The last time you had a major project to tackle, you set a deadline for yourself -- and then came very close to blowing right through it. The result: You hastily finished (or pulled an all-nighter), and then swore you'd never repeat that experience.
Predicting the future is near impossible -- but that doesn‘t stop us all from having a red hot go. Human beings have been predicting the future since the beginning of history and the results range from the hilarious to the downright uncanny.
One thing all future predictions have in common: they‘re rooted in our current understanding of how the world works. It‘s difficult to escape that mindset. We have no idea how technology will evolve, so our ideas are connected to the technology of today.
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to make a to do list, but how much harder it is to actually finish it? Prioritisation makes a huge difference when it comes to actually completing that task list. The trick is to be as ruthless as you can stand.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, but if that's the case, laziness must be its father. After all, the beauty of laziness is that you'd rather do something you want to do -- even if that's nothing -- than work. Let's harness that desire and use it to be productive -- -so you have more time to kick back, of course.
"If you don't zero in a core set of priorities, nothing ever gets done because everything is too important." Former US national chief information officer Vivek Kundra made that point on his recent trip to Australia. It applies to national IT infrastructure decisions, but it also applies to something as simple as your to-do list.
Editor: Project manager and writer Scott Berkun knows how to get things done when you've got a team of people, a to-do list, and a deadline. Today he offers an excerpt from the updated edition of his best-selling book The Art of Project Management (our review), entitled Making Things Happen. Prioritisation is always more emotional than intellectual, despite what people say. Just like dieting to lose weight or budgeting to save money, eliminating things you want, but don't need, requires being disciplined, committed, and focused. Saying "exercise is important" is one thing, but ranking it against other important things is entirely different. Many people chicken out of this process. They hedge, delay and deny the tough choices, and the result is that they set up projects to fail. No tough choices means no progress. In the abstract, the word important means nothing.
Feel like you're spending far too much time on less-than-important meetings, phone calls, and other daily drudgery? Take a tip or two from the prioritising managers at General Electric. An editor at Harvard Business Review sat in on one of their training sessions and walked away with a few practical tips. One simple idea in particular can help overcome burdens you didn't even know you were shouldering.
Compare your calendar with the priorities. Label the purpose of every regular or recurring activity on your quarterly calendar and highlight those activities that are connected with your top five priorities. This simple exercise will reveal where you're squandering your time.
Productivity blogger Scott H Young says that the key to getting more done is starting with the big stuff first and moving to the little stuff. He calls this approach "top-heavy":
Being top-heavy means the bulk of the work is at the start. A top-heavy joke has a long buildup for a short punch line. A top-heavy schedule emphasizes the start, leaving more space at the end.
He says you should tackle the most difficult, important, and largest jobs first and leave the rest for later. Sounds similar to the pickle jar approach: put in the big rocks first, then the pebbles, then the sand, then the water.Make Your Time Top-Heavy
If you're an index card junkie but you end up with a bottomless pile of cards before you have a chance to process your tasks, weblog LifeClever suggests ditching traditional index cards in favor of color-coded shorty flash cards. Then tasks can be easily distinguished using red, yellow, and green cards thusly:Tasks to process immediately on returning to my desk. Tasks to process before the end of the work day. Tasks to leave for my Weekly Review.
If your most important tasks often get lost in the sea of your other to-dos, the colour-coded flash card method is a smart solution.Quickly Prioritize Notes with Color-coded Shorties
To help prioritise his projects and next actions, blogger Ian McKenzie put together a free Priority Planning Worksheet available as a PDF download. The worksheet uses a simple calculus for determining the best order of tackling your next actions by assigning importance and urgency factors to each item. Once you've ordered your actions, the worksheet asks you to list and describe each item and the steps required to complete them. If your personal productivity benefits from structured systems, McKenzie's worksheet might be just the ticket for you.Priority Planning Model and Worksheet
The Web Worker Daily blog pulls a snippet from one of the latest business-advice tomes, Susan L. Reid's Discovering Your Inner Samurai, one that speaks to a way of choosing from all your possible actions (Answer email? Do research? Crank widgets?) when you don't have a logical next step. Reid's suggestion:
Two priorities; one-month commitment. That's all. Of course, if you can, you might narrow that priority down to one. Most of us, though, unless we are in an extreme situation, will have two.
That doesn't, of course, mean skipping everything else for one month, but dividing your year into 12 chances to hone in on something that could use a little more attention than it usually gets—like keeping a workspace clean, in my case. How do you go about giving tasks priority and choosing what gets done next? Share your own samurai code in the comments.Tip of the Week: Two Priorities/One Month
Dustin of Lifehack.org has written how he's currently facing a pretty overwhelming real life situation, and how he's dealing with must-do tasks—prioritising:
Taking a few minutes to figure out what you have to do tomorrow or today is essential to weathering a disaster, or rather, taking a moment to decide what you can manage without doing. I can't miss class; the consequences for my students are too extreme and take too much work to deal with; but I can miss watching a video I'm evaluating to show my students, or a trip to the library to do research for a paper due in 6 months.
No matter how productive we aim to be, life just sometimes throws us a curveball. How have you handled these kinds of situations and still managed to keep at least some productivity going? Let's hear in the comments.What to Do When It's All Too Much