At this time of year, it seems like everyone is setting goals and working on improving their productivity. Priorities are the core of a successful productivity system. Being productive isn’t about how many things you get done. It’s about doing the right things. In this post, I share nine tips that will help you stick to your priorities.
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Set goals and break them into steps
The first step in accomplishing your goals is to set them. Long-term goals are essential, but also include the steps you need to achieve those goals. This way, you have small, short-term goals to act as milestones and provide motivation. You also have a way of knowing that you’ve thought in-depth about what you’re doing and that your priorities are in order.
It’s also vital to write down what you want to accomplish.
Work off a list and stick to it
Once you’ve set your priorities and made your lists, you need to stick with them. Yes, you need to make room for flexibility if things change. However, you put a lot of thought into your lists and you need to trust your own judgment. If you keep backtracking and reprioritizing, you’re never going to get anything done.
And if you want to get laser-focused on your priorities, move your weekly task list into a time blocking schedule. I even have a free time blocking template that you can grab.
Eat the frog first
For many of us, it is generally easiest to make a large list and then pick and choose which things we’d like to do. But easiest is not always best. The problem with this scenario is that something you like doing more may not be your highest priority and you could end up putting the most important tasks off until the last minute.
For example, I often find myself futzing around with social media schedules when I should be doing higher-value tasks.
A better idea is to look at your list and pick the biggest, most important task – the one that you may be dreading doing. Brian Tracy popularized this concept in his book Eat That Frog!
Once you get this big, important task done, your sense of accomplishment and momentum will get you through the rest of your work.
Be realistic about time
A key part of time management is being realistic. Many people think that that work better under pressure. They schedule too much thinking that they’ll get that extra push from the perceived time crunch. The truth is, if you set unrealistic expectations, you’re rarely going to meet them. If you continue to not meet your expectations, you’re going to become discouraged and actually lower your productivity and work quality.
Decide what you can say no to
Think about what you can say no to. As women, we are hard-wired to say yes, which often leads us into working on other people’s priorities, rather than our own. This might be agreeing to volunteer work that you aren’t passionate about or that you know won’t fit into your schedule right now. Or doing extra work for a client, outside the scope of your contract. Or agreeing to have lunch with a friend when you have deadlines looming.
Many of us have trouble saying no to requests from others, but that’s an important skill to develop if we want to get better at managing time.
Understand where you are spending your time
Start keeping track of how you spend your time. If you’ve ever been on a diet program, you know that they often start out with asking you to keep a food journal – a log of everything you eat. The purpose of a food journal is to make you aware of what goes in your mouth. The purpose of a time journal is to become aware of how much time you spend on various activities.
Chances are you’re spending more time than you think on areas that are not your top priorities. Time tracking will show you how much time you really spend in the procrastination zone and on low-priority tasks. You’ll probably be surprised at just how much wasted time there is in your day.
You may also learn that you underestimate how much time it takes to complete a project. For example, I learned that producing a blog post from start to finish takes much longer than I anticipated. I’ve adjusted my schedule for the days that I write blog posts and now I feel less stressed.
Be proactive, rather than reactive
Are you reactive? Meaning that if a client calls, do you scramble to respond, putting aside other priorities and telling yourself that this client needs help or that (let’s be honest) you need the money and can’t afford to turn down a paying client?
Here’s how to know if reactivity has become a bad habit with you: ask yourself if you do it every time in every situation. . or is it truly urgent, occurring on rare occasions?
Set up a reward system
If you sometimes have trouble staying motivated, then set up a reward system. You can treat yourself for each high-priority task you complete. It doesn’t have to be a big reward – binge-watching Netflix over the weekend or lunch with a friend you haven’t seen recently can be enough to help encourage you. Pick something that’s a motivator for you and let it be your reward.
Take responsibility and own your time
One of the most important steps in time management is taking responsibility for how you manage your time. When we fail to meet a deadline, many of us blame other things. We end up thinking that meeting deadlines is out of our control, which just isn’t true. You need to own your time. If you don’t meet a deadline, figure out what you did wrong and what you can do better next time to fix it.
To recap, try one or more of these tips to help you stick to your priorities:
- Set goals and break them into steps.
- Work off a list and stick to it.
- Eat the frog – your biggest, most important task – first.
- Be realistic about time.
- Decide what you can say “no” to.
- Understand where you are spending your time.
- Be proactive, rather than reactive.
- Set up a reward system for accomplishing high-priority tasks.
- Take responsibility and own your time.
With a little effort and a lot of conviction, you can stick to your priorities and achieve your goals.
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