3 Effective Time Management Strategies – Part 1: Prioritise

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Do you ever find yourself at the end of the day wondering what exactly you accomplished?

Does this happen to you consistently?

If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Small business owners, solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, and others who are self-employed struggle with this feeling all the time. It can seem like an amazing feat to finish the day knowing that you were productive.

For most of us, it never feels like we have enough hours in the day. But the reality is that you do have the time you need — it’s just being taken up by non-essential tasks that are overburdening you and getting in the way of what’s important.

When you’re spinning your wheels in this way, even your best efforts don’t get you any closer to your goals. It’s as if you’re running in place on a treadmill: no matter how hard you push yourself, you’ll never go anywhere.

If you work for yourself, you especially can’t afford to throw away precious minutes in your day.

And this is something I have a lot of experience in – I started freelancing in 2016, and went full time in my business at the end of 2018. It took me a long time to get into a productive routine. I spent a lot of time spinning my wheels. One thing I learnt was that rather finding more time or wishing I had more time, it was that you need to better manage the time you already have.

Today is the first episode in a 3-part series, covering 3 simple strategies that you can apply to all of your work – every day, every week, and every month – to improve your time management, and be more productive without burning out.

I call these strategies the 3 P’s,.

They are –

1.   Prioritise

2.   Plan

3.   Produce

In this series, you’ll learn the best practices for each of these strategies and how to implement them effectively.

Follow the 3 P’s of time management every day and you’ll experience a huge boost in your productivity; you’ll get off that time treadmill that goes nowhere and jump onto a clear path to achieving your goals.

Today we are going to discuss the first step, Prioritise.

Before you can cut back, streamline, or organise your business, the very first step is to set your priorities.

Step 1 – Prioritise

Learning how to properly prioritise is the number one way to boost your productivity tenfold. We all know how to make a “to-do” list, but this isn’t enough. You need to figure out which items are essential and which aren’t important at all.

I have an exercise for you – 

Start making a list of everything you have to do today. 

Don’t worry about priority just yet – we’ll get to that; just get everything down.

How many items do you have? If you have more than seven or eight, you need to trim your list. Take out any tasks that you perform every day, like checking email. You can also take out anything that will happen regardless, such as a client call you’re expecting.

Look at your list and ask yourself, “If I do just one thing today, what should it be?” 

Put this at the top of your list.

Now, look back at the other items and repeat for the second task. Keep doing this, and eventually you’ll end up with a list of things you have to do in order of importance.

One way to prioritise without getting bogged down in unnecessary tasks is to consider the direct result each task will have on your business. Which will directly or indirectly impact your income and goals? Is it redesigning your home page on your website for the 5th time (#guilty!), or is it reaching out to podcast hosts to enquire about being interviewed on their show?

The ones that will directly or indirectly impact your income and goals are your high-impact tasks and should be your highest priority.

Tips for Refining Your To-Do List

We’ve covered the simplest method for arranging daily tasks, but sometimes this isn’t enough. 

Here are four  different ways you can further refine your list:

Rank Items. Create a scoring and ranking system. For example:

1-Needs to be done today

2-Should be done today

3-Doesn’t need to be done today

Plug your items into these categories, and then prioritise within the category. This is especially helpful if you have many small things to do.

Set Deadlines for Everything. Set a deadline for everything you have to do, even if there really isn’t any time pressure. Make the deadline specific to not only a day, but also a time of day. If one task is “due” in the morning and another in the afternoon, you know the morning task needs to be worked on first.

Categorise by Time. If you have different tasks to complete in the morning versus the afternoon, you can create categories by time of day, or small to-do lists for each part of the day.

For example, my work day starts with checking in on two of my main clients. Not with them directly – but checking in on their business. I check Slack, Voxer, and their email to see if anything urgent has come up overnight that needs to be addressed, or if anything comes up that affects my plan for the time I have set aside for them that day. 

I know that needs to happen in the morning, so I categorise that as a morning task.

Another way to refine your to-do list is to Break Up Big Tasks. For anything that takes longer than a day, break it up into daily milestones and put these into your to-do list.

Remember that the goal is to have a simple system that works for you. Use whichever methods make prioritising easier for you.

The Backburner

Ideally by now, you should have three to five tasks on your daily to-do list. You have to break the habit of thinking that you need to do everything. Be ruthless in throwing out tasks that aren’t essential right now.

But, that is going to leave you with tasks that still need to be done at some point.

So, what do you do with the items you put on the “backburner?”

If your backburner tasks can’t be thrown out entirely, then try one or more of the following tactics:

Ø  Choose a day and time when you’ll take care of each of these items.

Ø  Set aside some time during the day when you go over these less important things, such as at the end of a workday when you’re still at your desk or computer.

Ø  Delegate these tasks to someone else who can carry them out for you.

Ø  Make a secondary list of tasks to get done in case you finish your main list early and have time left over.

 We are done with prioritising, and are are ready to move onto the next “P” – which is Plan.

Join me next week where we talk about how to work through your prioritised to-do list, in the most efficient and effective way possible.

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