You came here for one reason. To get some killer tips on how to prioritize your time. So, let’s get right into it so that you’re not wasting any more time then you have to. Here is how to prioritize your time with 25 tips for optimal time prioritization.
1. Set goals and stick to them.
Goals are like a map. They provide us with a starting point and step-by-directions on how to reach our destination. But, they also keep us focused. If you’ve ever driven in an unfamiliar territory your eyes are fixed sharply on the road so that you don’t miss a turn.
Before doing anything else, get clear on your goals and follow through with them. Not only will this give you purpose, but it will also guide you in determining how you want to spend your time.
If you’re struggling with reaching your goals, here are four strategies that you should try:
- SMART goal formula. Always make sure that your goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
- RPM. Developed by Tony Robbins, this involves three-steps to achieving your goals: writing them down, chunking your time, and blocks that contain a plan for reaching your goal.
- Start with your action steps first. Instead of setting a goal first, begin in the middle of the goal process. Taking this approach actually gives you a better understanding of how much time and effort it will take.
- Run a SWOT analysis. Short for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, this is where you identify the challenges in these four areas. Knowing this, you can then look for ways to overcomes these obstacles.
2. Create a master list.
Those goals you just came-up with? Add them to a list, along with anything else that needs to get done like administrative tasks, meetings, and household chores. Right now, the order doesn’t matter. You just need to get these items out of your head and place them in a notebook or sheet of paper. You could also use digital tools like Evernote, Google Keep, or Todoist.
For some of you, you may end up having a lengthy and daunting list here. Don’t sweat it. Go through your list and begin trimming the fat by arranging your list by date-specific responsibilities. Examples would include deadlines, due dates, and events already booked in your calendar. Also, only focus on important actions that need your attention right now.
As for the rest of your list? If there is something that you need to do, but it’s not urgent, schedule it for later. If there are items that could be delegated or outsourced, then assign them to someone else. And, if there’s anything that isn’t a good use of your time, delete them from your list.
3. Get to Like Ike.
Even if your list isn’t as overwhelming, it’s still challenging to prioritize your list. One strategy to employ here would be using a priority matrix, such as the popular Eisenhower Matrix.
If history isn’t your thing, here’s what you need to know. The Eisenhower Matrix was named after Dwight Eisenhower, also known as Ike. He was the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and the 34th President of the United States. So, yeah, he had to be productive with his time. And, he accomplished this by dividing all tasks into four quadrants:
- Important and Urgent – essential items that must get done.
- Not urgent and important – activities that still require your attention, but not right at this moment.
- Not important and urgent – responsibilities that can handed-off to someone else so that they don’t distract you.
- Not important and not urgent – time-wasters that should be scrapped from your list entirely.
4. Enroll at MIT.
Not literally. But, if you have applied and been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then congratulations.
The MIT I’m talking about here is your most important task. It’s the one thing that you want or needs to get done today — without question. It should always be aligned with the goals that you’ve set.
5. It’s as easy as A, B, C.
Another way to prioritize your time is to use a system where you list everything as A, B, and C. According to Steve Tobak, here’s how it works:
- A = critical things. These are the things that need to get done right away or there will be repercussions.
- B = business as usual. Everything that you need to focus on in order to achieve your short- and long-term goals.
- C = everything else. These are items like busy work things that would be nice to get to, or just goofing off.
The beauty of this system, explains Tobak, is that you’ll “actually never get to the Priority C tasks. In fact, this system forces you to be very clear on your goals because anything that doesn’t play a significant role in helping you achieve them gets pushed to the C list.”
6. Kondo your to-do-lists.
I’m sure that you’re aware of Marie Kondo’s decluttering philosophy: does this spark joy? If not, it not then throw it away or donate it. But, how does this apply to prioritize your time?
Well, between FOMO and being afraid to say “no,” we often over-commit ourselves. We also feel pressured to squeeze in as much as possible in a day so that you give off the impression that we’re productive. In reality, the more we add to our plate, the less progress we’ll make. The reason? We’re focused on how much we’ve accomplished per day instead of spending time on the right things.
Decluttering your life can help with this. It relieves stress, allows you to make fewer decisions, and encourages you to spend more time on the things that truly matter.
Amy Jen Su suggests on HBR that you can do this by filtering your priorities. “Select a couple of areas to set priorities in; this can help the brain to manage information overload,” explains Amy.
“Researchers have found that it’s the overload of options that paralyze us or lead to decisions that go against our best interests,” she adds. “Two criteria I use with clients to filter for priorities include contribution and passion.” Your highest contribution would be things your purpose, strengths, and experience. Your passion would be the things that motivate and excite you.
7. Follow the 1-3-5 scheduling rule.
Remember that master you created? Go back and use that to shape your day using the 1-3-5 scheduling rule.
