The most important thing when it comes to prioritising is to decide where to start, dedicate a good hour or two to the task, and then to crack on with it. If you’re like me, sometimes it can feel like you’ve got so much in your head that it’s full to bursting! I’d encourage you to get this all down in a brain-dump on paper (or digital format, but old-fashioned pen and paper works for me). Let it all out, write down everything that you can think of, and if you need to, by all means refer back to those scraps of notes written on bits of paper, old napkins, random receipts, and various business cards. Then go and make a cuppa and come back with a clearer head ready to prioritise your list.
Tools you can use to help you prioritise
Now that you’ve got it all written down, you can organise it into some semblance of an action plan. There are various tools that you can use to help you to make sense of this long list, one of which is the Eisenhower Method, and I’ve included a diagram below to show you how it works. Work through your list, put each action into the appropriate box, and then reassess at the end.
The method I use incorporates some of the thinking behind the Eisenhower Method, but I prefer to think of the ‘not urgent/not important’ section as my ‘work in progress’. Some of my actions may not be especially urgent or important, but I do want to complete them at some point. So, if I complete all my scheduled activities for a certain day, I refer to this list and complete a task if I can.
How to think about each task to prioritise it
1. Be realistic
Think realistically about how long each task will take you to complete and make a note of this next to the action.
2. Be aware of deadlines
Are there any set deadlines for each task? Do any tasks depend upon the completion of others? Make sure that you’re aware of these, link them together and write them down too.
3. Do you need input from anyone else?
Do you have part of a task to do to contribute to someone else, or vice versa? Make sure that you know your deadline and they know theirs. It’s always helpful to set your own internal deadline for a day or two before this to take account of emergencies and interruptions. Include this info too.
4. Can you delegate?
Please remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. Think about whether you can delegate a task to someone else? Even if you’re flying solo, you can think about outsourcing tasks or look into a skills/service swap with someone. There is bound to be someone who can help you amongst your network of fellow SME’s, so try asking.
Think about whether you actually need to go to a meeting in person. Think about other options, such as a phone call or a face-to-face chat using tools such as Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts. Don’t expend valuable time and money travelling to meet someone if there is a better way of doing something.
How to schedule your tasks
Once you’ve looked through all your tasks and allocated an estimated time, relevant deadlines, and potential for delegation, start to schedule each task in your diary.
1. Use a physical calendar/diary
It helps to have a monthly overview in front of you, either paper or digital. Then, start to input your tasks in your calendar/diary. Populate some tasks on a monthly basis, such as a day for expenses and accounts, another day for admin, or another for stock ordering. Then, drill down to weekly populating, and allocate a number of tasks to be completed each week.
2. Be mindful
Be mindful of what time of day you’re at your most productive or creative. If you’re a morning person, schedule in the most creative task of the day for the morning, and leave all of the monotonous tasks for the afternoon when you don’t have to exert as much brain power. It also helps to have a money-earner as one of your first tasks of the day, then you’re immediately on to a winner!
3. Be systematic
On a week by week basis, allocate tasks to each day, bearing in mind all the information you’ve already captured, like deadlines and whether you need input from anyone else. Assign a certain number of tasks per day, and give yourself a little bit of slack in case of interruptions.
4. Easy wins
Put something on your daily to-do list that you can tick off fairly quickly and start your day with a positive vibe, such as ‘turn on my laptop/PC’ or ‘make a cuppa’.
5. Eat your frog first thing in the morning
In other words, schedule the task/s you least want to do for first thing in the morning. Once you’ve got it over and done with, you can breathe a sigh of relief and enjoy your tasks for the rest of the day without fear or procrastination.
6. Tackle those small jobs
We all have small jobs scattered through our to-do list that would take only a few moments if only we could get around to doing them. Come up with your own way of addressing these, then take ownership of them. I schedule them in my diary for attacking in bulk, and it’s so satisfying to tick them all off one after another! Alternatively, you could give yourself one a day, scheduled after you’ve eaten your morning frog. Another satisfying tick 😊
7. Tick as you go
Tick each task off as you complete it – the satisfaction is tangible, and you really feel like you’re achieving something!
Your calendar or diary should now be in place, with:
- tasks scheduled on a weekly basis
- a realistic list of tasks for each day
- deadlines flagged up
- a list of ‘not urgent/not important’ / ‘work in progress’ tasks that you can refer to as you go
- an easy win at the top of each day’s to-do list
- all frogs scheduled as your second task of the day
- recurring monthly tasks scheduled in your calendar
Review, Revise and Reschedule
It’s also important to review your list regularly, to delete redundant tasks, to revise existing and accommodate new deadlines, and to take account of all new tasks. It’s also good practice to review your achievements at the end of the week, and plan in daily tasks for the following week. A good tip is to have this review on a Thursday afternoon – it helps you to schedule in any remaining weekly tasks for the Friday, and to re-allocate any ‘not urgent/not important’ to the following week. It also means that you will get to Friday afternoon, and know that you have completed everything urgent for that week. All that remains is to celebrate and start again next week!
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