We’ve all struggled with days where it seems like everything on our lists is a top priority – I know I have, but how do you get started? Where do you start with your action items? Here are some suggestions for things you can do when everything feels like it’s super-important.
Create an Eisenhower Decision Matrix.
There are lots of articles written on the Eisenhower Decision Matrix if you would like a more in-depth explanation than what I’ll talk about here. Basically draw perpendicular lines or a matrix. The x axis moves from urgent to not urgent and the y axis moves from important to not important. The four quadrants are thus:
- Important and Urgent (Your fires)
- Important, but Not Urgent (Where you should ideally work from)
- Urgent, but Not Important (Delegate to others if possible)
- Not Urgent and Not Important (Why are these on your list?)
Sometimes this can help a daunting list become more manageable. There are all sorts of things that end up on our lists that probably shouldn’t be there.
Start with what’s due first or what will have the greatest impact.
If you’ve already identified items that are both urgent and important, then it makes sense to start with what will be either the most impactful or the most urgent of the urgent and important tasks. If you’re still unsure, ask yourself the converse question: Which of these will hurt me the most if I don’t finish it?
Speed date your tasks.
Sometimes what we’re really having trouble with isn’t determining which task is most important but getting started. Stever Robbins at Get It Done Guy had a great podcast called “Stop Procrastinating by Speed-Dating Your Tasks.” I love this. I’ve moved down my list by spending just 5 minutes on each task before moving on – or – I’ve switched things up by using a random chooser. First, it’s amazing how many things can be knocked off a to-do list in under 5, 10, and 15 minutes. Second, when you gamify work, it takes that urge to procrastinate away – AND – often, priorities will come out in the mix.
Randomize your tasks.
I’ve used Random Chooser for years in conjunction with a timer – but I’ve also used it without a timer. If I’m stuck because I can’t decide which room to clean first or which article to write first for a blog – with all other things being equal – I’ll use this tool. If you find yourself thinking “not that one, this one really needs to be done first” then you have figured out that there are different priorities going on (or you’re avoiding a task for some reason or another).
Prioritize by effort.
You’re going to get tired as the day goes on. Start with the biggest/hardest tasks and end with the easier tasks – or if you’re still waking up, start with one easy task and then ramp up and then wind down. You can organize things in different ways – just be sure that you’re not only managing your time but your energy levels. Nothing’s worse than checking off a bunch of smaller important tasks off your list to be left mentally fatigued with that huge financial report still on the list.
What do you do?
Share your tips for prioritizing when everything is a priority in the comments. We can all learn from one another.