Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prioritizing: 5 Ways to Think About Tasks

One of the most challenging things in life is prioritizing. I find this is true for me particularly during the holidays and during the summer. There are so many things to do and see and just not enough time to do them. This is slightly different from time management in that time management is really the art of taking the time that you have allocated for a particular task or set of tasks and using techniques to ensure that this time is used for the tasks that you have decided on accomplishing.

For me, the problem isn't so much with time management. I've gotten better at that recently and I know how my body and mind work so I can handle that much of the time. Instead, the problem is more upstream -- prioritizing. I enjoy doing many different things throughout the day. I don't have ADD or ADHD or anything like that, but I really like switching gears often. I notice a significant reduction in my productivity if I have to do the same thing for more than 2-3 hours straight. I instead prefer to have 'organized chaos' with lots of little things going on all at the same time.

Rarely, I do find the need to focus - but this is rare. Most of the stuff I work on either in my job or at home is not too taxing and therefore doesn't require significant concentrated effort. But without further ado, here are my 5 tips for prioritizing quickly and easily:

-- Time: How much time is the task going to take? If it is a short task (less than 15 minutes, do it immediately. If you put it off, you will likely spend more time procrastinating than if you just did it.

-- Deadline: If there is a deadline to the task, particularly a monitary deadline, get it out of the way. In order to be certain that there is enough breathing room for these kinds of tasks, try to get these done a week ahead of time. Its not always possible, but if you get in this habit, you will notice that you are always ahead and therefore there is much less stress.

-- Iterations?: If this is a task that will require many meetings, (going back to the river, as it were), you need to determine your team or other people. If the people or person you're working with is notoriously late or changes his/her mind frequently, it is likely that you will want to put this on the back burner. On the other hand, if the task is something that will reduce work later on and will likely reduce overall iterations, then get it done soon.

-- Importance: Often times, things are very important, but they have no deadline or person clamoring for them. So, they get pushed off. Wills, Trusts, estate planning and retirement are the ones that spring to my mind. People think there's plenty of time and the only person getting hurt is them so they don't care. When something is important, you need to do it quickly. Sometimes, you might have to be late on other items if it is the only way to get to these things. Don't short change yourself or people you care about on items that are critical.

-- Flexibility: Are the requirements/deadlines/time constraints set in stone? If not, consider which tasks you might be able to push back on. It is often an 80-20 situation. If I can find that by pushing back on 1 of my tasks I can get 4 others done to meet the deadlines and constraints, that is a likely course of action.

so there's my five tips for thinking about tasks. Use them however you like, but you'll find that if you think about these ideas when it comes to deciding what needs to be done, you will have a much easier time setting your priorities.

1 comment:

Zachary said...

Dissertation or teaching responsibilities? Dissertation or teaching responsibilities? Dissertation or teaching responsibilities? hmmmm. Never seems to get any easier for me! hahaha!