Everyone wants to be more productive, but our typical work day throws up plenty of roadblocks on the path to productivity. Your inbox is bursting with emails, your chatty coworker is talking about the latest episode of Dancing With the Stars, and a half-finished project lies sadly on your desk.
In order to get back to work and be more productive, you need to take a stand against distractions. You need to prioritize your priorities.
How to Prioritize
Choosing the right priorities isn’t always as easy as it might seem. Unless you’re the one calling the shots, you’re often at the mercy of teams, coworkers, and managers. The important thing is to keep in mind where you add value to the organization and which of your efforts contributes the most.
Go to your manager or supervisor and ask for a brief meeting. In the meeting, ask how your boss is measuring your success. Ask for only a few metrics, because those will be the most important aspects of your job. Listen carefully, and then use these metrics to align your workplace priorities. Anything on your task list which doesn’t closely align with your value proposition can probably hit the cutting room floor.
Knowing your true value can help you prioritize your tasks without skipping something important. It will also help you play to your strengths, meaning you’ll be delivering huge value and impressing in the process.
Cut Up Your To-Do List
Are you a to-do list junkie? Don’t feel bad, because a majority of professionals are also obsessed with checking items off their lists. A study by LinkedIn found 63 percent of professionals use to-do lists in their daily work life. On any given day, though, only 11 percent of workers report actually accomplishing all the tasks they set out for themselves. The odds are unfortunately stacked against you crossing off every item.
Why is the success rate so low when so many professionals are to-do list believers? It’s probably because we’re all guilty of overstuffing our lists with every little task, instead of focusing on the most important. The more tasks you put on your list, the less likely you’ll be able to make it to the bottom before the clock strikes five.
If you want to organize your priorities, start with your to-do list. Take your list and cut it into thirds. The bottom third you can put directly in the trash, since the items all the way at the bottom of your list aren’t on top for a reason.
Start with the top third of the list, and put the middle in a drawer for if you have time later. By focusing on only the top of your list, you’ll be more likely to devote a lion’s share of your time and energy to your most important projects, instead of wasting time trying to rush through a laundry list of tasks.
When to Prioritize
Figuring out how to prioritize doesn’t happen overnight, and every worker and company is different. Instead of becoming disheartened when your prioritization scheme doesn’t pan out, look at finding the right priorities like a science experiment.
At the beginning of every week, take a few minutes in the morning to cut your to-do list into thirds and spend the week working your way down the list. Then, at the beginning of the next week, look back and see what went right, what went wrong, and how you can improve. Do this every week. Soon you won’t have to weigh the results, because you’ll become better at realizing what needs done immediately, what adds the most value, and what can wait.
Analyze the results of your efforts just like you would analyze the ROI of any business venture, and tweak as you go along. Prioritization isn’t a set-in-stone process, and you should learn what works best for you as an individual.
How to Guard Your Time
Your time is a precious commodity; in fact, it might be the most precious one you have. So why do we waste so much time at work on actions that don’t get results? Take a time during your day and dedicate it as a working “power hour.” During this hour, mute your phone, close your email, and turn down any meeting invitations.
Before implementing your power hour, talk to your manager and explain what you want to do and why. Let your manager know how much work you’ll be able to accomplish by taking just an hour out of your day away from chaos and distractions. By skipping meetings and dodging the time-sucking aspects of office life for just one hour, you’ll be amazed at how much of your to-do list you’ll be able to power through.
Learning how to order your priorities and guard your time isn’t easy, but it can be the best way to improve your productivity. If you’ve ever felt your precious time slipping away at work, choosing your priorities might be the key to taking back control of your workplace productivity.
What do you think? How do you set your priorities? Share in the comments!
Ilya Pozin is a father, husband, entrepreneur, investor and writer. He is the founder of Open Me, Pluto.TV andCiplex. Named one of Inc.’s ‘30 Under 30’ entrepreneurs, Ilya has columns appearing on Inc., Forbes and LinkedIn. Originally from Russia, he currently resides in L.A. with his wife and two daughters. You can keep up with Ilya on Twitter.