One of the most frequent questions I get asked is "Can you help me figure out how to prioritize my tasks?"
Seeing endless tasks on your list day in and day out can certainly be overwhelming and not very motivating. My quick answer is yes, it is possible to prioritize those tasks. I'm going to walk you through the three methods I believe our the easiest to implement so grab a cup of coffee or your favorite tea, get comfortable, and read along. I promise you that it is well worth the read and will help you begin to sort out those endless tasks that maybe don't even belong on your list.
"Productivity isn't magic. It's discipline." ~ Darren Hardy
Method 1 - The Eisenhower Matrix
On a piece of paper, create 4 large boxes. Label the boxes as follows:
The first box would be where you list your urgent and important tasks. These are activities that are emergencies, things left for the last minute, and now they’ve reached a crisis point.
The above activities shouldn’t really pop up all that often for you on an everyday basis. If they are, then they need to be looked at so you can develop systems around them and do more planning in advance.
Box two is for those tasks, often recurring ones, that are zapping your time and energy without contributing to the longer-term benefits. They keep you busy, but they don’t really have value. Phone calls, emails, meetings, and requests that other people make of you, but are not directly related to your goals.
This is where you should be spending most of your time. The urgent and important category will lesson for you as you develop systems and can plan more in advance.
The third box is for the activities that help you achieve your long-term goals. Tasks that fall into this category aren’t pressing for your attention, and you will often put them off so you can deal with the more urgent and important issues. This section will include activities like training, relationships with your clients, your team members, and vendors.
The last box is reserved for the not urgent and not important things that are not focused on making a profit, tasks that can be reduced by not spending a lot of time or effort on them, or they can be delegated to someone else to look at.
Most likely, you'll find many tasks that fall into this category.
Once you take a look at everything that falls into this category and begin to eliminate or delegate, you'll be amazed at the hours you'll have to devote to what you should be concentrating on.
You don’t get results by focusing on results. You get results by focusing on the actions that produce results. – Mike Hawkins
Method 2 - The ABCDE Method
This method is one of my favorites because it helps you start to see clear differences between different types of tasks. Brian Tracy talks about this in his book entitled "Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done In Less Time". The "frog" is your biggest, hardest, and most important task. Here it is broken down in the ABCDE Method:
A-Category: Most Important
A is defined by something you must do, or there can be serious consequences. You will often hear this referred to as “these are the frogs in your life.
B-Category: Minor Consequences
These are like the tadpoles of your work life. That means someone might be unhappy or inconvenienced if you don’t do it but it’s nowhere as important as an A task.
The rule is to never do a B task when there is an undone A task. You should never be distracted by tadpoles when there’s a big frog sitting there waiting to be eaten.
C-Category: No Consequences
A task that falls under this category is something nice to do, but there’s not really a consequence whether you do it or not. This would be like phoning a friend, having coffee or lunch with a friend, or completing some kind of personal business during your work hours. As a rule, never complete a C task if there’s an A and B left undone.
Something you can definitely delegate. Essentially, the rule is you should delegate anything you possibly can to free up more time to be able to engage in your tasks that are under the A category. Completing your A tasks is what determines the course of your entire day.
An E activity is an activity you should think about eliminating altogether. After all, you can only get your time under control if you stop doing things that are no longer necessary for you to do.
So the key to making the ABCDE method work for you is to discipline yourself to start immediately on that one single most important and then stay at it until it’s complete. In other words, eat the whole frog and don’t stop until it’s finished completely.
"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting on the first one." ~ Mark Twain
Method 3 - Match Your Daily Tasks to Your Overall Goals
I've seen time and time again where business owners don't reach their goals because either their goals keep changing or they don't give themselves the space and grace to deliver excellence to themselves.
When I hear things such as "there aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done"; "I tried that for a few days and it didn't catch on"; or "I don't know what happened. I set great goals and sadly didn't reach them because I was busy doing XYZ instead."
Simply put, your daily task list should align with your overall goal list and you need to provide yourself a clear picture of where you're going and how you're going to get there. If it doesn't, then you are moving in the wrong direction.
It involves clarity, consistency, determination, and willpower. Here's how I break that all down:
1. Thoughtful reflection and strategic planning time comes first. Create a big picture goal list - one that aligns with where you want to be in and what you want your life to be like in 10 years. Then reverse engineer that by breaking it out into individual 10, 5, 3, and 1 year goal lists.
2. Take your one year goal list and break that up into 90-day sprints. This makes the year's worth of goals crystal clear and easier to design a road map to get you to your destination.
3. Each of your goals within that 90-day sprint period become the projects you will focus on monthly and, from there, you can easily identify the tasks or smaller steps focused on completing those projects.
4. When mapping out the 90-day sprints, remember to ask yourself questions such as:
5. Once you've got the smaller steps needed for each of the goals, those become tasks. There are three important keys in ensuring that these steps are taken...
First, determine the priority of each of the tasks you've listed out. If it gets a high-priority, it's a keeper. If it doesn't, it comes off the list and put on a "for the future" list.
Second, determine if the task is a must-do by you or if it can be delegated or automated.
Lastly, allow yourself the time to focus on each step by mapping out focused time for the task in your calendar.
Pro-tip: Grab an accountability partner or join a group, like Solopreneur Success Sisterhood, where co-working, accountability, and resources are available to help keep you focused on successful completion of your goals, projects, and tasks. Believe me, the quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily frameworks I provide as tools in the sisterhood are some of the most impactful resources you'll receive. And having that sisterhood of other business owners to talk with is priceless.
To sum it all up...
I promised you that this would be lengthy but packed with three powerful methods that are absolutely do-able when you put your mind and energy into it. Now it's time to go forth and create your ideal day, one where you'll be energized and ready to tackle what's on your plate with a positive attitude each day, knowing that what you're focused on is the most important task because it's what you chose to help you reach your big picture goals.
Want help in prioritizing, setting yourself up for success each day, and leaning into focus? Sign-up to receive a free copy of my ultimate checklist to help you identify and break your bad productivity habits.
If you struggle with managing your time or staying focused on the must-do tasks, Pamela is your business soulmate.