How to Prioritize What’s Really Important

This weekend, I finished reading the book Juliet’s School of Possibilities by Laura Vanderkam and it really opened my eyes to something: While I am productive, I don’t always prioritize the right things.

And, that needs to change.

Not sure what I mean? Here are some examples:

  • I answer emails instead of working on a big project.
  • I read a book instead of writing posts for With Cheryl.
  • I relax and watch TV instead of booking flights for upcoming trips.
  • I clean instead of meal planning and cooking for the week.

The list could go on, but I think you get the point.

So, how do you make that stop?

I’ll readily admit that I’m still working on this myself, but I do have some helpful tools that I’ll be using this week that I think could help you too.

SET WEEKLY GOALS 

As much as we’d like to get EVERYTHING done on our to-do lists, that’s not always realistic. Instead, set your goals for the week and prioritize what needs to get done with these in mind. If your goal is to reach out to 5 new clients, make researching who to email and actually writing those emails your top priorities for the week.

If you’re not sure where to start with setting goals, check out this post from With Cheryl to help you get started.

DEAL WITH EMAILS STRATEGICALLY 

OK I’m going to say what we’re all thinking: emails are THE WORST. In order to make email suck less, we need to start controlling it instead of letting it control us. You can do this by doing two things each day… 

  1. Start your day by opening your inbox and answering EMERGENCY emails ONLY. After those are handled, close your email and handle your actual priorities.
  2. Set aside specific times to answer email. I’m going to try answering emails for 1 hour at 11, 2, and 4 each day this week.

SET A TIMER 

Have you ever looked at your inbox at 3:00 and thought to yourself “OK you have 1 hour to answer as many emails as you can” and then realized it was 5:30 and you have no idea where the time went? I know I have—and I don’t enjoy it.

Stop this from happening by setting a timer and actually listening when it goes off. If you need a tool to help here, I like using tomato-timer.com because you can set your own time frames.

TAKE BREAKS 

If you visit tomato-timer.com, you’ll notice you can set time limits for breaks too. Breaks may seem odd when talking about productivity, but they are most definitely not.

Taking breaks is crucial when it comes to productivity, and this article from Forbes shows just a few of the benefits of breaks, including improved mental well-being, creativity boosts, and more.

BREAK DOWN BIG PROJECTS

I first learned about the Stacked Project Management list from a Career Contessa article (which I also included in my February 2019 Wrap-Up). This technique has been really a really helpful tool for me to break down big (sometimes daunting) projects into smaller, more manageable steps that I can actually get done.

PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR 

It may sound silly to mark off “answer emails” or “break” on your calendar, but it’s an important part of actually making your ideal day a reality.

Start adding time to your calendar and stick to the schedule you set so you can get the things done that you really need to do.

START SAYING NO

Saying no to certain people and tasks can be really difficult, but it’s so important if you want to get the right work done. If this is something you struggle with, be sure to subscribe and stay tuned here on With Cheryl, since this is a topic I will be covering in depth in a few weeks. In the meantime, I would highly recommend checking out Marie Forleo’s post, The Ultimate Guide to Saying No and downloading the bonus cheat sheet at the end of the article.

END EACH DAY PREPPING FOR THE NEXT 

This is a GAME CHANGER for me and absolutely transforms my day when I put it into practice. Take the last 5 minutes of your day (work day or personal—I do both separately) and set up tomorrow’s to-do list.

Start a brand new page, begin a new section, or write on a new post it—whatever you do, set yourself up to have a fresh start the next day.  (And, it’s especially important that you do this on Friday’s for the following week too!)

_ _ _ 

While this post is mostly about getting the right work done, it’s also important to realize that your priorities can also be personal.

If your #1 focus right now are fixing a relationship, put that person at the top of your priority list. Maybe it’s applying for a new job? Make that your priority for the week. Perhaps it’s spending more quality time with family and friends. If so, put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” and vow to place in your bag or pocket whenever you’re together.

Whatever your priorities are, make sure your calendar and your day reflect them. Don’t do what’s easy to make your to-do list smaller. Do what you need to accomplish your goals.

Remember, you are the one thing in life you can control, so establish your priorities, set your calendar, and do what you need to accomplish your goals.

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