“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” This quote by author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe describes the ultimate dilemma when it comes to prioritizing our time—how do we identify and complete the most important things without being distracted by other tasks? The best place to start is by asking yourself a few questions as you write your to-do list at the beginning of each day. Try addressing time, consequences, roadblocks, and delegation by asking the following four questions as you plan:
- Can I do this in less than two minutes?
If you can complete a necessary task in less than two minutes, then do it now. Try setting aside fifteen minutes at the beginning of your workday to complete these smaller tasks. You’ll save time by addressing them first thing in the morning rather than waiting to review and complete them later. Applying this question will not only start your day off on a productive note, but also clear your mind of nagging tasks that bug you throughout the day.
- What happens if I don’t get this done right away?
This question is great for determining urgent versus non-urgent (but still important) tasks. If your boss needs a memo done by noon and you also want to prepare for your presentation the next day, then do the memo first. This is where planning is crucial—rather than just jumping into your work, take the time to schedule a few hours for each item and put the urgent ones at the top of your list. Determining what tasks are most pressing helps you meet deadlines more efficiently and have a clearer mind for the other important, less vital tasks.
- Are other tasks dependent on this one?
Asking yourself this question is key to organizing your day and also helps you decide which tasks are most time sensitive. If your team needs you to complete a task before everyone can continue to make progress on the objectives at hand, then do that task first. By waiting to complete preliminary tasks, you risk missing deadlines or interrupting your team’s productivity.
- Can I delegate it?
Many business professionals underutilize the power of delegation and, as a result, their productivity suffers. If you have a lot on your plate and know a fellow employee who is also qualified to complete the task, then ask if they can help you. Even asking them to complete an outline or do some basic research can take the pressure off. And you never know, delegating tasks to someone new can result in creative or innovative results.
By keeping these questions top of mind, you can focus on the things that matter most. Addressing the time, consequences, roadblocks, and delegation of your tasks can help you on your way to a more productive and satisfying workday.