Do you start your day worrying you won’t have enough time to get everything done? Does it feel impossible to figure out which of your tasks is really important? Don’t worry: everyone has a hard time managing priorities at some point in their career. Luckily, there are some easy ways to get more organized and work smarter, not harder.
1. Identify times when you’re most productive
Look at your typical workday: is it easier for you to concentrate in the morning or the afternoon? Are you a morning person or would you rather work later? Each person has their own work rhythm, and knowing yours will help you be more efficient by tacking your most demanding tasks when you’re at your sharpest. Similarly, if you know when your motivation tends to dip, you can avoid scheduling a very important meeting or tuning in a big project at that time.
2. Take the time to plan out your week
Once you know when you do your best work, you can plan out your week. Are you a big picture thinker? Plan out your month too! The longer-term your vision, the easier it will be to plan ahead for upcoming projects, identify tasks you’ll need to delegate, and anticipate unforeseen issues. Don’t forget to schedule time each day for unexpected events (a call from a colleague, an unplanned meeting, etc.) and to give yourself some breathing room.
Effective planning will allow you to be proactive so you can anticipate needs rather than just put out fires.
3. Choose three priority tasks
The main frustration around managing priorities is that it feels like we never have enough time to do everything we plan to. That’s why you should keep two things in mind:
- We rarely have the time to complete more than three tasks per day. So don’t bother making never-ending to-do lists.
- The Pareto principle states that 20% of effort generates 80% of results. So we get better results by focusing on what’s really important.
How do you identify these priorities? First you have to distinguish between urgent and important tasks. Urgent tasks can’t wait: they must be done in the next few hours or by the end of the day. Important tasks don’t require immediate attention but are key to you achieving your results. Once you understand this difference, you’ll be able to see if you can delegate emergencies to concentrate on what’s important.
4. Negotiate deadlines
Is it truly urgent? Ask! Something that a colleague sees as urgent may be a priority for them, but not an emergency for you. So you need to know if the task you’ve been given is needed to advance someone else’s project since you don’t want to hold everyone else up!
Each week, go through the timeline of your tasks and projects with your colleagues, clients, or superiors so you can better rank your list of priorities. Above all, negotiate deadlines wherever possible and be honest: you can’t do everything. As they say, there are only 24 hours in a day.
5. Give yourself enough time for each task
As you gain experience, it gets easier to estimate how long a particular task will take. This will help you schedule the time you need to accomplish your work during the day. But beware of the following pitfalls:
- The more time you give yourself for a task, the more time it will take.
- We may sometimes see a complex task as a single priority, even though it should be broken down into several sub-tasks.
On your list of tasks, estimate the time needed to complete each of them. By “committing” them to paper (or virtually, if you’re more into tech), you’ll be forced to use the allocated time for each priority.
6. Start with the worst task on your list
To-do lists always include one task that’s more unpleasant than others, which tends to keep getting put off. Most people prefer starting with something easy, and it feels like time goes by faster when we’re doing activities we enjoy.
That’s why it’s good to start your day tackling the tasks you hate, such as filling out timesheets, resolving a conflict, or doing bills. Once you cross this unpleasant task off your list, you’ll get a sense of satisfaction that will motivate you for the rest of the day!
7. Limit distractions
To stay focused, schedule some time without any distractions: close your email, discussion tools, and social media and turn off your phone (if possible). The Pomodoro method is particularly effective. The idea is to concentrate on a single task, without interruption, for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. You can use a free app to time yourself and commit to this work method.
The other advantage of the Pomodoro method is that it forces you to focus on one task at a time. We now know that while multitasking may look effective, it actually makes us even more distracted! So it’s important to fight the urge to look at your calendar, phone, and calculator at the same time.
8. Be diligent about follow up
Carefully monitoring your work in progress and upcoming deadlines is useful for both employees and their managers or clients. Looking like you won’t be able to complete a project on time without help? Quickly inform the person in charge: they’ll be able to help you, extend the deadline, or bring in some outside assistance. Clear and regular communication prevents misunderstandings, delays, and frustrations for everyone involved.
9. And don’t forget to reward yourself!
Completed your three priorities for the day? Congratulations! Take a moment to reward yourself for what you’ve done: go for a walk in the sun, watch a YouTube video, eat a little bowl of chips, play with your cat or dog. This teaches your brain that it’s time to relax, and once you’ve adopted this rhythm, it will be easier for you to work effectively knowing you’ll get a well-deserved break after you finish your three daily tasks!
Feeling better equipped to manage your priorities? Want more tips on how to adopt an effective remote work routine? If you want to work in a positive, caring, and supportive environment, consider a career at Promutuel Insurance. Who knows, the next urgent task on your list could be sending us your résumé to land your dream job!