Time Management: Setting priorities

I work long days while handling multiple activities, I frantically run around making sense of everything I manage daily. At the end I feel drained, empty and with a sense of loss at times. I don’t understand why this happens, after all my workload is very full. You know, I like working… the truth of the matter is, I want to do it all. So what should come first? Which deserves my full attention and my time? 

Does it sound familiar? How can you set priorities straight when you find yourself into a vortex of multiple tasks that all appear to be very important?

If you want to grow as an individual and as a company, you need to set priorities. Giving precedence to the most important tasks will allow you to reach your goals. The question is, what’s important to you?

Whether you are an individual contributor or a company, setting priorities begins from a vision of your future. A clear image of what you want to become as a person and as a company. That image will have to be nurtured, cared for, protected over time. That image will drive you to your final destination and it will dictate your future.

Start with your VISION – What is your vision for the future? As an individual, where do you see yourself in 5 years? If you are a company, what do you want to become in 10 years? What do you value the most? Focus on what you want to accomplish for yourself and for your company. Make a true effort to imagine what it will feel like to reach your goals. What results will you obtain? How good will it feel?

The trick is to imagine vividly which steps/activities will make you reach your goals. What moves or decision can increase your speed of advancement? Take the time to write down your vision, your picture 5 years from now: the vision needs to be innovative, inspiring, and most of all, has to have great meaning to you. This is a crucial aspect of this exercise: if you don’t identify what you value the most, if you don’t identify what gives you a great sense of satisfaction, you will not be strongly motivated to work hard for it. And in that case, the change will be temporary and the vision will not work.

Take the time instead to understand what you need to put in place in order to make your Vision come true. Write everything down and be very specific. The more specific you will be, the higher the chances you will get there. While you do this, try to focus on those decisions that return the highest sense of satisfaction and reward. You could even travel backward to remember episodes of your past that gave you lots of satisfaction. Take those examples with you into the present, and project them into the vision. How could you use those episodes to feed your vision and reach your goals?

As a company, if your goal is to expand your client base in order to increase revenues, your priorities should be in line with decisions that will expand your client base. Only by focusing on this specific aspect you will reach your ultimate goal to increase revenues.

If you do not have a vision, then it’s time to give birth to one! And once you have given birth to your vision, you will be ready to identify smaller goals that will spring out from the beauty and the inspiration of your master plan. 

Set SMART goals – All of your goals should be S.M.A.R.T. — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

Specific: The more specific you will be in the definition of your vision, the higher possibility of success you will create for yourself. Instead of saying “I would like to wake up every day and look at the ocean.” You could say “I would like to own a one bedroom cottage with a large patio overlooking the beach on the Mediterranean sea.”

Measurable: Your goals need to be measurable. You need to have a tool or a way to measure your progress. An intermediate check that will help you determine if you are moving toward the right direction.

Attainable: Is it realistic for me? Will I be able to sustain the hard work in order to achieve this goal?” If the answer is yes, keep moving forward. If the answer is no, it means that your goal has to be modified (or redefined).

Relevant: Your goal has to be important, it has to have a strong meaning for you. It needs to be aligned with your vision. If you are more than willing to make sacrifices and all you care is to achieve it, your goal is relevant.

Timely: The difference between a dream and a goal is a date. Goals have to have a timeframe in order to be taken seriously and to be reached. If you set a timeline and for several reasons you are not able to maintain it, you can always re-set the date.

How do I set priorities? 

I use pen and paper. I begin making a complete list of all the tasks I intend to accomplish that day. I then separate them into urgent and important. By urgent, I mean all tasks that if not completed, will bring very adverse consequences. The important tasks are the ones that have to be done soon, but if I am not able to get to them, the effects will not be earth-shattering.

Another thing I do is review them periodically during the day to know where I stand. If I realize that I will not be able to complete my list, I re-prioritize it: The items that require more planning get moved to the next day. The items I can delegate get assigned to someone I trust.

A favorite method of mine that I sometimes fold into my daily routine is the ABCDE method conceived and mastered by Brian Tracy. It begins with creating a list of all those tasks to accomplish in a day, jotting them down as you think of them.

Once the list is made mark each task with a letter from A to E.

“A” for very important tasks. If they are not completed the repercussions will be severe.

“B” for important tasks. These are tasks you should do, however in case they will not be completed the consequences will not be serious.

“C” for tasks that if left undone they will not have any negative impact.

“D” for delegate. These are tasks that should be assigned to someone else. 

“E” for tasks to eliminate. Delete these tasks from the list, that will leave more space for the A tasks.

According to Mr Tracy, “although there is never enough time to do everything, there is always enough time to do the most important things, and stay with them until they are done”. The ABCDE method helps you see immediately which ones are the important tasks. Secondly, because of its linear simplicity it helps you taking care of them. The A tasks are the ones that deserve your immediate attention, they are dependent on time, they need to be done now.

CONCLUSION

Whether you are an individual contributor or a company, you need to stay on top of your priorities and keep track of how the external scenarios change. Based on those changes you will adapt your priorities and shift them according to your current needs and goals.

The key to keep in mind when managing time and setting priorities is that it is impossible to do it all. Accept it! Sustaining excessive workloads for a long time not only is not a healthy way to live, but it is also counter-productive.

The way to recognize priorities therefore is starting with the end goal (your vision). Identify the goals that you want to reach, conceiving the vision that inspires you to overcome sacrifices and hard work, assessing how much value that vision has for you, and feeding it continuously. Eliminate everything that steals energy from your vision and/or is a form of distraction. Stay focused and never forget what is really important for you and what generates great satisfaction and reward. Follow what you like and work for it.