- Identify today’s top priority from the list. Nothing else matters here. This is your primary focus for the day.
- Determine three medium priorities. Ideally, these should be subtasks related to your main priority.
- And, schedule no more than five small must-to-do- priorities, such as meetings. While these are important and deserve your time, we call these smaller to-dos since they don’t require as much energy.
8. Use the scales method.
The scales method was developed by Leon Ho, founder, and CEO of Lifehack. It’s similar to a priority matrix in that you’re organizing your to-do-list by importance and the benefits you’ll receive.
Here, however, you would determine the priority of each of your tasks by:
- Low Cost + High Benefit. These are easy tasks to complete, but will also get you one step closer to your goals.
- High Cost + High Benefit. Here you would break large tasks into smaller and more manageable ones.
- Low Cost + Low Benefit. These would be your lowest priority tasks, like checking your inbox.
- High Cost + Low Benefit. Here would time wasters that could be automated or delegated.
9. Find your 20%.
The 80/20 rule was developed by the Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto — hence why it’s also known as the Pareto Principle. As Choncé Maddox explains for Calendar, this rule “clearly states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.”
How does this help you prioritize your work? Well, according to Choncé, “If you’ve found that 20% of your effort is resulting in 80% of your results, you’ll want to prioritize and improve that 20% margin.”
With that in mind, you should always take care of your 20% first. If you find this to be tricky, ask questions like, “Are there any tasks that would make you feel relieved by accomplishing them, no matter what else happened during the day?”
10. Take the 18-minute approach.
Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, is responsible for this technique. In reality, though, it’s actually a daily ritual that will help you remain focused on your priorities throughout the day.
- Step 1. Before doing anything, start your day by spending five minutes mapping out your day.
- Step 2. Check-in every hour for just a minute to help put your back-on-track.
- Step 3. At the end of the day, take five minutes to review what worked, as well as when you get distracted. Don’t forget to take note of when you had the most focus.
11. Listen to the oracle.
I’m talking about the Oracle of Omaha, aka Warren Buffett. And, no, it’s not about how to invest your money. Instead, it’s how you should invest your time.
Start by writing down your top 25 goals. Next, draw a circle around the five that you would consider being the most important. What about the other 20 goals you listed? Avoid those at all cost so that you can dedicate 100% to your top 5.
12. Respect dates and deadlines.
Is this obvious? Absolutely. But, a lot of people have a tendency to bite off more then they can chew. For example, you may have had a conference call scheduled for months for Tuesday at 4 p.m. In your eagerness to stay ahead of your work, you squeeze in one last job before the call. Next thing you know, it’s 4:05. Not cool.
Another example would not be adding buffers between tasks and events. Let’s say that you have two meetings planned for the afternoon. The first is at 2 and the second at 3. The first meeting, which is across town, ends at 2:50. There’s no way that you’re going to make it to the other meeting on time. That’s why you should have but a buffer between these events to account for the commute.
In short, when you have something already in your calendar, whether if it’s a deadline or appointment, your day needs to be based around that entry. It was there first. And, it’s just downright disrespectful.
13. Honesty is all the best policy.
I know. That adage is cliche as peanut butter and jelly. But, it still rings true. That’s because if you aren’t honest with yourself, then you won’t be able to prioritize your time. I mean it would be wonderful if you could complete your entire to-do-list in one day. But, that’s just not possible.
Be honest with how much you can realistically get done in a day. And, do your best to block the appropriate time needed for everything that you need to do.
14. Weigh the consequences.
Whenever you’re at a crossroads, or just planning out your day, think about the consequences. For example, if you made a left it may be the more scenic route. But, there’s also no gas station in that direction. In this case, you’re better off turning right so that you don’t run of gas in the middle of nowhere.
15. Make every day count.
Not to get too new-agey with you. But, personally, that should be a top priority for everyone. Of course, that doesn’t mean living recklessly. It’s all about spending your time wisely. If that means leaving work early to spend time with your fam, then so be it. If that’s preparing to meet with investors in order to secure a much-need loan for your business, then it’s all good.
If you want to know how this is done, I recommend you check out Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule. It’s simple while providing structure. And, most importantly, it forces you to answer, “What good shall I do this day?”
16. Do what you dread first.
At some point, you’ve probably had to move. Even if you haven’t, you’ve at least helped a friend or family member. That is, unless, you’ve always hired someone to do this for you. And, if this is the case, then I’m incredibly jealous.
Anyway, let’s not beat around the bush here. Moving sucks. It’s stressful and physical tolling. But, whenever I have to make the dreaded move, I always start with the heavy items first. The reason is two-fold.
For one, do you really want to move a bedroom dresser after spending all day moving? Of course not. You’re exhausted and just want the day to be over. Secondly, if you knock out the heavier and bulkier items, everything else seems to run more smoothly. I guess it’s because with the big stuff out of the way you only have to worry about the remaining smaller items.
