Prioritisation: The first key to productivity
By Flying Solo contributor Fiona Adler
If you think of the truly impactful, amazing people you know, that are operating 10x above their peers, chances are they have an uncanny ability to prioritise. They might work hard, yet they are not rushing and not particularly stressed. But somehow they achieve amazing results. In fact, they often have an enviable calmness and a sense of clarity around them.
These could be entrepreneurs, business leaders, people climbing the corporate ladder, or people excelling in their field, whatever it is. In fact, you can find them in all kinds of professions – developers, marketers, customer service consultants, sales professionals, human resources, finance, legal, etc. There are also incredible examples who are full-time parents, volunteers, or students.
So what’s the secret of these high performers? How do they achieve so much more than the rest of us without even breaking a sweat?
The answer is simple – they decide what’s important, and then they do the important things.
These two distinctions are equally important, but here we’re looking at prioritisation – the act of deciding, or choosing, what’s most important. If you’re wondering how to be more productive, start with prioritisation.
Why prioritisation matters
Prioritisation is effectively about making choices. It’s seeing all of the options available to you and honing in on what is really going to move the needle. It’s having the maturity to know that you can’t do everything now. It’s an acknowledgement of the reality that the fewer things you choose to do, the better you’ll be able to do them.
Right now, prioritisation is more important than ever. Never before have we had access to so many ideas implanting thoughts about other things we should be doing and access to resources on how to do it. If I get an idea to do something, chances are I can delve into it, find examples of others doing that thing, learn how to do it, and next thing you know, I’ve added something completely new to my day. This is an amazing time we’re living in! But equally, we can so easily get side-tracked (and before you know it I’ve spent half a day on something I didn’t even know existed at the start of the day!).
To prioritise, you need a clear goal
In order to prioritise and use our time wisely, we need to have a clear understanding of where we’re headed – something we’re aiming towards. This can be a vision or even your values, but the more concrete it is the better – which is why I prefer to focus on a goal.
Knowing your goal gives you a frame of reference against which you can judge all the possible things you could be doing.
Will this thing move me closer to my goal? Which option is more likely to get me closer to my goal? What is the most impactful thing I could do to move closer to my goal?
These are the questions that high performers are constantly asking themselves.
Don’t make the mistake of having too many goals either – these need to be prioritised too! Yes it might be nice to increase customer satisfaction, reduce costs, have a record sales month, and expand your product line, but it’s not realistic to do these things at the same time (especially as these are somewhat conflicting).
You need to choose which one to focus on now. Which goal will give you the best results? Choose one for now and you can switch to another once you’ve made progress against that one.
Prioritisation connects your daily actions to your goals
With a clear goal in mind, you can prioritise how you spend your time. The key is to take action towards your goals each day. Which also means that you say ‘No’ to a whole lot of other options and refuse to get sidetracked.
The foundational habit here is starting each day with a clear set of high priority actions.
By proactively planning your day, it’s you who decides what’s really important and you who creates your day.
Remember, it’s not the quantity of things you get done, it’s all about doing the right things.
Don’t think you’re being lazy by refusing to do other tasks that are not in alignment with your goal. We’re actually being lazy when we don’t force ourselves to decide what’s the most important!
How to use prioritisation in practise…
Almost all of the top thinkers on prioritisation theories and frameworks agree that being highly effective, comes down to how well you prioritise your day.
Here’s how to prioritise so that you accomplish more of the important things.
1. Plan your day
Don’t just let the day happen. Deliberately take 5 minutes to plan – either first thing in the morning or the night before. Here’s how to write an effective daily action list.
2. Be intentional and proactively decide how your day will unfold.
Think about how you want to feel when the day ends. What do you want to have accomplished?
3. Choose 3-5 small, but meaningful actions to do that day.
Aim low – yes, seriously! Instead of coming up with a shopping list of things you’d like to do, restrict yourself to 3-5 things. Then get into the habit of actually doing them! Attack the day with laser focus and stick with it until those things are done.
4. Each action should be achievable in under an hour.
Break your items into small actions. They should each be quite small so keep breaking them down until you think you could do it in less than an hour. (It could be just a draft of the first paragraph, some sketches, writing an email, etc.)
If you get into the daily prioritisation habit you’ll be amazed at the results you’ll achieve. The cumulative effect of consistently taking the right actions (instead of floundering around doing thousands of unprioritisated tasks), makes a huge difference to your productivity. Soon, others will be wondering how you get so much done without working like a crazy person!
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