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How to prioritize your priorities when everything is a priority?

prioritize your priorities

A typical day. You walk into the office and in a matter of seconds, a truckload of tasks come flying at you from every direction, each one screaming “I NEED TO BE DONE RIGHT NOW!”

In just five minutes, your head already feels overwhelmed with all the stress and inability to make out which of those tasks needs to be done right now, and what can be postponed for some later time.

It’s not even about the inability as much as not having enough time to stop and think about things. You are the one responsible for the project’s health, so you need to make decisions – and they better be the right ones.

So how can you do this with minimum amount of stress, while ensuring you make the right decisions? The answer is… well, you don’t 🙂 Here is why.

First it’s impossible, second, it’s pointless. The definition of the word priority goes “something that is regarded as more important than all others”.  This means you can’t even have multiple priorities in the first place. And even if you do, those aren’t going to be finished anytime soon. Some small issues will continuously arise as you move on, because nothing goes 100 percent smooth, ever. So at the end of the day none of it will make a difference. You will just end up with the same load of stuff, just in a slightly different way.

What you CAN do though, is make sure (or at least maximize the chance) that tasks get done before their actual deadlines. This does, in a sense, help you prioritize your tasks. Let’s see now:

Step One: Set Clear Deadlines for Each Task

Gather all your priorities in one place and subjectively (since objectivity is not an option as mentioned above) place them in the order you want them to be completed. Have a SINGLE priority for each day. If you have more than one, you might as well have them all, or none. You need to focus on a single task, one at a time to make any decent progress.

After sorting them out, set clear, realistic and reasonable deadlines for each. There is no clear guidance on how much time should be dedicated to a task, but you can:

  • Use your past experiences to help you out on this. Use a time tracking software to calculate the average time you spend on a task and place your deadlines correspondingly.

  • If you are facing a task for the first time, consult an experienced team member for guidance (there is nothing to be shy about here)

  • You know yourself better than anybody, so evaluate the time needed for each task based on your skills.

  • Include some buffer time for emergencies just in case they happen, or rather WHEN they happen, because they will.

  • Track the time you require for each task to make this process smooth, fast and easy in the future. EasyProjects can help you out in this 🙂

  • Bonus tip from EasyProjects: You can use dependencies for projects that are very sensitive to deadlines. This is done by working backwards from a deadline.

It’s important to do this as precisely as possible. If you set the deadlines too short in an attempt to speed up the process, you might end up with incomplete tasks or tasks that are done poorly, just because there was too little time. This will mess up everything and will actually require double the amount of time to set it all right again. Set the deadline too long though, and you are risking a standstill for your project. So make sure you invest enough time into this.

When you arrive at the office each morning, focus on that one priority you chose, and proceed with the rest of your tasks later. Though somewhat arguable, the most productive time during a workday is between 9:00-11:00 AM and this is just the right time for the most important task of the day.

Step Two: Cut the Time in Half

After you set clear deadlines for each task, use your imagination (you can picture unicorns running over rainbows and what not – pretty fun stuff if you ask me, but that’s not the point) and pretend you have to finish a task in three hours instead of six. This can help with a few things:

  • First, since you have so little time, you will become extremely picky about what you are doing and will instinctively pick the most urgent stuff to do.

  • Second, you can actually make sure that the task will be done by the actual deadline. Finish your job way ahead of time, so that you can use the other part that you cut out for last minute customization and finalize your work.

  • Third, well if you finish stuff way ahead of time, it’s always a bonus for your reputation among customers 😉

Step Three: “Perfect” isn’t what you want to be

You need to stop striving for perfection and micromanaging every step of every task of everybody and everything. If you stop to correct every tiny detail and clear up here and there, you will never finish anything on time. What you should do, is get the job done by 85-95% and delegate it to somebody who will do the small fixes for you.

Also do not get involved into tasks that you’re sure don’t need your attention.Management is good, but over management is frustrating, stressful and not that useful.

What You End Up With

If you do this consistently, you will be able to ease up your workload, ensure that tasks get done on time (or even ahead of time) and not worry about constantly trying to figure out which task is more important. It’s kind of a “thinking of the solution and not the problem” approach: instead of cracking your brain on HOW to do, you jump straight to DOING.

The problems are already there, thinking about them constantly isn’t going to help much. You need to start solving them and the sooner, the better.

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