The 5 Most Effective Ways to Pick your Priorities for the Week

Start your Day with Intention.

It’s one of the most consistent and repeatedly given productivity advice here on Medium: start your day with your most important task (MIT). Focus on your ONE thing.

It’s easy to know why: If you get your highest priority things done first thing in the morning, you’ve already won the day, no matter what comes later. But if you start your day unfocused, you are a lot less likely to get your important tasks done at all.

Sounds simple, right?

It is — if you actually know what your priorities should be.

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
— Peter Drucker

So here are 5 effective ways to choose your priorities for the week wisely so you can be sure you are doing the right things and not just doing it the right way.

1. Choose your Tasks Proactively, Don’t Let Them Choose You

In 99% of cases, whatever is lurking in your inbox or externally incoming in any other way (your boss stopping by with that “urgent” task, a client calling with some last minute changes) is NOT your priority. It’s someone else’s. If you make other people’s priorities your own, you will never make any progress on what is actually important to you. This is true for both personal goals and business goals.

Being reactive instead of proactive is one of the 4 deadly mistakes that ruin your productivity. (If you are interested in learning about all 4 mistakes and how to fix them, you can sign-up for my FREE WEBINAR playing daily here.)

The key to choose your priorities intentionally is to plan your week before it starts. Trust me, if you make it a habit to set your priorities on Sunday evening or Monday morning, it will change your life.

Starting your week with 100% clarity on what is important will significantly increase your chances to actually getting it done and not get pulled in 1000 different directions.

2. Pick the Tasks that are Important, not just Urgent.

When picking our priorities for the week, we tend to pick the most urgent tasks we need to get done and procrastinate on important, yet not urgent, activities like planning, preparation, systems set-up, reading and learning, hiring and training people and working on high-leverage projects with a long-term impact. The result: we stay stuck in that urgency hamster-wheel.

A great way to better understand this problem is to look at the Eisenhower Matrix, also called Urgent-Important Matrix. It’s a simple tool that has the potential to 10x your effectiveness at work! It was invented, as the name says, by Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States when he was struggling to prioritize his many tasks. The result was a matrix consisting of 4 quadrants that classify activities according to two parameters: urgency and importance.

In today’s world, the Eisenhower Matrix looks something like this:

Do you already know which quadrant makes up most of your work week? Here are some more indicators:

  • Quadrant I: You feel you are constantly putting out fires and operating in emergency mode. Most of the projects you are working on demand your immediate attention due to a pressing deadline.
  • Quadrant II: You feel like you are on top of things because of careful planning, preparation, and prevention. You can focus your time on high-leverage projects, new opportunities, learning and relationship building.
  • Quadrant III: Most of your time is spent on activities that require your immediate attention but are not necessarily related to your top priorities. You spend a lot of time in un-important meetings, being interrupted and dealing with non-critical phone calls and emails. You feel as if you are constantly dealing with issues that are important to others but not related to your own priorities.
  • Quadrant IV: You often feel like you are wasting your time. You spend a lot of time on busy work that is not directly related to your goals, social media, videos, games and pointless web surfing.

How to Manage your Daily Tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix

The most effective people spend 70% of their time working on high leverage projects from quadrant II. As a result, they are able to make significant progress towards their goals, actively prevent crises from happening and lead a more balanced, calm and focused life.

The majority of people, however, spend almost no time in quadrant II because they are so busy with quadrant I, III and IV activities. But with a few simple shifts, you can claim back valuable time in your job to spend more time outside the office or focus on new exciting opportunities.

Here is how to manage your tasks in each quadrant:

  • Quadrant I: Focus on Urgent AND Important activities first thing and get them done fast.
  • Quadrant II: Block time for important but not urgent activities (ideally do them in your personal peak time!).
  • Quadrant III: Eliminate, optimize, delegate or automate as many urgent but unimportant activities as possible.
  • Quadrant IV: Completely eliminate tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

I wrote more about how you can systematically eliminate, optimize, automate and outsource the unimportant work here.

3. Choose the Tasks that are related to your GOALS

Whether it’s a personal goal (lose weight, run a marathon, find a new apartment) or a professional goal (start a blog, get that promotion, change careers), a task is only important if it is actually to one of your goals.

Your to-do list is full of goal-related tasks? Great! Rate your tasks according to the impact they have on achieving your goal. Your high-priority tasks are the ones with the highest (potential) impact.

In my work as a business coach, I also like to call these tasks your “strategic bets”. If your goal is to increase your revenue by 10%, don’t run around trying 1000 different things, instead, carefully pick the 3 strategies with the highest potential impact and execute them well. Only switch strategies when you have enough data to prove the others don’t work.

4. Choose the tasks that make other things on your To-Do list OBSOLETE, FASTER or EASIER

This one takes some practice, as it usually requires coming up with a priority that is not already on your list. Screen your task list for long, inefficient and tedious tasks and think of a way to eliminate them, make them faster or easier.

Here is an easy example: You are a business owner spending 1hr a day replying to customer service emails. Investing time in hiring a good customer service rep will free up 1hr of your day in the long-run. The irony though is that you might feel that you don’t have time for hiring…don’t fall into this urgent vs. important trap (see 2).

5. If you are still unsure what to focus on, pick the task that makes you the most UNCOMFORTABLE

It makes you anxious. You are dreading it. You feel overwhelmed. Which is why you have probably put it off for a few days, weeks or months even. Now this task is exactly what you should be doing.

Achieving your goals is not meant to be easy. So doing things that make you uncomfortable and scare the sh*t out of you is a great indicator you are on the right path!

Take-Away

How you spend your time and energy this week should be a representation of your priorities. Choose them intentionally by focusing on important goal-related tasks that make other things easier and yourself a little uncomfortable.