Thursday, August 14, 2008

How to Get the Most Important Things Done.

Have you ever gotten to the end of a "busy" day and then realized that you didn't really get anything significant done?

One of the biggest causes of this common problem is what Peter Drucker calls "drifting into trivia." Getting so caught up in all the small
stuff that you forget to do the big, important stuff.

There are many opportunities during each day for you to drift into trivia: remembering a phone call you need to make, coming across a piece of
paper reminding you of some other project, getting an email asking you a question, a call from a colleague, a drop-in visitor, etc.

Before you know it, the important task that you were working on is hijacked by a much less important errand.

If you find yourself routinely working on unimportant things or not accomplishing as much as you want, you may be drifting into trivia more often than you think.

Drifting into trivia is not always easy to spot. Sometimes the work that you drift into seems important, but if you take a step back and reflect on what you are really trying to accomplish, you realize that the work doesn't really serve your
objectives and is merely distracting you from what you really need to do.

The best way to avoid drifting into trivia is to have clear priorities and objectives. When your priorities are clear, you will be able to tell when that tempting distraction is less important. You will realize immediately that by doing it you would be drifting into trivia.

Setting Clear Priorities

Effective time managers quickly realize that they simply cannot do everything. They have to be selective with their limited amount of time and consciously choose to spend it on what is most important to them.

This is why it is so important for you to be the one choosing, rather than just going with the flow and allowing circumstances, interruptions or other people to choose for you.

Prioritizing means taking conscious control of your choices and deciding to spend more time on the projects and tasks that are important and valuable, and less time on the ones that are not as important or valuable.

This may sound obvious, but the fact is that the vast majority of people don't put much thought on how they spend their time. They just flow through life doing whatever grabs their attention next, or repeating the same things day after day
out of habit and routine.

How to Prioritize

The ABCD prioritization method is a simple, practical and powerful technique you can use to prioritize your projects and tasks.

You should start by prioritizing your projects (which represent your outcomes) based on their importance.

I normally assign an A priority to ongoing projects that I'm actively working on, as well as important long-term projects that I want to continue moving forward.

Your A projects represent outcomes that you have decided are important enough to commit time to on a regular basis. So, if you think you should be making progress on a project right now, give it an A priority.

I assign a priority of B to projects that are "under review." They may very well be worth moving forward, but they are not important enough to devote time to them this upcoming week. You can then revisit your decision during your next weekly
planning session.

One common mistake while prioritizing is to automatically assign an A priority to urgent things, and to push back important long-term projects to B or even C priority.

If a long-term project truly is important, you should make it an A and commit time to it on a regular basis.

I usually leave urgent but non-important projects/tasks as either B's or C's, which helps me to productively procrastinate on them until I can truly determine if they are worth doing. Since I review them regularly, I don't have to worry about them falling through cracks or becoming a crisis.

The C priority category represent projects that I may want to do at some point in the future, but definitely not right now. Once I've decided that a project is a C, I won't even consider committing any time to it during the upcoming week.

Finally, I reserve the D priority for projects and tasks that I'm not planning to do at all. They are simply not worth my time right now.

Prioritize Your Tasks

Prioritizing tasks is slightly different than prioritizing projects. In general, projects are things that you are going to work in parallel during the week, so the project priorities help you decide which projects to work on, as well as
how much time to devote to them.

On the other hand, you normally work on tasks for a given project sequentially. You work on the most important thing first until completed, and then you move on to the next most important thing, and so on. Task priorities help you decide the
ordering of tasks within a given project... which task to do first, which task to do second, etc.

You don't need to worry about any other projects or tasks you may have, just consider how important the task is for its project.

When prioritizing tasks, I usually start by categorizing them into one of the ABCD labels without providing a rank.

Ranking the Items

Once I have assigned a priority label to all tasks, I focus on the A's and assign individual priority rank values to the top five to ten tasks:

A1 for the most important, A2 for the next most important, and so on.

You can usually tell which of two items is more important just by looking at them.

If you are having trouble deciding, just ask yourself: "If I could only complete one of these but not both, which one would I choose?"

If you think two tasks are equally important, just assign the same priority value to both of them.

If you have more than ten tasks for a project, you don't have to assign rank numbers to all of them. Just rank the top five to ten tasks and leave the others with their general labels (A, B etc.)

One important benefit of prioritizing is that it allows you to focus on your most important tasks without getting overwhelmed by everything that you need to do.

That's why I suggest you only rank five to ten tasks: it allows you to focus on a small number of tasks at any given time.

Achieve Planner makes it super easy to filter your task list by priority so you can stay focused on your most important tasks.

If you still find your large task list overwhelming or distracting, simply move more of your tasks to B or even C status.

Working with Priorities

The key to making the ABCD method work for you is to develop the habit of using your priorities to guide your work.

Whenever you start working on a project, start with the top priority task and work on it until it's done (or it's time to work on some other project).

If you consistently choose to spend your time on your most important projects and tasks, you'll be making great use of your time and you'll feel much more productive.

Here's What You Can Do Now

1) Look over your projects and categorize them into A's, B's, C's and D's

2) If you start working on a project and you haven't prioritized your task list, spend a few minutes prioritizing your tasks and then get to work on your most important task first.

3) Whenever you start working on a project, start with the most important task first - develop the habit of using priorities to guide your work.

Here are some additional resources and tools that you might find useful...

1) Achieve Planner Software

Achieve Planner software for Windows helps you get organized, increase your productivity, and make better use of your time. Here's what one user had to say...

"After trying Achieve Planner for nearly two months I can honestly say that it has
revolutionized the way I work. I have an incredibly busy schedule so I need something that can cope with a multitude of tasks, projects and appointments whilst at the same time keeping me focused on what is most important. Achieve Planner does all of this and much more besides.

Over the years I've tried pretty much every system on the market and nothing, absolutely nothing, comes anywhere close to this. It looks great, works superbly, comes with excellent instructions, is a pleasure to use, but most important of all - IT REALLY WORKS!

For anyone who wants to get organized and take their productivity to the next level Achieve Planner is an absolute must. It's one piece of software that I'm certain I'll be using for many years to come."
Paul Smithson

2 ) The Journal" Diary Software

Keeping a journal or diary on your computer has never been easier! If you've ever wanted to start a journal or keep a diary, take this opportunity to get started today!

"I just wanted to thank you for writing such a useful program. I use it daily to record my thoughts, which I later review as I write my poetry. The easy reviewing of my previous thoughts from other days has alleviated much of the writers block I experienced in the past. Thanks again for the great software!"
Gregory Allan Clark

1 comment:

cary said...

I appreciate the value of prioritizing, especially TTD lists.

Let me share, what I hope will be a new approach to prioritizing for you and your readers that is simple yet very powerful.