4 Tips To Set Priorities for Busy Professionals
In my career, I have found that one of the most effective life skills I apply most days is the ability to set priorities. I have a tendency to get distracted and start many new things, so the more disciplined I am with my time, the more likely I am to achieve what is really important to me each day. Colleagues who work closely with me have learnt to pull me back on track and even have a running joke about my interest in ‘sparkly things’, and they are not referring to shoes or clothing. I can get distracted by new online tools and concepts, especially in the social media and content curation arena. Can you relate?
I make a distinction between tools I use for working ‘on my business’ versus working ‘in my business’. In terms of keeping track of my client priorities (which I consider to be ‘in my business’) my investment in financial software, Xero, and a CRM, Insightly, have been invaluable for keeping me focussed on my most important priorities – my clients and current workflow. In terms of working ‘on my business’, I have tried a number of online options such as Evernote, Asana and Trello. It is the notepad, pen and trusty journal I keep returning to in order to help organise my thoughts. The use of coloured pens and mind maps are also especially useful to help map out my plan for a masterclass or online course.
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The Key to Time Management Success
In this crazy busy world where we are overwhelmed by information, you may find yourself spinning from one task to another, ticking things off a mental to do list as you go. Juggling priorities and conflicting agendas has become part of the challenge of managing a successful professional (and personal) life in the 21st century.
Being able to correctly prioritise business and personal tasks, projects, deadlines and events all contribute to good time management. Setting appropriate priorities helps reduce stress and also prevents you from feeling overwhelmed. Most importantly, it ensures you are spending time on the things that matter.
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So what is prioritisation? The Collins dictionary defines prioritisation as the act of arranging items to be attended to in order of their relative importance. Here are my tips for effective prioritisation in the workplace.
1. Create the Head-Space to Set Priorities
Don’t launch straight into your e-mails or spend the whole commute on your smartphone or device. Focus on spending some conscious and active time thinking about what is the most important item in your day.
- Is it a client meeting?
- Is it building relationships?
- Is it solving a problem?
- Is it dealing with a staffing issue?
Decide clearly the best value use of your time and skills. Decide now whether items are very important and vital for you to do, or just ordinarily important and can be done in due course.
2. The To Do List & Self Awareness
Do you have a tendency towards procrastination? Is there an item on your to do list that feels overwhelming and too hard? Can you break it down into a number of smaller tasks?
A number of time management experts including Brian Tracey in his book “Eat That Frog” recommend spending the beginning of your day completing the nastiest item on your to do list. The book gets its unusual name from a saying by Mark Twain “if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you have got it behind you for the rest of the day, and nothing else looks so bad”.
Self–Awareness also involves reviewing your priorities constantly and ensuring you are applying your values authentically to your decision making process. I often ask myself ‘is this the best use of my time right now’?
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It is a valuable use of time to spend the first and last 10 minutes of every day to plan and review your day. This might include preparing for meetings or calls, deciding on the most important item on your do list or planning out your day.
Take time to review your to do list considering:
- Does everything on it absolutely need to be completed by you?
- Is there anything that can be culled?
The business author and speaker on Innovation Paul Sloane is famously quoted as saying ‘Only do what Only You can do. That way you will be getting the best value out of your time.
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3. Schedule Time to get Things Done
This may require blocking time out in your calendar when you are not available for meetings, it may mean locking yourself in a quiet room away from distractions or it may mean letting the phone go to voicemail while you focus on a single task. I schedule and colour code my calendar for my priorities and this gives me a great visual snapshot of each week.
4. Most Importantly Do Not forget to Prioritise Life!
My personal mission is to help people live the life they imagined so they are working in their dream job, whether that be working for someone else or in their own business. However, all work and no play makes us dull! With social media and the onslaught of information coming at us each day, it is so important to switch off from work and the online world and have time for your hobbies, friends and family. Learn to create boundaries for when you are in work mode (and not) and prioritise your passions and interests as important items to attend to throughout your week (and of course, the weekend).