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Priorities mean better time management

If you want to succeed, you’ll have to cut the chaff

Posted: August 1, 2008 6:58 p.m.
Updated: October 3, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Keeping a handle on our lives and time are key to being able to succeed. Many of us make "to-do" lists, but few of us take the time to weigh the things on that list for their relative importance, both professionally and personally.

Without that important step of setting priorities the list is useless, and we find ourselves constantly busy, but not advancing toward our goals. To set priorities, make a list of everything you think you should do tomorrow. Don't worry about the order or their importance, or whether complicated or routine. Just list them all, and once they're down on paper then you start the real work.

Weigh each task for its relative importance by asking yourself:
n Which jobs are "high payoff?" Ones that will give me the best return on my investment of time and energy.
n Which are essential to my goals?
n Which are essential to the goals of my business?
n Which can be done only by me and no one else?

Use this information to number the items on your list, No. 1 for top priority, No. 2 for second-highest priority, etc. Take sufficient time for this step, otherwise you'll end up with a to-do list that doesn't reflect your true priorities. Don't agonize over details such as two equally important tasks and which should be No. 1 or No. 2, just make sure they're both near the top of the list.

Long-range plans
Each morning review your priorities and start the day with top-priority jobs and stick with them. If you don't do this, lower priority jobs will eat up your time. If possible delegate low-priority jobs, and if you can't delegate then set several 5 or 10 minute breaks to do them. If these smaller tasks take longer than the 10 minutes that you set aside - then drop them and schedule a short break for later.

Important to knowing what your daily priorities should be is your long-range plans and goals. If you know what these are you'll get more satisfaction out of each day and you'll be making sure your daily actions are building toward them. To identify "long-range goals" think about:

n What makes you happy? Do you prefer more responsibility or less? What business or personal activities bring you the most pleasure, and what would you enjoy learning more about?
n Where do your skills lie?
n What are the trends? Is your business moving away from traditional markets, or are more and more functions becoming computerized?
n What skills of yours need strengthening, and in what ways do you want to grow?
n Can you get the cooperation of others? A working mother who wants to go to law school at night will find her task more difficult if her husband and children don't support her.

Don't be shy about selling others on your priorities, because to accomplish them you'll need the help of those around you.

On your daily list of priorities include some of the long-term list that will move you toward your goals.

You'll probably never finish every item on your daily list, and that's why it's essential to do the most important tasks first. Many of us fall into the trap of spending most of our time on less important tasks because these are often easier.

The result is that long-term projects with greater payoff potential are neglected. The first step is always the hardest, but once started the project takes on a momentum of its own.

Time-saving basics
To get started "visualize" yourself completing the task. Vividly picture the rewards you'll get. The respect of others, the satisfaction of a job well done? Whatever the rewards make them personal and meaningful to you. When your energy starts to lag, continue to use the visualization technique to get it done.

Here are a few time-saving basics:

n Avoid pessimists. They'll poke holes in your ideas and discourage you before you even try.
n Turn off the TV and the Internet. You'll gain hours of time each week.
n Fight perfectionism. Anxiety about not doing a perfect job keeps many people from doing any job. Combat this by refocusing that energy into your priorities.
n Don't be afraid to make mistakes. With careful thinking most mistakes can be avoided, but remember that mistakes are useful. They show us what works and what doesn't so learn from them. If you never try anything new you might not make blunders, but you also won't learn anything.

An important thing to remember is that priorities aren't cast in stone. Your external or internal circumstances may change, and when they do your priorities should change with them.

Changing your priorities does not mean that you've failed. Successful people are flexible enough to evaluate the environment and adjust their course accordingly.

Maureen Stephenson is a local author and owner of REMS Publishing & Publicity, which is based in Santa Clarita. Her column represents her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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