The importance of prioritising (and how to do it right)

10th Oct 2016
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Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had 60 minutes to cut down a tree, I would spend 40 minutes sharpening the axe and 20 minutes cutting it down.”

Most of us spend our time in certain ways because we choose to do so, and given the dynamic range and multiplicity of tasks, effective prioritising has come out as the best method to cope up with workplace stress. Some people may choose to work, the others, not so much. This is exactly where planning comes in, which entails an important part of the much coveted business world jargon of ‘time management’.

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Very related to time management is prioritising, which is a method used for determining what is of prime importance on your to-do list. While long post-its can be challenging and intimidating at the same time, one shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the sheer magnanimity of work that needs to be done and end up making the rookie mistake of assigning a ‘high priority’ to all! If everything is marked ‘urgent’ on your list, then you wouldn’t know what the most important one is, making you lose a lot of productive time going back and forth in between your lists. So, instead of being the dummy that you will later regret, why not set out the crucial task of prioritising your work right from the very beginning?

It can be unanimously regarded that efficient prioritising is a skill that takes practice, and even the most organised people can polish their ways and get better. However, here are a few ways to help ensure that you start prioritising effectively.

Collecting work

A very hectic work day can be made less hectic if you collect all the work that needs to be addressed in a day. Do not worry about any lexical order; just write all of them down until you run out of tasks. Do not get intimidated by the number of tasks and give up hope right at the onset.

Identifying urgent tasks

At this point, every task will probably appear important to you, making you look at the time on your watch and spiral into a mode of panic. Be calm enough to identify the tasks which, if not addressed immediately, will result in serious negative consequences and backlashes. Mark those as urgent and go about with the rest of the list.

Weigh in the values

After the urgent come the ‘important’ ones. Look at the list to determine which one among the rest carries the highest values in relation to your business enterprise or wherever you are working, in general. Another effective way of determining this is to understand how many people will be affected if your work goes undone. The more the stakeholders, the higher the priority.

Compare estimated efforts

Weigh the estimated efforts required for each task as a tie breaker between two equally important tasks and take up the one which requires more effort. Productivity experts suggest taking up the task that is more time consuming over others. But as a morale booster, you can always start with ticking off a smaller task before treading the deeper zones.

Learn when to cut back

Just like a business short of funds, you should learn when to cut back as well. Do not spread yourself too thin and then end up doing poor work, because that shows your incapability. Instead, do the ones that are screaming ‘URGENT’ and prepare yourself for the slack that comes after.

As mentioned, learning to do this effortlessly will take time, but in the meantime, you can start off with these and set about on the right track, away from stress overload.

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