So getting straight to the point, obvious or not, there is a difference between Priorities and having a Priority. A massive difference. You may have a list of important tasks that must get done that day, you may even call them your priorities for the day. But you can only have one priority, literally.
The definition of priority is as follows, ‘a thing that is regarded as more important than others.’ So you can list as many ‘priorities’ for the day as you like, but there’ll always be one that is more important than the rest. And this is what is generally forgotten, which funnily enough is also the problem.
It’s easy to do, and we do all do it, whether you plan your day the night before or that morning, whether you use an old school to-do sheet or your calendar to list your tasks for the day, it’s easy to mistake all your tasks for being just as important as each other. This will lead you to working things in random rather than the order they should be done. This is the danger of mistaking priorities and a priority as the same thing.
What generally happens is we cherry pick what to do and when to do it by the order of what we fancy doing first. When what we should be doing is working the most important task first until it’s done. Which then promotes the next task as the most important and so on. This will have such an impact on your day, and yes I know this sounds like first day rookie stuff, but do you do it? Everyday?
Getting your to-do list right in the first place has a lot to do with this. A to-do list comes with a lot of unneeded pressure, I’ve seen it happen time and time again where people write down a long list of tasks just to keep their boss happy or to make themselves feel busy. And it’s usually made up of stuff that are general day to day tasks. Like, send 2 CV’s today, get 2 leads, make 10 BD calls before 10am etc. These are at best reminders, visual aids to keep you going and your boss happy. But they shouldn’t be on a to-do list as a priority. And there is nothing wrong with having a really short list of tasks for that day. If you have a list of 10+ things on your to-do every day then I’m afraid you are doing it wrong.
Your to-do should just have the most important things to do that day on it. Not a long list of day to tasks on there. In fact maybe we should stop calling it a to-do in the first place and just call it a Priority List. I start with a blank one each day. I will generally have around 5 important things to do each day, but some days there may be just be 1 and the rest can all wait or are just reminders. I also number them in order of priority and will not move on to the next one without completing the first. The ones with no number are not priorities and I’ll do them when I get round to them.
Now I’m sure some of you are thinking ‘I can do two things at once’ and ‘I’m a great multitasker’ and that doing two tasks at the same time is more efficient and will save you time. Wrong! Multitasking is not a good thing, it just isn’t. Multitasking is actually impossible if you want to get technical about it. You can’t do two separate tasks at the same time. What you actually do is flick between tasks, meaning neither of which are getting your full attention, meaning they aren’t being treated as important as they potentially are and will not be completed as well as they potentially could.
Sometimes it’s impossible to not be pulled onto something else, the phone will ring, your boss will want you for something or an offer will come in. And these are things you may have to deal with there and then. But a lot of the time, we could just say no, and focus on what we are doing. We are too easily pulled and distracted on to something else, or we think it’s big and clever to try and do two things at once.
The key to all this if it isn’t obvious, is to just do one thing at a time. It is far more efficient and more effective to just do one thing at a time. Be strict with your time, turn your emails off, put your headphones in or go and work in a room on your own for an hour if that’s what it takes to get your Priority done. Be strict with your Priority List, depending on how junior or senior you are may determine how many things you have on there. But it shouldn’t be loads, evaluate every task on there, is it really a priority? Can it wait?
Overall you just need to be thinking ‘what is my one priority right now?’ and that’s it, and don’t do anything else until it’s done.
In the immortal words of Conner McCloud “There can be only one”
If you have any thoughts, please comment below.