At the start of the day….
You get to work and sit down at your desk. Do you know what the most important thing is you should be doing right that second?
At the end of the day….
You are on your way home from work and reflecting on your day. Do you have a big sense of accomplishment knowing that you made progress on what mattered?
Hopefully you said an enthusiastic “yes”! But if you’re like many people, you didn’t. Many people end their day not really knowing what they accomplished, or if the work they did really pushed their goals forward. If that sounds like you, well, it’s not hopeless. In fact, maybe some slight adjustments to your focus and prioritization skills could be the cure to your work-time woes.
You’re not winging it anymore
Over the last few weeks we have had over 100 people go through our Leadership Sparks. And many of these amazing leaders have been gracious enough to give us feedback – telling us the things they like, things they don’t like, and sharing suggestions for new courses.
One of things we have heard a couple of times is a request for help on prioritization.
And I feel particularly well equipped to write a post on this topic because this is something I have struggled with for years.
I am an intuitive person, and so “flying by the seat of my pants” is a strategy that has served me well for most of my life. I could always figure things out on the fly. And in management roles, my meetings, combined with the constant influx of emails, always set my priorities for me (although once I learned how to really prioritize and focus I was able to get better results than I ever did doing things this way).
Now, being an entrepreneur my days are largely unstructured. With limited runway and limited resources, my ability to prioritize and focus is even more critical to my success.
Below is the process that works for me:
Step 1. Establish your mission.
What are you working towards? What is the end goal you are working toward?
The key here is to hone in on your main purpose in the different areas of your life – your work, your friends and family, your finances, etc. You have to focus on what really matters. You’re not just doing things because they come up anymore; you are doing things because they are what you have decided are the most important.
Having a firm, clear grasp on your vision helps your crystallize your focus when things do come up and threaten to get in the way. This strategy always enables you to ask yourself, of any task that pops up or inserts itself in your day: “Does this task align with my personal mission?” And then you can act accordingly.
TIP: If you aren’t keen on mission statements, you can really replace this with anything that will establish a horizon for you. These can be your values, purpose, or even goals. The point is to know where you want to end up so you can evaluate your priorities and tasks against your desired results. You need to be able to make smart, informed decisions about your time.
Step 2. Set up milestones.
You have probably used milestones in the context of projects, but they can be equally as powerful in your personal life too. I like to think of these as the steps you take to achieve your goals. These are the pieces of iterative progress towards the grand mission statement you established in Step 1.
And unlike goals, that often take a long time to achieve, you can set milestones that happen each and every month.
So why are milestones better than goals? Because you can schedule a meeting with yourself to review milestones (such as weekly and monthly), whereas goals aren’t always achieved on a pre-determined rhythm or schedule.
Step 3. Get into a rhythm
Now this is the most important step of all. It is the one that has made a huge difference in my ability to focus and prioritize.
Each month I establish and review my monthly milestones. And every Monday I set aside the first part of the morning to review my weekly goals.
In my weekly sessions, I organize the things I must get done, and the things I want to get done (if I have time). Then I set aside blocks of time on my calendar to tackle the must-do items on my list. I never miss this appointment, and if I absolutely have to, I will do it on Sunday night instead. The key is that my week never starts without a crystal clear blueprint for my time. Ever.
TIP: During my Monday planning session I also make a point of establishing my goals for each of the meetings on my calendar. What do I want to get out of this week? What are the questions I have that need answers? What is the ideal outcome for each task, and for the week as a whole? I find that this also helps me align all my meetings with my big picture goals, even coffee meetings and introductions (which always can be used for a customer interview).
Step 4. Stick to it.
The thing that makes any system or process successful is sticking with it.
You stay on top of your milestones. You refocus your mission. And you don’t miss your Monday planning session.
In my Monday session, I always create a new Evernote note that I call my “Ninja Notebook” (since I like the idea of being a Ninja). Every day, I work off my to do list, but I will also look at my Ninja notebook plan to make sure my daily to do’s align with it. And as things come up (which they always do), I revisit my plan and adjust as needed.
As you add new goals, you can fit those into your planning process. For example, my friend who is a master networker has weekly activities like sending thank you notes to 3 people, and reaching out to old 10 contacts every single week. She budgets those activities into her calendar during her Monday planning sessions.
This process has worked wonders for me, and I always make progress every week on the most important items on my list.
Do you have other ideas or systems that work for you to prioritize? If so leave your tips, tricks and ideas in the comments. We always love new ways to improve and make more progress on what matters most.