The Challenge of Prioritising

1234“Being successful doesn’t make you manage your time well. Managing your time well makes you successful.”

Randy Pausch, Time Management Lecture




How many of the following behaviours do you identify with?

Do you:

  • Live in crisis mode, reacting to the demands of circumstance?
  • Tend to “squeeze it in” rather than eliminate items from a crowded      agenda?
  • Think that everything belongs on your urgent list of daily to-dos?
  • Rarely step back to consider what really matters?
  • Let others set your priorities for you?

It is only when we take stock that we can prioritise, asking ourselves questions like

  • Is this really necessary?
  • If I am going to take this on, what am I going to give up?
  • Am I really living my life according to my deepest values, or just      reacting to whatever pops up?

Prioritising is difficult for everyone, especially in a fast paced, challenging work environment and instead of prioritizing “first things first”, many people make choices according to other rules

  • Whatever’s on top. Paper shuffling.
  • Whatever’s the easiest.      Easy does it.
  • Knock-knock. Responding to whomever asks me first.
  • False progress. The more I can tick off my list the more productive I feel.
  • Proximity. Might as well do it while I am passing by.
  • You decide. I don’t want the responsibility.
  • Conflict avoidance. If you yell loudly about something, it will go to the top of my list.
  • Whatever I am in the mood for. I’ll do it if I feel like it.
  • Save the worst for last. Anything but that!
  • Go with the flow. Doing whatever my colleagues do.
  • Habit. Just doing the usual.

All of these ways of prioritising aren’t really prioritising at all. In fact, they are ways to avoid prioritizing, letting habit, circumstance, or the priorities of others determine how you spend your time. When you prioritise according to these rules you are unlikely to fulfill your potential at work.


b) Taking Control of Your Time at Work

In his Time Management lecture Randy Pausch suggests that failing to prioritise and plan is the same as planning to fail; he then helpfully points out that you can always change your plan, but only once you have one! He recommends that you set both long term and short term goals and plan accordingly for each day, week, month and three month period.

It is also important to remember to set aside an appropriate amount of time to attend to life issues that are not work related. Time spent with your family, for instance would fall into this category. When prioritizing, you must remember to place sufficient value on activities that give life greater meaning. These real priorities are often inadvertently overlooked when we focus on maintaining our professional lives – often with negative consequences.

The decisions you make about which tasks should come first will probably be the most important part of managing your time. These decisions can be difficult and frustrating but are the key to effective self-management. In the next post  we introduce a number of tools to help you do this effectively.

Time management experts argue strongly that you must learn to judge the relative importance of each task to help in your scheduling.

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