Prioritize What’s Most Important in Your To-do List

Around 40 percent of people in the USA feel burned out and overworked. However, many of us are filling our days with tasks that aren’t essential. “Busywork” is an all too common problem. If you find you are avoiding deadlines by completing unnecessary jobs, you need to give your work approach an overhaul.

Identify the Tasks You Can Ditch

The first step to overhauling your work approach is to identify the tasks you can ditch. Remember, eliminating isn’t about being lazy. It’s about staying efficient. It’s about completing tasks that are essential rather than doing work purely for the sake of it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re being productive if you’re incredibly busy. Yet, this isn’t necessarily true. You’re only being productive if you’re effective and efficient. It’s possible to achieve a lot more by doing a lot less.

What kind of tasks can you ditch, then?

  • Answering every phone call. If you’re in the middle of an important task you don’t need to answer the phone. Let your voicemail pick up instead. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message then you can call back later in your less productive hours.
  • Get rid of junk mail. Eliminate any subscriptions that you don’t read and block spam. This means you won’t need to read as many emails.
  • Eliminate as many repetitive tasks as possible by finding better solutions.

How do you go about identifying which tasks you can ditch? Here are a few questions to ask yourself each time.

Is this an important task for my responsibilities or my customers/clients?

Any task which is key to customers or clients or your role needs to remain in your schedule. It may not be exciting or fun. However, the deadline needs to be met.

Is this task worth the time I spend on it?

Are you expending too much time and energy on jobs that simply aren’t worth it? For example, do you spend hours formatting documents to make them look more attractive when a simpler layout would suffice? Laboring over unnecessary tasks is a waste of time and reduces your overall productivity.

Will anybody notices if I don’t do this task?

Are you completing this task simply because it feels important? There are some tasks which wouldn’t be missed if you ditched them. For example, if you draw up a detailed report after every meeting that nobody reads, should you bother doing it?

Is it a maintenance task or is it strategically important?

Spending excessive amounts of time on repetitive maintenance tasks prevents you from working on strategically important tasks. If you’re in a rut, you’ll end up staying in it unless you take action. Find other solutions for those maintenance tasks and free yourself up for the important ones.

Is this a distraction task?

We already discussed procrastination. It’s important to think about whether each task you do is simply a distraction or whether it’s vital. If you’re avoiding essential jobs that you don’t want to do by doing “busywork”, it’s time to ditch that busywork.

Use A “Do Later” List

We already talked about the importance of planning your day and writing to-do lists. However, there’s another type of list that can be beneficial: the “Do Later” list.

The “Do Later” list helps to keep your mind clear. You have a to- do list with all the immediate tasks you need to do. But, what do you do with the non-urgent tasks? Rather than keeping them in your head, note them down. This allows you to remain fully focused on the key tasks at hand. Yet, you won’t forget about all those non-essential jobs that can be delayed until later.

While this type of list is a useful solution, it isn’t foolproof. There’s a danger that if a task ends up on the “Do Later” list, it just won’t get done. Therefore, you should add a review date to each item. Note that review date in your diary.

That way, nothing will get overlooked. You should also keep your list in a visible location. This means you won’t forget all about it. In your less productive times of the day, you should aim to tackle some of the items on this list. That way, the task gets done without impacting your productivity levels.

The 80/20 Rule

When it comes to time management, the 80/20 rule can be revolutionary. Sometimes known as the Pareto Principle, this rule helps to boost your productivity. Applying this rule allows you to prioritize your time and your tasks. It’s vital at work and key to success at home too. So, how does the principle work?

Out of any ten items, two are more valuable than the others put together. However, those two items are most likely to be the ones we delay and procrastinate on. The 80/20 rule ensures this doesn’t happen.

How can you apply the rule in your own life? Write down 10 goals that you need to accomplish. Next, ask which of those goals is most important. Which one has the most positive impact? Which one is most essential? Which one is most time-pressured? Next, choose the next most vital goal. This identifies the “20” element of the equation. You now know which goals you need to work on first.

The 80/20 rule ties into the “Eat the Frog” technique mentioned earlier. All too often, the “20” element of the equation is the frog. Often, the day’s most valuable tasks are the most complex and difficult. Yet, the rewards and payoff when you complete them are also exponentially bigger.

Before you begin any task, you should therefore always ask whether it’s a “20” task. Resisting the temptation to get small jobs done first is a hard habit to break. Yet, when you do break it, you’ll boost your productivity and become more successful.

Images courtesy of:
Gerd Altmann , Arek Socha, Pixabay

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Prioritize What’s Most Important in Your To-do List

Part 6 of Peak Productivity Series
Pam Byc
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