emails and texts, video games, etc. Don’t waste your life away on these traps. Stay focused on your highest priority goals.
Get better at saying NO – so you can say YES.
The wise often tell us that you can’t increase the time that you have – it’s fixed for us all. Well, that last part is true, BUT you can increase the time available to get your highest priorities done – with a simple two letter word – NO!! Increase time for your highest priorities by saying “no” to lower-level priorities. This way, you can free up your time to say “yes” to higher priority activities.
Saying “no” can be difficult, especially to people. You can practice getting better at saying “no.” We have all had instances in our lives when the “Nice Guy/Gal Syndrome” takes over and convinces us to say “yes” to things when we would rather say “no.” Why? Because it is uncomfortable to say no. You don’t want them to feel rejected. Here are some tips on how to say “no” to people without them feeling “rejected.”
- Let them know that it was not an easy decision.
- Tell them that you wish you could say “yes” BUT.
- Promise that you will make it up to them.
- Say that it is in their best interest because –
Saying YES can also be difficult. Although you want to spend time on higher-level priorities, they often take courage, require more energy, and can be intimidating. Instead of putting the effort in, you choose to linger in your comfort zone longer, tackling lower level “priorities.” Keep in mind the rewards that you will receive when you say YES to your higher priorities. Picture your “future self” reaping those benefits and being happy that you said yes. One day you will be your future self!
A simple rule is to practice saying YES to your higher priorities (going to the gym) and NO to the lower priorities (excessive web surfing).
If you want to get the most out of your time, which goes by quickly, you need strategies that focus on prioritization. We have provided just a few here; there are many more. But these can certainly get you started on achieving a higher return on your most precious resource, your time.