Your Personal Effectiveness Program (Part 5: Prioritizing Your Task List)

Today you continue your journey to improve your Personal Effectiveness. So far in our program, we have worked on developing skills and honing techniques to make you more productive and more effective in your everyday work and life. In this final article in the series, we’ll review your task list and determine where to spend time to be most productive.

Here are four steps to help you prioritize everything in your life.

  1. Put things in context
  2. Determine the time available
  3. Assess your energy available
  4. Rank by importance

Most personal effectiveness systems suggest that you first prioritize your tasks in the A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 fashion. While prioritizing your tasks is an important step in the process, I suggest you do it last. Doing it last will allow you to make better decisions that will save you time, reduce errors, and maximize your potential to get stuff done quicker.

Before we get into the steps, let me express that these are not my original ideas. They come from the “Four Criteria Model” developed by David Allen and his Getting Things Done Prioritization method. As I said before, I highly recommend you read his book, Getting Things Done. It’s a great read and it will really help you gain control over the stuff in your life and help you get it done. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

  1. Context: The first step is to put things into context. This refers to where you are and what tools you have available. This is a critical first step because you can only work on things that can be worked on, based on your location and the resources you have with you. For instance, if you’re at the doctor’s office or running errands, you probably can’t call clients or do that report for your boss. But, if you are at your desk, these two tasks align perfectly, because you have the resources you need right there at hand. Understand, depending on where you are will likely have an impact on what tasks you can perform at that time. So, first step, put things into context and group them according to your location and resources available.
  2. Time Available: The next step is to determine just how much time you have available to perform a certain task. For instance, it’s 8am and you have to take your kid to a 9am soccer match (post-pandemic scenario, of course). You also have about two hours of yard work to do this weekend. Unless you’ve learned how to manipulate the time-space continuum, you’ll never be able to squeeze in that yard work , so it will have to wait. And it’s ok, that is has to wait. It’s not like it’s not going to get done, it just hasn’t met the right time parameters. You can decide to do it later; oooor recognize this as a good opportunity to practice your delegation skills with an older child, or maybe even your spouse. (Warning: Do not attempt this at home. It could be dangerous to your health and/or your marriage.)
  3. Energy Available: Now we move on to assessing how much energy you have available to tackle your next action. Example: It’s 8pm and you’re at your desk at home. You have plenty of time before you go to sleep, but you’ve had a long day and you’re getting tired. Does it make sense to finish up that report for your boss that is due in two days? Probably not. That task takes high level thinking and accuracy. Those are not skills found in abundance when you’re feeling tired. You’re better off looking back at your task list or your inbox to work on some simpler tasks, like paying the bills or carving through those articles you promised you would read.
  4. Importance: Now that everything has been filtered out and categorized, you need to rank your task items by importance. Now you get to put you’re A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 method into action. Example, you’re at the office at 9am and you see four tasks that fit through your filters of context, time, and energy available. What do you do? You start with the most important task, and mark it A. You look for the next most important task, and mark it B. Continue to work your way down the list. It’s just that easy.

Ok, it’s not really that easy, but it is a simple, proven method to accomplish more things in less time. Start with context, determine the time available, assess your energy level, and then rank by importance. Follow this method and you’ll soon find you are becoming more productive and less stressed.

Your Mindful Moment:

The more you think about stuff, the less you’ll get done. Plan to be appropriately engaged in each moment; only then you will get more stuff done quicker.

Whew! That was deep. You might want to read that again.

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