When the word priority first came into the English language in the 1400’s, it was a singular word. As in ONE priority. It meant “the right of precedence over others.”
It stayed singular for about the next 500 years.
And then, stealthily at first, perhaps, and then all out and in your face, priorities entered our language.
We won’t even begin to dive deeply into the myth of multitasking here.
Let it be enough for now to feel validated in your opinion that you cannot, in fact multitask. You can only task switch. And that takes tons of energy and focus and delivers little for your efforts.
Get ready to take control of your time and tasks with these five easy task and time management tips for less stress and better results to show for your efforts.
Here’s your list:
- Check reality
- Pick ONE
- Plan it
- Track it
- Change your self-talk
#1 Check reality
You must do your normal day to day duties at work. The book “The Four Disciplines of Execution” [4DX] calls this keeping up with everything work the “whirlwind.”
Your reality check acknowledges that you don’t get to spend 100% of your workweek focused on your priority.
You’ve got many duties to carry out even as you find time and place for that singular priority that makes the biggest difference.
The reality is, the daily actions that keep your job afloat will likely take about 80% of your time, and your priority will only get the remaining 20% of your time.
Be sure to give yourself a reality check and acknowledge that you must have a significant portion of every week go into maintaining status quo.
Checking your reality will help you keep on top of duties your co-workers and leadership expect of you, while you carve out time and energy for your priority.
Which leads us to your next action.
#2 Pick ONE
Now that you know you are going to need to keep your daily duties afloat even as you work on your priority, your challenge becomes:
Pick ONE priority.
The second discipline of 4DX (“Four Disciplines of Execution”) is leverage. It comes from the fact that your resources, such as time and energy are finite.
Given this constraint, what priority, acted on consistently, would make the biggest difference in your work?
Give this some thought. If you think it’s something that might be difficult in some way, you’re probably right.
If you imagine wanting to pick an easier project, remind yourself that you’re even more important to your company when you’re working on projects that use skills that are:
- Difficult to imitate
So, lean into that priority that makes the biggest difference for your company and accept that others will not want to take that priority on because it’s likely hard to do.
#3 Plan it
Let your last task of your duty day be planning your next day of work.
Many fascinating studies have looked at what makes the biggest difference in ensuring people will carry out the actions they said they’d do.
Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., who studies, writes and speaks extensively about overcoming procrastination, notes “it’s not enough to have a goal intention, you need to have an implementation intention, too.”
Here’s the key, once you know what your ONE priority, when you’re planning what you’ll do tomorrow to move you forward on this priority, write down what you’ll do, when and where you will do it.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
What’s exciting about this simple task is what studies reveal about how writing down what, where and when greatly increases your likelihood of following through.
All of these tips will help you. If you’re so maxed out you can only use one tip, this is the one to use.
#4 Track it
The previous work day, you’ve made a plan for today. Your next action goes with your plan.
Throughout the course of your day, starting with your priority, track what you’re doing and the time you start doing the task.
Your challenge is to literally write down every single time you stop working to respond to a question when someone walks by your work station, or when you answer the phone, or when you get up to refresh your coffee.
Every time you stop, even if you return to the task, write down what time you’re breaking and what you’re doing during the break.
What this will do for you is help you to recognize patterns of behavior, both your own and others.
For example, a co-worker might be interrupting your workflow every 12 minutes to ask a question. You’d want to address this by asking gently for some help in staying on task by asking if she or he would be willing to write down questions, and you could check in every hour and answer questions at that time.
You’ll also notice how often you hop up to get a drink, or interrupt yourself to check your email.
You’ll be surprised at how often you are the one interrupting your flow of work to handle something that’s not your priority.
Be kind to yourself as you first start tracking your time. Expect that you may forget at first, or your records will be less than perfect.
Know that the point is not to be flawless in carrying out this action, but to notice your own patterns so that you can change your behavior in a way that supports your goal to stay focused on your number one goal.
#5 Change your self-talk
This tip might be a tough one to take to heart.
It comes from my coaching a dear client. I’ve been coaching and delivering seminars for Roxanne and her team for several years now.
These folks are in Medicaid Learning and Development. And, if your work includes working in anyway with our healthcare system, you can relate to how challenging this can be and perhaps you’ve felt as Roxanne and her team have felt in the past.
“We’re so busy.” You might have said that yourself in the last few weeks, months, or even years.
Another thing you might have said is “I don’t have enough time.”
One thing that I was able to help Roxanne and her team appreciate is something Henry David Thoreau said “It’s not enough to be busy. So are the ants. What are you busy about?”
It’s a challenge when your work is high stakes, and everything left undone will have an impact somewhere and somehow.
And yet, still we end up with the same truth: You can only do what you can do. Your best. And that’s all anyone can expect of you.
When you tell yourself that you’re busy, be sure to check in and ask: “Is what I’m busy about right now really the highest and best use of my time?”
Roxanne’s most recent seminar with me was to help Roxanne and her team use their time more wisely.
Because she is a master at connecting with her team and keeping them in the loop on any developments in their industry, Roxanne held weekly meetings.
Upon closer look and consulting more closely with Roxanne and her team, I was able to show them the value of having only half as many meetings while using the other scheduled meeting time as a “Deep Work” time block.
During this time, they knew that they would be able to work, uninterrupted on their most important priority.
It may be hard to hear, but it’s so true that while you can feel “I don’t have enough time.” You really do have all of it. And, it’s as much as anyone else gets.
Remember: You’ll never have enough time to do everything. You’ll always have time to do something. The only thing that matters is: What is your something?
There will never be a perfect time in your life to start making the most of your time.
Let go of trying to do things perfectly, including using these tips.
Start with the ones that make the most sense to you. Perhaps one you’ve done in the past that has worked for you.
Stick with it until it becomes a habit, and then move on to another tip that will help you.
Before you know it, you’ll be using your time much more wisely, and having more to show for it.
What’s your best task and time management tip?