You come into the office in the morning, turn on your computer, and get ready to start your day. Just when you think today you’re going to be productive, you check your inbox.
Somehow 20 unread emails snuck through since you left work yesterday, and now you’re already exhausted. Your employee knocks on your door (or peeks over your cube) to ask for help with an “urgent” request. Then you get a calendar reminder about a meeting that starts in 15 minutes, so there goes your plan to dive into some work (and drink your coffee while it’s still hot).
If you find yourself saying “how am I supposed to get any work done?” all the time, you’re not alone.
These types of days are common for leaders with the best intentions to be productive.
I get it!
That’s why I’m going to share with you how to prioritize your work, so that you can take control of your workday and maximize your time.
1. Declutter Your Mind
Raise your mouse if you’re spread too thin. Maybe you’re involved in every project. Or your team is unaware of your top priorities. Because you don’t always set clear boundaries, you carry a lot on your shoulders.
I hate to break it to you, but you can’t—and shouldn’t—do it all!
It’s hard to prioritize your work if you don’t declutter your mind, because you manage a lot for yourself and your team. The ability to decipher between high-impact activities and busywork becomes almost impossible (and let’s be honest, busywork often wins because it’s easier).
If your mind is filled with clutter, it’s easy to lose track of all your to-dos. Your thoughts about the little tasks you forgot to do interrupt your focus, and then suddenly, you’re doing these things because you don’t want to forget again!
The best way to clear your mind of the clutter is to get organized (more on that later). It’ll not only help you keep track of your to-dos—it’ll help you better focus your attention when you actually get to work.
2. Use a Productivity System
How good would it feel to start your day knowing exactly what goals you want to accomplish? Well, it’s possible if you have a system for capturing all your to-dos—even your strategic work so it doesn’t get forgotten.
Productivity tools help you prioritize your work and get organized, so you can discover and map out clearly defined goals.
Here are some productivity tools to consider:
- To-Do List. Yes, it all starts with making a to-do list, so you can get tasks out of your head. Ideally, choose a phone app (e.g., Microsoft To-Do, Todoist, Evernote, Trello, etc.) because it’s with you all the time. This makes it easy to update tasks on the go, keep track of ideas that pop up, and switch the order of priorities as needed.
- Calendar. Your calendar is not only for meetings based around other people’s priorities. Add hard deadlines (i.e., start and finish dates) for major tasks on your to-do list. You can also block out chunks of time in your calendar that show you as “Busy” so it can’t be booked. Use your calendar to schedule time to focus on your own important work.
- Email Inbox. While email and productivity may seem like an oxymoron (yes, I know!), taking control of your inbox can help you prioritize your work. Manage your inbox in conjunction with your calendar, so it acts as a to-do list for your remaining tasks.
- Whiteboard. There are endless ways to use a whiteboard. You can use it to map out strategic work, so you don’t lose sight of your plans (e.g., a future project that aligns with your company’s goals). Or you can track present-day projects and note important dates and tasks. Because a whiteboard is a blank slate (and erasable), you can use it for a variety of purposes and easily make changes.
- Paper Sorter (Low/High priority). You can use a sorter to organize the paper on your desk by level of importance (no more frantically sifting through piles of paperwork). Once it’s sorted, you can easily review your high-priority paperwork daily and disregard the rest of the paperwork until needed since it’s low-priority.
Now that we’ve talked about productivity tools, let’s pull it all together to make a plan for your day.
3. Plan Your Day
I know you already know the importance of planning—it’s just that the high volume of meetings and emails you juggle makes it hard to prioritize and complete all the tasks on your to-do list. Alas, you still need a plan before you look at your inbox (otherwise, emails will rule your day).
So how do you realistically make a plan? Set your top three priorities for the day and get them done first.
As you’re thinking about your top three priorities to add to your to-do list, consider the Pareto Principle—named after the highly respected Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. It’s the 80/20 rule that states that 20% of your activities give you 80% return on your investment of time.
This is why setting your top three priorities is important—because every task should not be treated with equal weight.
Since every task is not equal, ask yourself which task will lead to the highest return. Should this email/task be at the top of your to-do list or on the bottom? Plan your day around your top three priorities, so you can achieve the maximum results.
4. Maximize Your Time
Once you’ve identified your most important work, you need to decide what to do with the backlog. Are you able to delegate or automate these tasks? Keep in mind that eliminating things from your to-do list is also a very important task because your time is precious (and you need to make the most of it).
That’s why our goal is to help companies maximize their three most valuable resources: Time, Talent, and Technology. We call them the three Ts, and it’s a catchphrase in everything we do.
Because information is doubling every 12-18 months, it’s impossible to keep up with everything—so don’t feel stressed if you can’t! It’s more important to be clear about your company’s vision, so that you align your personal priorities with a bigger plan.
Ultimately, there are only so many hours in a day, so it comes down to maximizing your time and technology to get your most important work done. This not only benefits you as a leader—but your employees will also take notice of the example you set when it comes to encouraging and supporting a productive workplace.
Need expert guidance on how to prioritize your time and increase your productivity?
We’d love to help! Contact us to learn more.
Plan with Jan
Because productivity takes time to practice — and there’s power in sharing your goals
with others — tell us three steps you plan to take today to prioritize your work. Leave a
comment below and share your action items, so you show your commitment to change.