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Tactics to help prioritize your work

Introduction

Important vs urgent

It is obvious that it would be nice if more things could be done. Remember that as an entrepreneur, you lack time and money. It is therefore tempting to try to accomplish as much as possible and as quickly.

It sounds counter-intuitive but the real game of entrepreneurship is not to do more but to do the right thing. It sounds easy enough but it is very hard to do consistently in a very competitive market and most fall back to their bad habits, yours included.

There are countless methodologies for determining what is really important (what moves the needle as I mentioned earlier) and what is not.

I will not go into details here as there are many books and articles on the subject. Suffice it to say that you always need to take a step back and evaluate if this thing is critical for your business to make progress. By making progress I mean discovering if something could work, removing a pain point for your users/customers, removing a bottleneck in your business (e.g hiring) etc.

Those are important tasks because once completed, you feel that your company has matured a little bit and can now move on to the next step.

In contrast, many tasks are not important, or we feel they are when they are just urgent. It does not mean you can delay those indefinitely but perhaps you can wait and re-evaluate in 1 or 2 weeks, or maybe you can delegate them. You will likely find that many of those tasks you can skip if you wait a little bit, realizing that they were not as important as you thought at first.

For more information, please refer to the Eisenhower Matrix for instance.

Block time

As explained earlier, most people struggle to make progress on the tasks that they defined as priorities. The reason is that you likely glance at your calendar several times a day to see what is coming up next while your tasks live in a separate system.

Experienced entrepreneurs have learned the hard way that “if it is not in your calendar, it will most likely not happen!”.

The one thing that people do to make sure a task will get the attention it needs is to block time in their calendar.

Depending on the calendar tool you use, you may be able to easily drag & drop a task to your calendar to block some time. If you stick with the more conventional calendaring tools on the market, you can still manually create events to indicate that this time is reserved for you to work on an important task.

Next time you have an important task to accomplish by the end of the week, block time for it early in the week to make sure you will dedicate the time it deserves. And remember to take into account your preferences and energy levels as discussed in the previous section e.g blocking time in the morning if that is when you prefer to concentrate.

Postpone

Most task management tools provide a Snooze functionality similar to what email clients have been offering for years now.

The goal of the Snooze functionality is to allow you to delay dealing with an item. Unfortunately, the way this feature works is by indicating a day to which the item should be snoozed to, often being the following Monday.

The issue is that when Monday comes, your list of tasks for the day is composed of tasks in different states. On one side you have the tasks that you had decided needed to be completed today. On the other you have tasks that you wanted to re-evaluate.

And all of those are mixed together in a messy list.

Adding to this, most task management products automatically roll over the tasks that you do not complete on a day to the next day.

This good-intentioned mechanism unfortunately inherently makes your lists of tasks for the day grow, up to the point where it no longer represents tasks to complete today but “stuff to do at some point soon-ish”.

A better approach is to organize tasks that need to be re-evaluated in lists, ideally on a weekly basis if the tool you use allows it, otherwise in batches representing short, medium and long term.

In addition, for tasks for the day, you could have lists for “next week”, “next month” and “next year” and move tasks from one list to the next. Even though not ideal, it can help fight against your Today screen losing its meaning. Try it and you will see how much more relaxed and focus you will start each day simply because your Today list is (almost) empty and you can decide, each day, what to focus on instead of re-shufflng items around.

Refer to the Tools section as some products integrate this notion by default making them very powerful for planning with ease.

At the beginning of every week, reassess the tasks of the week for which you have not decided when to work on exactly:

  1. Postpone all the tasks that are not important toward achieving your weekly objectives to a later week
  2. Schedule the tasks to the specific day if there is a deadline for instance
  3. Block time for your most important items to make sure you will work on them