by Dennis Mai
May 21, 2013
"Prioritizing is the answer to time management problems – not computers, efficiency experts, or matrix scheduling. You do not need to do work faster or to eliminate gaps in productivity to make better use of your time. You need to spend more time on the right things…"
– C. Ray Johnson, Chairman and CEO of Underground Technology Inc., and Author of CEO Logic: how to think and act like a Chief Executive
If you’re a decently-informed person, you should recognize the ubiquity of the phrase “get your priorities straight.” Who knows how many sayings there are on the matter, but it’s fairly agreed upon that having priorities is important, and setting them is even more important.
If you’re not familiar with the Pickle Jar theory, here is the link. The theory has circulated Facebook widely and was popularized as a story of a professor teaching his students a lesson: know what’s important in your life and set your priorities accordingly. Devote our time proportionally to the most important matters in our lives. Not the small matters.
Well, it’s easy to talk about setting our priorities, but how exactly do we do that? How do busy, pressured, and stressed people prioritize and find time for the important things when the small things demand so much of our time and attention?
It’s easy. You make a daily list of tasks you need to get done and cross them off when you get them done. The goal? Cross off every item by the end of the day.
Since you’re still reading, I can safely assume that this hasn’t worked for you.
Prioritizing is essentially making that list and crossing it off. But it’s also much more than that. It’s a powerful tool if used correctly, and terribly confusing if not. It requires discipline and practice. And it requires planning and thought, which takes more time out of your day–time which you need.
However, you must take that time to prioritize. It’s part of the planning process, and failing to do so could cost you more time in the future. In fact, I insist you start taking 10 minutes at the end of each day to plan and prepare for the next. It’s good practice.
To prioritize correctly, you must take time to know yourself. Figure out how you work. How disciplined are you? When do you work best–mornings, evenings? Do you need coffee or exercise before you start your day? Are you realistic, pessimistic, or optimistic? Do you need somebody–a friend or spouse–to help keep you disciplined and accountable for what you do and don’t get done?
These are necessary questions, because they will help define what you think you can get done and by when. They will also help dictate what method of list-making will help you best.