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To Do, or Not to Do? How to Prioritize Your Tasks.

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‘To do’ or ‘Not to do’?

That is The Question: How to Prioritize Your Tasks.

With many managers having an average of 40 ‘open’ projects on the go at one time, it’s obvious that in business we are coming under ever-increasing time pressure.

Clearly we can’t do absolutely everything, and certainly not at the same time, so it is vital to have some method for prioritization so we can choose what needs to be done before something else.

Unfortunately, many people, even among those who think themselves good task managers, don’t ever really get to grips with what is one of the most crucial aspects of personal productivity.

The Prioritization Challenge.

So, how to tackle our workload when virtually everything we do seems to need doing now because it’s either tremendously urgent or crucially important?

Most traditional systems seek to give a ‘weight’ to each task. So, traditional To Do list and time management techniques often suggest using either a letter or a number to designate a task’s relative importance.

Though having a system that uses 1, 2, 3 or A, B, C to take you from the ‘must do’ 1s and As on our list down to the unimportant 3s and Cs, may seem like a good idea, it’s not one that’s so easy to follow in practice.

Particularly when you have either lots of similar items, or such a diverse range of tasks that they are difficult to compare, it’s often not straightforward to decide whether a task is an A or a B, a 2 or a 3.

Even when you have done your best to weigh up each one, you can still end up with 10 or 12 A items, and what do you do then? You are faced with trying to identify the nuances that will make one job super-important above the rest.

Making such fine judgment calls is far from an exact science, takes time and can become a strain in itself. And, with more and more jobs clamoring for your time, the problem can only get harder.

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Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff.

Of course, there are times when it is blindingly obvious which task needs to be done first, but when it’s not, here are some ways to sort the wheat from the chaff.

1. Limit the options.

Limit the number of items you are trying to prioritize between. It is far easier to decide which project or task to do first if you are choosing only between two or three rather than seven or eight. Unfortunately, all too often traditional To Do lists quickly become cluttered with new tasks, ideas and thoughts that crop up through the day.

This not only creates a feeling of overwhelm, but also makes it harder to prioritize from the tangle of tasks. So, keep your Daily Task lists ‘clean’.

2. Chunk it Down.

Don’t let what task management expert, David Allen, calls ‘amorphous blobs of un-doability’ get on to your lists in the first place. These are items like such as ‘Organize Photography, or ‘Develop Mail Campaign’ that are too unfocused and bulky to prioritize between. They fight for our attention alongside more useful items, but just ‘constipate’ our lists and make us feel that we have too much to do.

These big beasts need bringing down to size. A powerful way to do this is to ask yourself: ‘What is the Next Action I can take to move this project forward?’ This simple question forces you to break down the job into do-able small steps, such as ‘Phone photographer, ‘Brief designer’, ‘Meet marketing team’, which are far easier to prioritize.

3. Small Stuff? Just Do It.

Don’t prioritize very small jobs that will take less than two minutes to complete. Just do them.

4. Trust Your Gut.

Don’t be frightened to use your intuition to decide what at to go for first. In any event, always take some form of action otherwise you will fall victim to ‘analysis paralysis’, that will just end in procrastination.

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5. Pick Tasks to Suit Your Context.

While many tasks are ‘universal’, others can only be done in certain circumstances or ‘contexts’, which enables you at any one time to focus on the jobs that can be done, rather than those you’re not ‘equipped’ to do at that particular time. So, look for ways to filter out larger tasks from your immediate view by prioritizing by context, such as:

Location. While there are many tasks that can be done anywhere, and increasingly so using technology such as iPads, laptops, Wi-Fi and smartphones, there are still jobs that are location-specific and so need to be done at our office, home, or on site. These jobs should take priority when you are in the right place.

Resource. Some tasks can only be done when we have the right equipment - a phone or computer for instance - with which to do them. If the only thing you can do while waiting for a plane is to make phone calls, then make this the priority in that situation.

People. Many tasks and projects can only move forward when we engage or work with someone in particular, such as colleague, boss, husband or wife. Prioritize these tasks when you are with them.

Available time. If you have little time in which to do something, then prioritize five or ten-minute jobs you can do in that time rather than starting a task that’s going to take two hours to complete.

Energy levels. Some tasks require much more focused concentration and effort than others. So, if you are ‘charged up’, then working on important, thought-hungry tasks is the way to go. If you are ‘flat’ at the end of the day, then more routine and less creative tasks could come to the top of the pile.

By using these contexts, it will often be obvious which are the priority items.

Unfortunately, most To Do list software doesn’t offer the flexibility to filter by context at all, which means you need to look instead at the new generation of smart task management applications which does, ShoutDone included.

Practice exercising your prioritization muscles regularly until being able to choose what to do next becomes a fast and natural process. This will take time and effort, but will have a major impact on your productivity by helping you focus on completing high value items that will maximize your progress and future success.

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About ShoutDone To Do List Software.

To do list software is an essential tool in our daily battle for increased productivity, reduced stress and a better work-life balance.

ShoutDone is a powerful task management system that presents your projects and tasks in a new light thanks to its unique, high quality interface.

With simple-to-use yet powerful features, ShoutDone will have you working more productively than ever before in only a matter of minutes. Your life, more organized.

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