Prioritizing Like a Pro

We can’t make more time in the day. But we can use the time we have more effectively. Makes sense!   

Unfortunately, there are several “bandits” that get in the way of our effectiveness. They include interruptions, distractions, and lack of planning.

Let’s dive into the key steps powerful managers and leaders use to maximize their time and effectiveness.

Step 1. Eliminate interruptions. For each interruption you allow, your work flow is set back 15 minutes. Consider how many interruptions you have in a day. Multiply those by 15 minutes, and you can see how your workday expands. That alone might make you reconsider a “quick” interruption. Set upfront agreements with your boss and co-workers: Certain times (like chunking sessions) are sacred, and you will not respond during those times. Get away from your computer and phone. These tools are the “death” of productivity. Contrary to popular belief, we are not great multi-taskers and we cannot allow constant interruptions and distractions if we want to master personal effectiveness. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits shares:

“Everyone gets distracted. In many ways, the real divide is between those who get back on track quickly and those who let interruptions expand into longer periods of inactivity. Top performers get back on track faster than most. This is the skill to develop. You will be interrupted, but you can choose to keep it brief.”

Step 2. Allocate daily or weekly “chunking time.” Use the powerful technique called “chunking” to set aside uninterrupted time and get into a “flow state” when working. We can get more done in 90-minute chunks than in an 8-hour workday. Chunking is especially important for tasks requiring deep thought, creative thinking, or strategic planning.  Recommended chunking time is a 90-minute block. To avoid falling prey to interruptions, do your chunking outside the office or book a conference room where you are out of sight.

Step 3: Set aside five to ten minutes each day to review and prioritize your to-do list. This might seem insignificant at first. Trust me. This small action step will change your life. Depending on your productive time and personal flow, consider doing this first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. It’s an easy and simple process. Without overthinking, identify five to seven to-dos, then follow the next set of instructions.

Step 4: Identify your “1.” A “1” is a task that MUST be completed today, without fail. It’s not necessarily the most important to-do, but it’s the one thing you need to accomplish. Sometimes it’s returning a call or setting up a meeting with a key stakeholder. Other times, it’s finishing a report that needs some tweaking. Make sure that your, “1” is something you are able to complete in a day. If not, break it into several steps, and mark one step as your “1.” With some activities, you’ll have a clear sense of how long they will take; not so with others. If you’ve set aside chunking time, you might use it for more complex “1s.” People always ask, “Can you have more than “1” on your to-do list?” The answer is NO. That defeats the purpose. You can, however, select another “1,” after you’ve completed the first. The key to the exercise is to force yourself to focus on a single “1.”

Step 5: Create a system to organize your remaining to-dos. Over the years, I’ve used simple and complex prioritization systems. I have found that no system is “the answer.” It tends to shift based on work and resources. As such, here are a few options that might work for you:

  • 1, 2, 3, and 4: After you’ve identified your to-do list, assign your “1.” In descending order of importance, use a 2 for a task that needs to get done next or during the week. Use a 3 for a task needing to be completed within a month. A 4 is for a quarterly/ongoing project. Scan your list for patterns. Do you have all “1s”? If so, you are not prioritizing. If you do not have any 3s or 4s, your to-do list lacks a longer-term perspective.
  • The week: With this system, you allocate a to-do task for each day of the week. It gives you a weekly perspective, but it doesn’t take into account the bigger picture. This may have challenging results (especially if you face deadlines at the end of the quarter).
  • Apps: There are several prioritizing apps available, as well as basic to-do list programs on your computer. If one of those systems works for you, use it. The point is not to find the “perfect” system. It’s to use any system that works for you—consistently.

Now you’re ready to get more done in a given amount of time. The secret ingredient is delegation!

If you are a manager or leader, you have people to delegate to. If you don’t have direct reports, you probably have more options for delegation than you might think. You’ll find Delegation Compounding Partners an interesting blog post.

In order to “delegate like a pro,” you must always complete the steps above. If you fail to prioritize your to-dos, it’s easy to delegate incomplete tasks or (even worse) fail to delegate.

If you’ve prioritized your to-do list, let’s discover the steps to Delegating Like a Pro.