Time Management Skill: Prioritizing

Prioritizing is an art. Unfortunately, tasks don’t come with a pre-determined priority listing on them. We are responsible for figuring out what needs to get done first.

Prioritizing: The Order of Priorities

Essentially, we are figuring out the order of our to-do list. Whether it’s a physical list or a mental one, prioritizing is the act of creating that list. In order to determine what makes something important enough to put at the top of your to-do list, you must ask yourself these questions:

  • How Long Will It Take?
  • How Much Outside Help Is Necessary?

So, When Is It Due?

This question should be the first thing you ask yourself when receiving a new project or task. When does this need to be done by? Tasks that are due immediately need to get done immediately and can often override any current project. It’s also important while prioritizing to keep track of these due dates in a planner. If you get a task that isn’t due for weeks, how else would you remember it?

The farther off the project is due can make prioritizing more difficult. It’s important to set small goals for yourself over the course of time to make sure you’re getting the work done. Breaking up a large project is a great way to ensure you won’t be panicking at the last moment.

The due date plays a huge role in creating that to-do list. If you are using a physical list, which is highly recommended, it is great to include that due date next to any task. Or, use a calendar feature so you can easily see when things need to be done. Either way, the due date is the most important part of creating your list of priorities for any task.

Now, How Long Will It Take?

The shorter amount of time a project will take, the higher it should rise on your to-do list. If it will only take a few moments, get it done sooner rather than later – no matter when it is due. If something will only take a few brief moments, why put it off for a later date? It’s just like when you put a dirty dish in the sink. By putting it off, you are only going to create more work for yourself later on. It’s better to just clean it immediately rather than let all the dirty dishes pile up until you’re stuck at the sink for hours trying to catch up.

As mentioned above, if it is a longer project with a far away due date, be sure to implement small goals for yourself along the way.

A great way to determine how long a project will take is to immediately break it down into smaller tasks and outline exactly what needs to be done. Figure out how much time each task will take and set up mini-due dates for yourself. Be sure to reward yourself when those mini-dates are met to reinforce your good behavior.

But, what if you have no idea how long it’ll take? Many times, we take on new projects without any idea how long it will take us. How are we supposed to be prioritizing when we’re in the dark? If after creating the outline, you still have no idea how long it’ll take – reach out to someone else to see what her/his timetable would be.

And, How Much Outside Help Is Necessary?

If you need to interview someone or need an editor at the end, you need to coordinate accordingly. After creating your brief outline or plan of action for the task, you need to immediately reach out to that outside help to see when a good time for them would be to work on the task.

It’s tough to incorporate another person into a project and it can definitely make prioritizing more of a challenge, but by communicating and planning, you shouldn’t have much trouble.

If this is a group project, the dynamics of prioritizing have shifted. Be sure to assign a lead for the group and enforce those mini-due dates for all members. Everyone should feel confident and comfortable with her/his assignments.

Prioritizing can be difficult, but it can become second nature. Practice prioritizing your to-do list on a daily basis and you will become a whiz at prioritizing in no time. After asking yourself the three questions – When is it due? How long will it take? And, how much outside help is necessary? – you will be able to prioritize anything.

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