Prioritisation is the key to productivity.
My to-do list never gets shorter. I work late, I work weekends and to my surprise the damn thing grows.
This ever-expanding to-do list is pretty common in the professional world seeing as most of us are usually employed because there’s plenty of work to do.
So while the list may be necessary, I was letting it get the better of me.
My over-commitment to ticking off every item was totally unrealistic and it was also driving me crazy. I was stressed out, under-delivering and basically a nervous wreck.
These days I’m more in control and my productivity is higher than ever. I now use my to-do list to work smarter, not harder.
This post explores the three steps I take at the start of every week to set new priorities and get more work done.
Before we dive in, a word about how I got here…
When I first started working I heard plenty of people talk about “prioritising their workload”. But to be honest, it never really sunk in.
“Just prioritise” they’d say, to a 21 year old with an overflowing to-do list and a can-do attitude.
The to-do list was long. But I was a dreamer. And I was going to get through it all.
Turns out after a few years of trying all I got through was a half-finished list and a serious case of burn out.
Until the day a senior colleague told me, “You’re never going to get it all done Maddy. You just need to pick what’s most important and focus on that.”
And, bam. It all snapped into focus.
He was right. I was never going to get to the end of the week and think, “Great, I’ve finished every single thing there is to be done!”
A revelation about prioritisation…
What I’ve now learned is that you pick the most important thing and focus on that. Then when it’s done, you pick the next most important thing and keep moving forwards.
The real skill kicks in when there’s multiple “important things” and you have to learn to juggle them.
I think a lot of us “know” this stuff. But actually “doing” it means putting it into practice on a daily basis.
It’s learning to adapt to your environment. It’s understanding that what’s important changes, and sometimes it changes quickly or unexpectedly.
I began to really get the hang of how this all works by nutting out the exact mechanics of how to do it and then applying that formula at the start of every week and now the start of every day.
Without revisiting the formula over and over I can get caught up in my to-do list. I can get stuck in the detail and work on something purely because it’s there and needs to be completed, rather than because its the most pressing work to be done.
Basically, in a busy workplace we can forget to step back and take a breath. We get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to figure out exactly what’s most important and why.
So strap yourself in ladies. We’re about to prioritise.
What are your most important pieces of work this week? The “I absolutely must get this done” stuff. Be ruthless with it. Don’t let any “it would be nice to finish this” work get in the way of your non-negotiables.
If you’re struggling to figure this out, ask your manager for guidance.
Some weeks I only have one extremely important job. Most weeks I usually end up with three.
Write a list that begins with these most important items, and then finish the list with everything else that you’d like to work on.
Step Two: Invest time planning the ideal order to complete your tasks in
How long do you need for each task? Does it make sense to start one before the other? Ordering your tasks in the most efficient way can save you time in the long-run.
It also ensures you’re preparing things ahead of time and able to meet your deadlines. If something needs to be reviewed by a lot of people, it’s often better to get it moving earlier rather than later.
While the goal here is to order your high priority items, if you’re feeling really committed, why not order the whole damn list?
An example from my work place:
I aim to distribute media releases before lunch time on a Thursday. By writing the draft first thing on a Monday, I get it into the review pipeline early. It’s usually reviewed by at least two other people. By the time Thursday rolls around, it’s slowly made its way to each of them and is ready for me to distribute.
In total, I’ve actually only spend about three hours working on it. But those three hours are spread across four days as the media release bounces around from person to person getting reviewed. Everyone gets plenty of time to get it back to me, and I’m on track to meet my Thursday deadline.
Step Three: Stay disciplined
This part sounds easy but trust me, it isn’t.
Now that you’ve got your priorities established, and you’ve figured out what order to tackle them in, your next job is to be ruthless about getting them all done.
There will be hundreds of distractions coming at you from every which way. All poised to pull you away from those top priorities. Emails. Hallway chats. Phone calls. Freak weather events!
Stay alert and realise when you’re being distracted.
Also keep an eye out for shiny, new work that you may be tempted to begin even if it’s nowhere near as urgent.
Focus on prioritisation. Get those most important jobs done and once they are complete, move on to some of the smaller fry stuff further down the list.
Funnily enough, by focusing on progressing the big ticket items first, I usually get through them quicker and have more time to devote to some of my work that is less of a priority.
I’m a big fan of only checking my email at certain times of the day. Rather than constantly checking my emails as new ones roll in. I actually wrote a whole blog post about it here.
So that’s it folks. Learn to implement prioritisation into your daily and weekly routine and you’ll be on track to increased productivity in no time!
Did this post help you? Do you have any productivity or prioritisation hacks that you can share with the Club? Let me know in the comments below or drop a line on Insta 🙂
Until next time,