Are Your Priorities Really a Priority?

by Mark on February 3, 2010 · 4 comments

Be honest. Do you really make your priorities a priority? Do you give the things that you have decided are important the attention that they deserve? How often do you let the things that you tell yourself are a priority slip? Do you procrastinate and avoid your priorities by occupying your time with low value tasks? From my observations, this is an area where almost all of us could use some improvement, and I’m certainly no exception. We live in a world of constant distractions and multitudes of opportunities to waste time with low-value “work” or mindless entertainment. It can be challenging to keep ourselves focused on what is most important. I would like to share some strategies that I have found to be effective in helping me stay focused on my priorities — when I apply the strategies, that is!

Strategies for Making Your Priorities a Priority

  1. Get rid of your To Do list once and for all. I’m talking about the type of To Do list where you list an ungodly number of activities that you know you won’t finish today, this week, this month, or ever! One problem with To Do lists is that they tend to have numerous tasks that are low priority. If there is an important task that we find distasteful or that we are uncomfortable about beginning, it is too easy to convince ourselves to instead spend our time “working” on the easier but low priority tasks. We rationalize to ourselves that we are being productive when we are actually just avoiding the things that will make the biggest difference.
  2. Create a Most Important Tasks (MITs) list. Replace your current To Do list with two separate lists. The first list will be a very short list of MITs that will be your priority for the day. This list should only contain maybe 2 or 3 items. I wouldn’t go higher than 5 MITs — 2 or 3 is plenty. The idea is to pick high impact tasks. If you are not able to complete anything other than the few items on your MIT list, you should feel that your time was well invested. The second list is more like a traditional To Do list. It really just serves as a reminder of things that you need to remember so that you aren’t distracted by having to remember everything.
  3. Allocate time in the morning to working on MITs and make it sacred. Don’t succumb to the e-mail that just came in or the document that was just dropped in your physical inbox. Let people know that they should call you if there is a crisis that needs your immediate attention, because otherwise you will assume that it can wait for at least a few hours. At the very least, give your undivided attention to your MITs for at least one hour before moving on to the distractions that are awaiting you. Don’t let every distraction determine what will get your limited attention. Choose what to focus on consciously. The rest can wait.
  4. Reward yourself for successfully focusing your attention on your priorities. Ideally, you will reward yourself for completing an MIT, but it could also be for focusing intensely on your MITs for a specific period of time. Sometimes it is easier to avoid distractions when we know specifically when we will allow ourselves to be distracted. For example, I am an admitted Internet junkie. Sometimes I will reward myself with some Internet time after I have completed some specific objective or spent a specific amount of time focused on my priorities.

The Most Important Step: Raise Your Standards

These are strategies that I have successfully used to improve my focus on priorities. However, I’m far from perfect at making my priorities a priority, as I’m sure most people are (or at least those who are not afraid to admit it). In order to improve in this area, my goal is to increase my success rate at completing my MITs. My target is a 100% completion rate. This is obviously a very difficult standard.

One reason that I recommend having very few MITs for the day is to ensure that we complete our MITs every day. If we don’t believe that completing our MITs is important, then our chances of actually completing them are severely diminished. We may honestly intend to complete them when we set them, but then we are willing to let them slide when it comes time to work on them. The reason is because we haven’t convinced ourselves of the importance of completing our MITs every day. This is why I am committing myself to raising my personal standard in this area. I am going to focus on making the completion of my MITs an unbreakable standard. Wish me luck on this difficult challenge! :-)

What strategies do you use to make sure that your priorities are really a priority?


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