There is something paradoxically wonderful and thrilling about not prioritizing at all, but just improvising everything, putting out fires and doing what is either urgent, happens to come into our field of view or what we are asked by others to do.
We definitely do not want to be the one who turns a blind eye to other people’s needs; we help, we come to the rescue, we say yes — to anything, especially if it is urgent. Sure, it stresses us out, but that warm, comforting feeling deep inside tells us that we are doing the right thing when we drop everything and help someone else. After all, it was urgent. In a way, having urgent things fall into your lap may feel as a blessing since they somehow rid us of all doubt regarding what ”has to” be done right now. No one could ever blame us for not extending a helping hand, because we obviously have lots of urgent matters to attend to more or less always.
Wearing you out
But, this approach will cost you in the long-run. The inflow of urgent tasks and issues to attend to will never dry up and diminish, since we never get around to doing things that were not urgent a few days ago, until they too are urgent. Once you go down this road, you fall into a never-ending circle. Everything is always urgent, and our workdays are constantly stained by stress and pressure.
We do not have time to catch our breath before another urgent matter requires our attention. We hurry, and if we are lucky, finish just on time. And we are forced to swallow our frustration when we yet again have to deliver something that did not at all have the high quality we know we are good for, since there just was not enough time to give it our very best.
Doing the right thing
But, the one who prioritizes in a more systematic fashion will get to experience another kind of wonderful feeling. It is that warm, comforting knowing that what we are doing right now, is without question the right thing to be spending our time and energy on at the moment — even if it is not urgent and all kinds of tasks and cries for help (that all appear to be urgent) are swirling around us.
Only because something is urgent, and alerting you to it being so in an unmistakably noisy manner, it need not actually be important. If we prioritize more of the tasks that are important, we will successfully accomplish more of the goals we strive to reach in the long-run.
You are probably familiar with this line of reason from the commonly referred to, but also commonly disregarded, urgent/important-matrix.
Then, later versus here, now
But prioritizing the important things first and consciously choosing not to do what might be urgent but not equally important, is to many a tad uncomfortable if you are not used to it. In order to do so, we need to anchor what we prioritize doing before something else in our long-term plan and vision, which often tends to not be sufficiently tangible in the present moment. It is much easier to recognize that something calling for our attention right now is urgent, than seeing how something else will lead us towards where we want to be heading further down the road.
If you therefore clarify what the criteria for determining if something is important or not is, it will become much easier to prioritize accurately. The primary criteria for if something is to be regarded as ”important” or not is often whether or not it contributes to the attainment of the goals you are responsible for, but it could of course be something completely different that is more relevant to your business.
What matters is that you consciously establish a criteria.
If you want to, do the following today:
- Ask yourself what ought to determine if tasks are important or not with regards to your work. Define at least one criteria of what is important, for example that the task should contribute to the attainment of the goals you are responsible for reaching.
- During the week to come, stop for a second or two whenever you think of something to do, when you are about to write something down to remember to do it later, when you are suggested to do something, or when someone asks you to do something — and reflect on if the criteria is met and hence if the task is important.
- If the task is not actually important, you can say ”no, thank you” or ”yes, but later” with a clean conscience and feeling certain you made the right assessment. If you should choose to do the task now anyway, having paused and reflected on its importance will still be valuable and a step in the direction of eventually establishing a method for prioritizing in a more systematic and conscious way.
Same zest but less stress
If you establish criteria by which to prioritize more consciously rather than always just doing what appears urgent, you will get to enjoy that wonderful and gratifying feeling of certainty you used to get when putting out fires and coming to the rescue regarding all those urgent tasks, but without always being so stressed.
You will act more in accordance with your long-term interests and goals since you evaluate and determine what to do and not to do by using consciously set criteria for what constitutes an important task, and you can therefore relax knowing you are doing the right thing — regardless if you do that urgent task, or focus on one that is more important in the long-run but not yet urgent. You will have more foresight and rarely finish things last minute. Now, doesn’t that sound like a significant improvement?
What is your method?
I have recently published my second book, which is actually about prioritizing. The subject definitely interests me, and this is why I am very curious to hear of your tips, trix and methods since I definitely have not covered all angles, aspects and approaches yet. So, what are your thoughts on prioritization? Comment below and share.