The 5 Most Effective Ways to Pick Your Priorities for the Week
How to make sure you start your day with intention
One of my favorite productivity tips I like to give my coaching clients is this: Start your day with your most important task. 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 five 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.
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 a thousand 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 increase your effectiveness by a factor of ten at work! It was invented by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States, when he was struggling to prioritize his many tasks. The result was a matrix consisting of four 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 workweek? 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 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 an article about how you can systematically eliminate, optimize, automate, and outsource the unimportant work.
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 related 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 a thousand different things—instead, carefully pick the three 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 make them easier.
Here is an easy example: You are a business owner spending one hour a day replying to customer service emails. Investing time in hiring a good customer service rep will free up one hour of your day in the long-run.
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 even months. 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 shit out of you is a great indicator you are on the right path!
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.