Prioritizing and Time Management

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Some time back, Jean Moroney of Thinking Directions linked to a list of "The Top 5 Time Management Mistakes You're Making." The first, which I'm finding is hard to do well, is as follows:

Not prioritizing tasks.While a to-do list may be an effective way to organize your thoughts about what needs to get done during the day, failing to prioritize tasks means your most important work can slip off your radar. "If we don't know where we're going, we're just jumping from task to task," says productivity coach Kimberly Medlock. Failing to prioritize may be a reflection of our current workplace environment and expectations.

"Most people who work in teams feel pressured to do whatever their co-workers or bosses ask from them without reprioritizing," says Toggl CEO, Alari Aho. As you're planning your day, week, or month, ask yourself what are the most important tasks. Don't ask what tasks you feel like working on, but what you have to work on. "Often, the important task, the thing that really weighs on your mind, is the one that we tend to procrastinate on because of the mental fortitude it would take to get focused on it," says Medlock. It's more tempting to do those small five-minute tasks throughout the day rather than the one that requires intense focus, even when it's that larger task that will get you further ahead.
I've gotten much better at not letting other people set my agenda for me over the past few years, but I find that other people are hardly the only obstacle to overcome. Really good prioritizing is context-dependent, and fact that precludes just marking something "A" or "B" or whatever on a big list. Different contexts, like work or family, have their own high-priority items, and require different lists, and the different lists need regular review. I hope that Emacs Org Mode will make that easier, but I'm in mid-transition and still having some hiccups.

I also think that one has to anticipate days or times of low-energy or needing a break, although I don't think explicitly scheduling all of these is possible. That said, just the realization puts me in a better place than an academic whose account of two wasted, and completely unprioritized summer days I once read. That one is, to this writer, a sort of memento mori. Days like it can happen, but it's best to make them quite rare indeed.

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

Gus, re: "I've gotten much better at not letting other people set my agenda for me over the past few years, ..."

Somee familiar 'Wise Words for the Workplace' warn individuals with poor prioritization habits about repetitively festering their duties to create interferences or workjams for others:

"Failure to plan on your part does NOT constitute an emergency on my part."

Not only does the saying constitute a fair warning, but the concept spreads like magic in more professional organizations.

Gus Van Horn said...


I like, "Failure to plan on your part does NOT constitute an emergency on my part," as an ideal to shoot for. As a saying, it serves to warn others that they should plan well. For oneself, it is a reminder to keep that from happening, be it by staying on top of, say, subordinates whose failure to plan CAN become an emergency or by refusing to become entangled in others' messes. That last might be easier in non-work contexts.