Every so often, I have felt that vague sense of unease and (sometimes) guilt at the end of what felt like a totally unproductive day. Ah, I see you nodding your familiarity. It’s the ‘wasted day’ syndrome.
And so, just as you may have, I too have tried my hand at ‘prioritizing’ my work, which for me meant figuring out what to start first and the next task and so on…
Now I’ve got a nice sequence going on a sheet of paper. The problem was, each day brought its own little chaos and disruptions to my desk with the result that my original set of ‘important’ tasks kept getting pushed back or back on the shelf…and pretty soon and I am back with that sneaky disempowering feeling again…
The world calls it Procrastination, a term that means nothing more than the absence of priorities. When we don’t have clear idea on priorities we tend to tend to do tasks on a First In First Out (FIFO) basis, never works.
When I got down to exploring that sense of guilt, I realized that each time could link it back to those projects that had something to do with shaping my future in a definite direction. Milestones, in a way.
And then, quite recently in a performance coaching conversation with an emerging leader, something fell into place. It dawned on me that there is more to prioritization than just stringing together a set of actions and slotting time, which is what we tend to do. What eventually crystallized was simple, elegant and powerful.
Prioritization is making time for the meaningful.
Let me explain. Missing out tasks such as a bank visit, or attending a routine meeting, filing a report, sending follow up mails isn’t going to give me sleepless nights. These are transactional in nature, sure, they help me stay steady but in the same place. On the other hand, planning for a webinar, developing a service portfolio, writing a smashing proposal, setting aside a week for a development program etc. are projects that are clearly investments in my future. My inability to spend quality time on these preys on my mind. In brief…
- Prioritization is not about completing a ‘To Do’ list. It’s about being selective about ‘allocating time’ for Projects (not tasks) that have meaning form growth/ success/ achievement/ performance/ learning.
- Allocation implies blocking time in my Near Future for specific tasks or projects that shape your life, that could belief changing for you.
- *Near Future == min. 4 weeks in my Android/ Apple Calendar(varies by person)
It’s really about valuing time, by being conscious of and therefore more selective about which areas and tasks you choose to spend your time on. These are transitional projects, as distinct from the transactional. I’m deliberately avoiding saying transformational, a much abused term.
A new way to Prioritize: If you’re with me so far, here is a simple 5 step way to get the issue of ‘prioritization aka time management aka feeling rushed off your feet’ out of the way.
- Make a list of all those tasks that you feel you need to get done.. Don’t bother ordering, filtering it or categorizing it.. Just list.
- Identify those transitional Projects. Or clump tasks into projects.
- Allocate time for each project for atleast the next 6 weeks. Either as a solid block of time (never works for me) or as a more sustainable 2 hours on Tuesdays and Fridays every week.
- Practice the discipline and humility of allowing your near future (your calendar) to direct your present. In short, make sure you spend time on the task you decided was important for your future. If for some reason you can’t, reallocate for another day/ time..
- Engage mindfully and with sharp attention to the project at hand while you’re at it. Spend the last 10 minutes reflecting on progress and allocating more time as necessary.
What about the other tasks on my original list, you ask? Well, here’s what I found, when you’ve dealt with the essentials, the rest just squeeze themselves into your time. The simple rule for such tasks is automate, outsource or simplify.
Practice this for a few weeks & tell me how it’s working for you!
The writer Mohan Bala is an executive coach and available at uExcelerate for individual/group coaching.