Making the most of your working day means prioritising your workload so you’re as productive as possible. However, when everything you’re doing is important, how can you possibly prioritise?
If you’re struggling to juggle all your tasks, help is at hand, thanks to our tips on how to prioritise things when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Failing to do so can leave you with too little time to spend on important activities, while you may be wasting time and energy on just feeling “busy”.
When you’re working for someone else, in a traditional office, there’s a good chance the company will have structures in place to help with the workload. However, if you’re self-employed, or an entrepreneur based in a flexible workspace, you’re pretty much your own boss.
It may seem challenging to organise your day efficiently, especially if you’re new to the world of business. The key is to make sure every task you tackle drives your business forward, while preventing the less important tasks from cluttering your to-do list.
Make a list
The first step is to write a definitive list that contains all the tasks. This will enable you to understand the full scope of what you need to do. Even write down what you consider to be the smallest, most mundane jobs.
You can also include personal tasks, if they are going to impact your working day, to get the full picture. For example, if you have to pop out to pick up your dry-cleaning, this will take you away from the office.
Capture everything you can think of on your list, whether it’s going out at lunchtime to shop for food for dinner or the one-on-one meeting with an employee you’ve been putting off indefinitely.
Work out what’s important
Effective prioritisation depends on recognising the importance and urgency of each task; how long it is likely to take; and what the end result should be. You need to recognise what your goals are, both short and long-term. Determine whether each task is working towards finishing a project, getting promoted, or even a career change.
It can be useful to break the larger goals into a collection of small goals. For example, if you have an annual goal, such as meeting certain targets, deconstruct it into monthly to-do lists, weekly tasks and daily priorities.
Setting a long-term goal can motivate you and your team to achieve the connected short-term goals. Thinking about the bigger picture is crucial.
Don’t confuse simply being busy with progress. You might be spending your time on tasks that won’t impact your ultimate goal, so be honest and determine the real value of everything you do, with your end goal in mind.
Highlight urgent jobs
When compiling your to-do list, include the deadlines for each task, so you can see clearly which job needs completing and when. Once this is highlighted, plus the length of time you expect it to take, you can plan ahead according to the deadlines.
If a task doesn’t have a formal deadline, create one. This is important, because without an official deadline, you might find yourself pushing tasks back time and time again. Even duties that aren’t time sensitive can’t be delayed forever.
Urgency and importance
A common business practice for companies of all sizes is prioritising tasks according to urgency and importance. If you mark a job as urgent AND important, obviously this should be given the highest priority.
If a task is important, but not particularly urgent, pencil it into your diary schedule and make sure you complete it on the designated date, whether you feel you’re too busy or not.
When you have jobs that are urgent, but not important, delegate as much as you can. Although you may feel indispensable, it’s better to give this type of job to someone else, rather than ignoring it, or rushing through it and not doing it properly.
If you’ve marked a task as neither urgent, nor important, simply remove it from your to-do list. Keep a note of it, in case it becomes more urgent next time you update your list.
The Most Important Tasks method involves writing a separate list containing three tasks that absolutely must be completed the same day. Ask yourself what tasks are going to have the largest impact on the end result and what you can realistically get done in the available time slot to further your progress towards your goal.
Avoid conflicting priorities
If your tasks are not particularly challenging, it can be possible to work on more than one simultaneously. However, if you’re working on complex projects, it may be less efficient to manage multiple priorities at the same time.
Research shows the more you try to manage various tasks simultaneously, the more your performance suffers, particularly as you go higher up the management chain. It’s far better to prioritise a single goal, rather than struggling with a dual-task strategy.
A pitfall of managing several tasks at once is that although you might complete them, they are unlikely to have been fulfilled to the highest standards.
Once you have decided on the highest priority task, simply avoid any emails, calls or meetings relating to the other tasks until the main one is complete. For example, if you’re compiling data for a project, at the same time as creating a slideshow presentation, decide which is most important and urgent and simply put the other to one side for now.
Review your list
Once you have a list of tasks, it’s important to review it regularly with any updates in order to keep it current. This is the key to keeping in control and not losing focus.
It can become easier to prioritise once you’ve realised how vital it is. Once you’re in the habit of writing a list, stick to it. The whole purpose of prioritising your workload is to make sure the most important tasks are always completed.
When you concentrate on the things that will make the biggest difference to your goals, you’ll be moving in the right direction. You will gradually start to feel less stressed and reactive, as you will be more focused and will be making genuine progress.
When you’re looking for flexible coworking space, let Headspace Group take care of the hassle of running an office, so you can focus on what matters most: sorting out your priorities to reach your business goals.
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