Apply the same concept to your time. As Mark Twain famously said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” In other words, focus on completing your most challenging or dreaded task bright and early. Besides just getting it done and over with, this is usually when we have the most energy.
17. Alternate between a maker and manager schedule.
Back in 2009, Paul Graham wrote that there were two types of schedules; a maker’s and a manager’s. A maker’s schedule is where you have to spend hours working independently on the important stuff. A manger’s schedule is the one leader’s run-on that’s full of meetings and checking-in with others.
The concept is cool. But, most of us are like Malcolm and somewhere in the middle. That means there were times when we need to focus on tasks without being disturbed. But, there are also times when we must do things like attending a meeting.
Each is important in their own way. But, if not managed properly, it can be disastrous. Let’s say you’re in the zone and a calendar reminder goes off letting you know it’s time to head into the conference room. It’s frustrating and disruptive.
One way around this is to alternate days. For instance, reserve Mondays as a maker’s day. Tuesdays, however, would be spent as a manager day since that’s when all of your meetings are scheduled.
18. Deal with constant interruptions.
Interruptions, like Thanos, are inevitable. Thankfully, there are ways for you to be victorious against this intergalactic threat against productivity.
The most obvious place to start would be to turn off your smartphone notifications. You can either turn off your phone, put it on ‘Do Not Disturb’ or block apps from a specific amount of time. To avoid FOMO, check your these notifications at scheduled intervals.
Another option is to work in a quiet place. If this isn’t possible, invest in noise-canceling headphones and shut your office door. I’d also suggest placing a sign-up sheet or share your calendar with others so that people just won’t pop-in on you.
And, only accept time requests that serve a purpose. For example, instead of a status meeting with your team, use project management software so that you can see where everyone is at.
19. Assemble your tool kit.
Regardless if you own a home or rent, everyone needs a basic tool kit, such as screwdrivers, pliers, tape measures, and hammers. The same goes for prioritizing your time. A planner and calendar are your essential productivity toolkit. You need these to organize and manage your time.
However, you also will need tools to meet your exact needs. Let’s say you’re building a room in your basement for a home office. You’ll need tools like sawhorses, circular saws, putty knives, and straight edges for this job.
If you find yourself working with others, as an example, then grab tools like project management software and scheduling apps like Calendar that rely on AI and machine learning. You’ll need them to reduce the time spent on tedious tasks like planning a meeting so that you have more time on the important things.
20. Use a gamification system.
Prioritization is all about staying motivated. And, that can be trying when you’re just not in the right mindset. A simple way around this would be to tap into your intrinsic motivation through gamification. For example, break down your goals into micro-goals and reward yourself when you’ve completed each stage. So, let’s say you give yourself an hour to finish writing a report. If you do, then treat yourself to buying those new hiking boots you’ve been eyeing up.
21. Don’t plug leaky boats.
Let’s say that you own a small fishing boat. Over time, it begins to leak. That means whenever you go out, you have to either patch it up or constantly bail out water. Not only is this a waste of time, but it’s also stressful. Instead of dealing with your battered boat, just invest in a new one so that you can spend more time doing something that you enjoy — which would be fishing.
The point here isn’t to spend money. It’s that when something is broken, it’s not always worth fixing.
22. Plan in reverse.
“Although extensive research has shown the benefits of planning, little attention has been paid to the ways people construct plans and their impacts on subsequent goal pursuit,” said Jooyoung Park, assistant professor in the Department of Management at Peking University HSBC Business School and first author of a paper published in Psychological Science.
His study found that when it comes to more complex tasks, it more effective to plan backward. The reason? It forces you to anticipate the necessary step, stick to the original plan, and feel less pressured.
23. Keep a log of your work.
When you keep a log of your work, you’ll discover how long each task you do takes to complete. As such, you’ll be better suited to plan your time more accurately and realistically. You can also use this as a reference to see which recurring tasks can be scheduled or delegated.
24. Find a muse.
Think about your favorite musicians. They were inspired by someone else to write and perform music. It’s the same thing with prioritization. Pick the brains of people who you consider to be successful and productive like a mentor, family member, or renowned business leader. Whether you’re peaking them in person or reading a book they’ve authored, scout out optimal time prioritization from others that you respect.
25. Build your own prioritization system.
Finally, do what works best for you. Even if you’ve been inspired by someone else, make your own adjustments that meet your specific needs. Again, it’s like a musician. A guitar could have picked up the instrument because of the blues. But, over time, he developed his own signature style that was a better fit for his band.
John’s goal in life is to make people’s lives much more productive. Upping productivity allows us to spend more time doing the things we enjoy most. John was recently recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as being one of the top marketers in the World. John is co-founder and CEO of Calendar.