“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”
– Henry David Thoreau
Have you ever had one of those days where you find yourself at the end of the day in sheer disbelief wondering where all the time had gone? If so, fret not, you’re definitely not alone. Like you, I too have had those days where time seem to slipped out of my hand and disappeared into thin air. As stubborn as I was, eventually I came to a crucial, life-changing realization: Run the day or it runs you.
No matter who we are or what tasks and responsibilities we have on our plate, one thing remains true – we all get the same 24 hours in a day to get them done. Though it all seems overwhelming at times, it is more than possible to be productive, have some time set aside for ourselves AND stay sane in the process. How can make this possible you asked? The secret lies in making priorities.
Below are 5 simple steps that have helped me in mastering the art of prioritization. I hope that they’ll be as helpful to you in making the most of your time on a daily basis and get you closer to living a life you truly love!
1. Define your priorities
To master the art of prioritization, we must begin by defining our priorities. In order to so thoroughly and thoughtfully, make a conscious commitment to take 1 – 2 hours of your day, perhaps on the weekend, to list down all your commitments and responsibilities.
Once you jot them down on a list, be honest to yourself and take out anything that is not actually important to you. If you’re finding it difficult to eliminate things off your plate, go down the list and ask yourself whether that commitment or responsibility can contribute in helping you to become your best self as well as whether it is helping you to move towards living the life that you desperately crave. If the answer is resounding “yes!”, it’s a keeper. If the answer is no, then do yourself a huge favor and cross it off the list. When you’re done, you should only have about 5 things that you should truly be making time for.
2. Jot down your usual daily to-do list
List all the things that you usually do on a daily or regular basis. This includes everything from making your meals, checking emails, going to the gym, paying the bills etc.
Once you have the full list, check the ones that are aligned with the priorities you’ve defined on step 1. The tasks that do, you would list under “important”, while the others would fall under the “urgent” tasks category.
3. Cut back the urgent stuff
If you feel that you are constantly busy yet somehow feel as if you’re not really being productive, chances are, you’ve been confusing the important stuff with the urgent stuff. In short, you’ve been letting the things you consider as urgent take control of your time and as a result, the things that actually matter to you aka the important stuff, become sacrificed in the process.
Have a look through your urgent list and take out anything that you can eliminate or minimize. For example, instead of checking emails/ social media every 30 minutes, designate a couple of slots during the day to check them. This alone can save you quite a bit of time as one email can lead you to spending precious hours glued to the web – time than can be better spent on the important things e.g: whip yourself a delicious & healthy meal.
Keep in mind that though cleaning out some of these urgent stuff to make space for the stuff that matters will seem painful at first, but it will be worthwhile as it’ll allow you to live a more balanced, productive and most importantly, a well spent life.
4. Create a *new* daily to-do list
Now that you’ve defined your priorities as well as pin point as to what the important and urgent tasks are, it’s time to create a new & fresh to do list. This list should look quite different than your original daily to do list as it will reflect more tasks and responsibilities that are aligned with your priorities. They should consists more of the important stuff and less of the urgent stuff.
On a daily basis, I would create a to-do list for the following day, just before I go to bed or the first thing I do in the morning before I get on with the day. It would typically only take me no more than 5 minutes. In addition to the task itself, I would also label whether they are urgent or important as well as note down the estimated time it would take me to complete each task. As I consider myself an “old-school” gal so instead of jotting them on my phone, tablet or computer, I prefer to write down my daily tasks on paper/ notepad. That said, many find a digital app such as Wunderlist for example to be more efficient & practical when noting down to do lists. The choice is yours.
For work related meetings and even for personal appointments, Google Calendar has been my saving grace. In addition to listing all scheduled meetings, it comes with an automated reminder that we can set according to our preference, it’s a great way to make sure that I don’t miss out on any appointments made. Don’t have it yet? Give it a try, it’s free!
5. Stick to the list & schedule
It’s important to keep in mind that simply making lists and schedules won’t make an impact nor change your life unless you stick to it and commit to do the work. Like everything else, you can pretty much expect resistance on your end to follow through with this change. Don’t give into temptation to revert to your old ways. Remember that you’ll never change your life until you change you do daily. As one of the most renowned leadership author, John C. Maxwell, said “The secret of your success is found in your daily routine!”.
That said, you can certainly give yourself some flexibility in terms on determining what works and what doesn’t work for you. If you find that you’ve bitten more than you can chew, take a step back and re-asses as on what would work better for you. That said, do keep in mind in order to get what you never had, you need to do what you’ve never done.
Old habits die hard and change is a gradual process that requires patience. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes you a bit of time to master the art of prioritization. Give yourself credit for making the commitment and effort to start aligning your daily actions with what is most important to you. Now, go do something that the future you will thank you for! 🙂