You are ready to start creating your business. In previous blogs, I’ve written on time management, and one of the very first tips on how best to manage your time was to prioritize.
For many people, by just asking them what they most want to accomplish will help them prioritize, but for others, they may still be stumped. HOW do we prioritize? How can we really determine what is most important?
Helping you answer these questions is the focus of this article.
Being most Effective
When you start to think about how best to prioritize, usually the reason is because you want the most results possible out of the time you have available.
Prioritizing includes two steps:
- Determine what needs to be done and
- Deciding on the order in which you will do the tasks.
To be most effective, you must weed out the work that does not help you achieve your ultimate goals. You must be able to separate the tasks that need to be done from busywork that eats away at our time.
Many of these things can be done less frequently, if at all. We’ll address this in more detail, below. Task prioritizing means working on the most important tasks first no matter how tempted you are to get a lot of less essential tasks out of the way.
According to Stephen Covey, in his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” there are four quadrants people generally work in. These include Important and Urgent, Important and Not Urgent, Not Important and Urgent, and Not Important and Not Urgent.
Before I go any further, can you identify activities that fit into each of these categories for you?
According to Covey, the most effective category to work in is in Important and Not Urgent. When you work in this quadrant, you are not solving problems, you are creating opportunities. According to Covey, if we all worked in this category, it would be the one thing that would have the greatest impact on our life and our effectiveness!
Look at your Values
You dream of being the professional sought after in your community and profession for your expertise. You imagine having an incredibly successful and rewarding business, enjoying the freedom that self-employment offers.
But you’re running ragged right now!
You can’t imagine that it really will develop into what you have dreamed of!
No matter how frantic life gets, the truly successful people are able to rise above the challenges of short time and pressing deadlines by maintaining their perspective.
What are the things most important to you? Use your values as your compass to keep yourself on track. Continue to come back to what your ultimate vision is of having that incredibly successful and rewarding business, enjoying the freedoms it offers you.
Again referring to time management, it’s important to create a schedule, mapping out exactly what you want to do through your day. If family and friends are important to you, this is part of your value system, so be sure that while you’re working on your business, that you are not short-changing these activities.
If keeping your own health and fitness level optimal is important to you, make sure these activities are included in your schedule and don’t allow business to nudge them off the calendar.
Where and how you spend your time is part of prioritizing. And this does not mean that your priorities can’t change, either. Perhaps a friend needs your time and attention, or your child needs help with homework. You may find that that time you had blocked out for working on a particular project can be put off until the time slot you have for tomorrow.
If you are working in the Important and Not Urgent quadrant, you will have more flexibility to do this. This further points out how identifying your values can help you prioritize.
When you consider your priorities, you should be considering how each fits into helping you achieve your goals. Your time is precious; there is just WAY too little of it, so spending time in the less effective quadrants means you’re unable to accomplish your goals as quickly as you would like.
Let’s now look at a few activities that do NOT fit into this quadrant. As you read these, ask yourself how much time you devote to such activities.
- Reading listserv or social media posts
- Long phone calls
- Reading newsletters
- Taking care of last minute deadlines
- Saying yes to too much
None of these activities help you achieve your goals most effectively.
Granted, in order to stay current on important issues related to your business/career, you want to read pertinent newsletters and read what colleagues and potential clients are talking about. And there will always be the occasional last-minute project you have to complete.
However, in order to accomplish your high priority goals, all of the above activities must be limited and controlled.
This means that perhaps a long phone call can be scheduled and planned, but not interfere with more important items such as creating your business action plans for building up your clientele.
When you say yes to something, always ask yourself, ”how does this help me achieve my goals right now?” If it doesn’t, you can gracefully bow out by just saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t fit it into my schedule right now, but feel free to ask me again in the future,” or something along those lines.
Many of my clients have this problem; they are afraid they will miss an opportunity when they say no to something. However, they then find themselves unable to take advantage of the opportunities they are most passionate about, because they are over-committed to too many things!
If your top goal is to start seeing clients NOW, that’s where you must focus your time. If saying yes does not fit into the strategies you have created for accomplishing this goal, then the answer should be no.
Make your List and then Narrow it Down
I love working with clients in each stage of development. First they come to me with tons of great ideas and incredible opportunities. Their biggest problem is figuring out how to organize it all and stay focused on what they most want to do, and how to actually make it all happen.
This is the first step in prioritizing.
You can’t do it all, so where is your BIGGEST passion?
For these new clients, often I will have them write down all their ideas, and then mark off the ones that do not answer the question, “Does this help me achieve my goals right now?” This generally helps them get to the heart of what they really want to create right now.
The others are great opportunities for later.
One fun way to help prioritize is by looking at this ABC list:
- “A” are activities which ABSOLUTELY must get done, now.
- “B” had BETTER get done soon.
- “C” CAN WAIT for now.
- “D” are activities that can be DELEGATED, but do require follow up.
One trait that many successful business owners share is their ability to prioritize their activities. They do not put off Important and Not Urgent activities, and they strive to seldom find themselves in the situation where they are scrambling to meet a deadline.
They create a schedule of tasks that fits along the mentioned ABC categories and are able to end their day feeling accomplished and satisfied. It is a trait that can be learned and is one of the important steps to effective time management and business success.
By working through some of the suggestions in this article, you can be on your way to creating that successful and satisfying business you have dreamed of, too!
Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD, BCC
MEG Enterprises, Inc.