How productive do you think you are?
If you’re someone who works in a company or you’re a student, you probably are undervaluing your time and waste it on doing random tasks.
You might feel like you’re being productive with sending e-mails, making spreadsheets, reading articles but at the end of the day you’ve actually only been productive for about 40% of the time.
That’s because you’re probably not making the most out of your time. You’re working on tasks that have less priority.
I always thought that I was super productive, working 8-10 hours a day on my tasks, but in reality, I wasn’t that productive. I spend a lot of time on things that don’t move me forward in my business and then get frustrated and asking myself:
Why am I not moving forward?
That’s why I wanted to learn how to manage my time better and get more done. And when I stumbled upon priority management, and I immediately tried some of the strategies and my productivity skyrocketed. I’m still far way gone from the productive person I want to be, but every small step forward helps.
Let’s have a look at the things that I’ve learned about priority management.
What is priority management?
Priority management is exactly as the name claims, you manage your priorities.
Warren Buffet has currently about 90 billion dollars written to his name and he is seen as one of the best investors of all time. When I looked at all his success, it was hard for me to not think about how he manages his time.
From a broad view, it might look that he manages his time like no one else. But it became clear to me very fast that he uses a productivity strategy that is not focused on time management but on priority management.
He uses this strategy of priority setting for himself and all his employees and here’s how he does it:
- First, he would let them write their 25 top career goals down
- Secondly, he asks them to look at the list and circle the top 5 most important goals
- Third, he tells them to focus on only the 5 most important tasks, and don’t even think about the rest of the 20 goals.
The other 20 written goals are what he calls the ‘’Avoid-At-All-Costs List’’. And I guess you understand by the name of it, what to do with that list.
Instead of setting goals, this can be used with tasks we have to do on a daily or weekly basis.
So as you see, this strategy from Waren Buffet explains priority management pretty simple: “Focus all your time and energy on the important tasks, and set everything else aside”
Difference between priority management and time management
For some, priority management and time management might sound like the same thing. They both help you get more productive, right? Well, not completely.
With time management, you are managing what you’re doing with your time. That can be anything like writing emails, reading, calling someone, taking out the trash. The goal with time management is to get as much done in the least amount of time and making sure that you finished all your tasks before the end of the day.
Time management also allows you to see what you’re doing with your time, where your energy goes to and where you should spend more or less time on. That’s a reason why I still will use time management, to track how much time I’m spending on certain tasks.
The difference with priority management is that while time management is looking at how much can I get done in the least amount of time, priority management is looking at what are the most important things I have to do that move me forward the most.
With this strategy, it’s not anymore about getting 100 tasks done within a day that might bring you closer to your goals, but focus your energy on 3-5 tasks that move the needle for you the most.
Whenever I have days that I focus on only 3 very important tasks, I feel way more productive, and I see more progress in my businesses. But when I schedule more than 10 tasks on my to-do list, I get really frustrated and just will finish about 5 of them that aren’t that important anyway.
It’s not a bad thing to use both of the strategies. I won’t discard time management just because priority management works. I always try to combine things that work.
Let’s have a look at how you can use some priority setting strategies to improve your personal productivity.
How to use priority management to become more productive
The most important part of priority management would be to know your priorities. We’ll have a look here on how you can set priorities.
There are a lot of different strategies that productive people have used of the centuries. I’ve compiled a short list of the most famous and the ones I use personally.
The Ivy Lee Method
The Ivy Lee method is already a 100-year-old priority management strategy that still makes people more productive at work.
The strategy is pretty simple but super powerful, here’s how it goes:
- Before you end your day, write your 6 most important tasks you want to get done tomorrow
- Order the 6 items from most important to least, in with numbers 1-6.
- When you start your next day, work on the first most important task, and only move on to the next if you finish the last one.
- If you don’t finish all the tasks, move it to the list for the next day, and repeat the process every day.
Don’t think that because of its simplicity that it won’t work for you, it worked for most high-end managers for over the past 100-years, and It will probably work for you too.
The reason that this workes so well is that it forces you to make tough decisions, you’ll have to discard a lot of other tasks you want to get done, but then the 7th, 8th, and 9th task will just be clutter and won’t make you more productive.
Another reason why this works so well is that it lets you focus on one single-task at the time, and makes sure we get the task done, instead of jumping around from task to task.
The Priority Square Method
Back in the 1950s the 34th President of The United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was a person who had a lot of tough decisions to make. He needed a new way of making these decisions, so he invented a productivity strategy for himself that would help him on what tasks to focus on.
This strategy has different names like: ‘’The Eisenhower Box’’ or ‘’The Priority Square’’. But I prefer to use the latter, as it makes more sense to me personally.
The priority square is also a very famous strategy that people use in companies. It uses something that’s called “The Urgent vs Important Matrix”. And it consists of four blocks in which you will have to put in your task depending on the importance and urgency of the task.
You will start by writing all your tasks/goals down on a sheet of paper, write as many as you can. Once you have the list of all the tasks, we can move on and put them in the right place.
Lets have a look at the four blocks.
- The Do Now Block
In this block you’ll put your most urgent and important tasks, the tasks you put in here have to get done as fast as possible and are really important. These should be your first things to focus on and something that has to be done today. This can be a meeting with your supervisor or a furnace you need to fix at home.
- The Schedule Block
In this second block, you’ll put all your tasks that are important but not urgent right now. All the tasks in this block should be scheduled for a later, so put in in your calendar. These tasks can be things like learning a new skill, working on a project or researching something.
You’ll have to look at the things that you find important but not urgent enough to do it right now.
- The Delegate Block
The tasks you will put in the third block are quite urgent but not very important to you. They don’t move you forward toward your goals and you might be better of delegating them to others. These tasks consist of things like booking flights, answering to simple emails, irrelevant meetings. If you have some spare time, you can do them, else just find someone to do them for you.
- The Don’t Do Block
Last but not least, in this block, we put the tasks that are definitely not moving us forward and we have to delete. Tasks like checking social media, going through junk mail or watching television. These tasks are not important and not urgent, they are just considered as ‘’time-wasters’’. And we all know how precious our time is, right?
The fastest way to finish a task is to delete the task completely. If there is no task, there is no need to spend time on it. Deleting tasks won’t make you a lazier or less productive person, it will force you to become someone who can make hard decisions and only do things that are moving you towards your goals.
The priority square strategy from Eisenhower really makes you decide what you’ll focus on. It might be discomforting sometimes to completely delete a task and focus on just a couple of them, but this will make you more productive in the long term.
Most of us are just busy with random tasks and still feel productive, while in reality, we’re just ‘busy’. With every task you have, you really should ask yourself; “Do I actually need to be doing this?”.
Note: I’ve actually created a template of the Priority Square that you can fill in and use. You can download the template below!
Are you ready to prioritize your life?
If you are using time management to improve your productivity but have never used priority management before, I hope you will try it out and see if it works for you. Everyone is different and not all strategies will work for you, unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” productivity strategy.
But what I always think is that it’s worth trying. You’ll never know if something works for you until you try it out yourself.
I’ve already tried hundreds of productivity strategies, most didn’t work at all and some worked really well. It’s just all about trying, failing and trying again until you find something that works. Experiment with all the strategies until you find the one that works for you!
The above strategies are perfect for someone who feels like he has so many tasks to do but doesn’t know where to focus on right now.