Prioritizing Can Lead to Greater Focus
The ability to pay attention most of the time is often hard won. I’m not necessarily talking about adult ADD. I’m talking about the ability to focus on five hundred things at once. Yes, I’m exaggerating, but still many of us are expected to easily and nearly seamlessly toggle from one project to another and another and another with complete ease. Of course that doesn’t always happen, which is why prioritizing and knowing instinctively what’s most important within a particular, let’s say, five-minute increment.
First, you’ve got to write it down. That’s easy, but sometimes we’re even too busy to do that. But if you don’t have your tasks prioritized where you can see them, then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to check everything off as you get it done.
The truth is everything is important. But everything is not urgent. Think of your email in-box. I don’t know about your incoming mail, but rarely do I see something marked urgent. I think people restrain themselves (even though they may want you to get to their email right away) because those to whom they’re sending mail might get a little upset. What’s urgent to you might not be urgent to someone else.
It’s important, therefore, to be able to make a distinction between emergency work and the stuff that can wait a bit. If you’re always rushing around and darting from one fire to another then you’re probably not able to think very clearly and as much as you may think you’re getting a lot done, well, you might be mistaken. It’s critical to be able to think clearly on the job whether you’re preparing a proposal for a prospective client or troubleshooting the email system in your office.
Many of us hear either in our own heads or from colleagues (or me) that you need to prioritize. One of my sure-fire priority strategies (meaning I tend to actually get a lot done when I do this) is to make a list, study it some so that I really understand what I need to get done on a particular day, and then ask myself how I’m going to feel at 5 pm or so when my work day is (for the most part) over. Will I feel deflated if I get only the first three items done? What about the fourth and fifth? So I re-examine the to-do list for the day and decide again what absolutely needs to happen by the late afternoon. I’m not going to feel great every day. I know that. But how can I leverage the time I have to push away from my desk at the end of the day and feel relatively accomplished?
The other trick is to be willing to change things around. A lot can happen in an hour and something you didn’t foresee at 8 a.m. can suddenly become the most important part of your day. You have to be flexible so that you can accommodate that change.