How do we best prioritise our time? From writing to-do lists, to using an electronic calendar it can sometimes feel like we don’t ever have enough time. If i have several tasks that i know need to be done, i might opt for the shortest one as a sort of quick win (e.g. tidying the room, washing the dishes etc.) The instant gratification of ticking it off feels great, but what about that bigger task that I’ve been putting off? Presentations, lab reports, that piece of work that feels so abstract to begin with you, when brought to consciousness you feel your heart race as you start to wonder if now would be a good time to mop the kitchen floor.
Where am i supposed to find time to do all that – you might ask yourself as you clasp your face with both hands and groan skywards. Right after you treat yourself to a break for completing that quick-win task you did earlier surely.
As humans we over-estimate how long something will take, the effort it will require and our own attention span. We take time for granted and unless we find solutions to combat procrastination those small wins can start to feel like distractions from what we should be tackling head on.
It’s useful before starting a task to be mindful and contextual.
Pick a task that you’ve been putting off in your own life and ask yourself these questions:
Why is it important?
What will it give me? (Value/Return)
How long will it take?
How easy or difficult is it?
Having these answers in mind can help you determine whether a task should be started or re-considered for another day when you’re able to commit. However, another useful way of determining which tasks you should be prioritising is by using the Eisenhower Matrix. This framework, named after former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, focuses on prioritising tasks by urgency and importance and into 4 quadrants:
1. Urgent and Important (Do First) Do first tasks are important for your life and career and need to be done today or tomorrow at the latest. You could use a timer to help you concentrate while trying to get as much of them done as possible (I personally find the Pomodoro technique really useful for this).
2. Urgent and Not Important (Schedule) Scheduled tasks are important but less urgent. You should list tasks you need to put in your calendar here.
3. Not Urgent and Important (Delegate) Delegated tasks are those you could delegate as they are less important to you than others but still pretty urgent. You should keep track of delegated tasks by email, telephone or within a meeting to check back on their progress later.
4. Not Urgent and Not Important (Don’t Do) Finally, Don’t Do tasks are the tasks we shouldn’t be doing. Discover and stop your bad habits (surfing the internet without a reason, spending time on social media etc.). These tasks give you an excuse for not being able to deal with important tasks in 1 and 2.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve used EM or any other prioritisation frameworks for tackling your to-do’s.