Knowing how to prioritise means you do what matters at the right time. Follow these tips to make the most of your day
Do you get to the end of the day and feel that you have met your most pressing deadlines, but haven’t accomplished anything that’s fundamentally important? You’re hardly alone. People typically choose to complete tasks that had very short deadlines, even in situations in which tasks with less pressing deadlines are just as easy and promised a bigger reward. Alice Boyes, the author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit, shares tips on how to make the perfect choices. What can you do to beat the urge? Here are some strategies to try:
Schedule important tasks
Research shows that scheduling when and where you’ll do something makes it dramatically more likely that the task will get done. For very important tasks, try assigning a particular task to be the only one you work on for an entire day.
Isolate the most impactful elements of important tasks
When you consider a goal, also consider a half-size version. Mentally put your original version and the half-size version side by side, and ask yourself which is the more realistic goal. If your task still feels intimidating, shrink it further until it feels doable.
Anticipate and manage your feelings
Broadly speaking, working on important things typically requires having good skills for tolerating uncomfortable emotions, such as anxiety. Acknowledging and labeling the specific emotions that make an experience challenging is a basic but effective step for reducing those emotions.
Spend less time on unimportant tasks
Unimportant tasks have a nasty tendency of taking up more time than they should. For instance, you might sit down to proofread an employee’s report — but before you know it, you’ve spent an hour rewriting the whole thing. In the future, you might decide to limit yourself to making your three most important comments on any piece of work that’s fundamentally acceptable, or give yourself a time limit for how long you’ll spend providing notes.
Prioritise tasks that will reduce your number of urgent but unimportant tasks
The sort of scenarios you most want to avoid are fixing the same problems over and over or giving the same instructions repeatedly. To overcome a pattern of spending all day ‘chasing cows’, you can outsource, automate, eliminate tasks, streamline your workflow or create templates for recurring tasks. Look for situations in which you can make an investment of time once to set up a system that will save you time in the future.
Pay attention to what helps you see the big picture
When we’re head-down in the grind, it’s hard to have enough mental space to see the big picture. Pay attention to what naturally helps you do this. Something that travelling, especially taking flights alone can give you space.
There’s nothing like a literal 10,000-foot view to give you a clearer perspective on your path. Whatever helps you see the big picture, don’t skip those things. Also, give yourself time after those activities to figure out how you’re going to translate your insights into specific plans and actions.