Thursday, January 13, 2011

Prioritizing Helps Keep You Sane

With the workshop coming up this Saturday, my to do list has gotten a little out of hand. So to give myself a bit of a break I'm going to recycle a little material from the Lightbox SF blog. This one is extremely appropriate given my current state and all the goal setting and motivation that happens at the beginning of the year.

Enjoy, I will be back with fresh content next week.

This is the time of year when the to do lists seem to grow out of control. Our work lives get cluttered with holiday sales or the at least the effort to make more of them. We see the end of the year looming and want to get just one more big project completed. And then there's the holidays in general, events, gatherings, and family seem to take over any "free" time you might have had.

I'm feeling the pressure myself just writing about it. However, if I take a step back I realize that much of the pressure is self imposed. That project that I want to get done, I'm the only one who cares that it happens next week. The extra workouts I'm trying to fit in to ward off any holiday pounds, is the stress really worth it? Yet there's still that pressing need to get things done, cross things off the list.

Here's a process my fiancé walked me through a few months ago that has worked wonders to help me put it all into perspective and calm the anxious need to accomplish everything-all-at-once-now!

Priorities, that is the key. I write a list of everything I want to do. (This works well for both personal and work lists, but I recommend keeping them separate.) Then I mark them with a High, Medium and Low priority. If you write your lists by hand try different colors, if you're using a to do software they may have an easy way already built in or again you might be able to color code them.

High, Medium and Low

For this to work you need to be honest with yourself in setting the priority of each task. To do that I use these guidelines: High priority means the business depends on it, money, life or death - paying the bills, following up on contracts, or getting a new product launched, etc. Medium priority means the task falls into best practice, something that makes the business better, but isn't crucial to its existence - keeping your Facebook page updated, getting photos from your last event on your website, or researching new packaging. Low priority items are the ones that only you will notice if they get done or not - changing your picture on your website, reorganizing your workspace, or reading all those blog posts you've been bookmarking. You may want to set up your own criteria, but I find breaking it down this simply really helps.

The I separate the tasks that are recurring like updating your Facebook page, returning emails, and keeping up on blog reading. These recurring tasks need to get on your calendar. Are they things you do monthly, weekly, or daily? Put them on your calendar at a specific time, not just with a general day and block out as much time as you need to accomplish them. You may answer email for an hour in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. You might also write in calendar an appointment to do bookkeeping or pay your bills or whatever else needs to get done regularly, but you always seem to forget about.

Putting Tasks Into Perspective

Now that you've got everything prioritized, I want you to set due dates for the High and Medium priority tasks. Be realistic with how long each task will take and when it absolutely needs to be done. I suggest you give yourself some wiggle room with those High priority tasks.

Those low priority tasks are going to wait until you find yourself sitting around twiddling your thumbs or something happens to move them up in priority. Yes, this means you may never get to them. Take a moment to accept this. If they are really worthwhile tasks you will suddenly see that they need to be raised in priority. Until then, I only want you to glance at them once a month and then put them aside yet again.

Not Too Many All At Once

Honestly it's only realistic to think you can accomplish three tasks a day. I know that sounds like a small number, but think about how your days go, unexpected phone calls, urgent emails, you forgot you made a lunch date with an old friend... Things happen that derail you, it's a part of life.

I want you to begin to really follow those priorities, if it's not High, think Life or Death, you'll be ok if it doesn't get done exactly when you want it to. You will, I promise.

Taking It Day By Day

Every High and Medium priority task should now be at least marked with a due date. Now we need to slot them into your calendar. Some may just be marked on due dates, but others may need to have a couple hours here and there set aside to get them done.

Each morning you should look at the list of activities for that day and sort them again in order of priority, but also take into account how easy it will be to check them off the list. I like to take the first two hours of my day and check off anything, High or Medium priority that takes less than 15 minutes to accomplish. Returning phone calls, sending out emails, looking something up, keeping up with social media, etc. Then I have the rest of the day to accomplish those one or two tasks that will take a few solid hours of my time.

After the quick stuff is done I go straight to the High priority task for that day. If there isn't one then I look at the Medium priorities, what has the nearest due date and which one is going to take the most time to complete. I weigh those to decide what to do next. If somehow I manage to finish everything on my list for that day, then I look forward to either try to cross off another High priority task or get a little bit of work done on bigger project that's only a medium priority.

Always Keep In Mind

This may sound like a lot of work for a to do list, but the idea is simple, whatever is most important gets done first. The more you walk through all the steps it will begin to feel like second nature. The simplicity of it is also my greatest comfort when I inevitably begin feeling overwhelmed again. What is the most important thing I need to do right now?

What do you do to keep yourself on track? Do you have a similar system that helps keep you sane when things get really busy?

I encourage comments directly to this post, but also feel free to email me directly with questions, reactions, struggles, etc.

If you're an Etsy seller in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact Jen from Mama's Magic Studio about joining SFEtsy!


Katy said...

I try to make a list of things i need to get done and then circle the most important. That seems to help...a little. :)

Jen (Mama's Magic Studio) said...

Such great, specific tips! Funny how I used to do similar sorts of categorizing to survive graduate school.... but hadn't really thought how such a method could help with the day-to-day running of a business. I'm a big list maker but not so good these days at prioritizing. Which is key!

Lightbox SF said...

When I started working on Lightbox SF full-time I found myself feeling so overwhelmed with everything I felt I should be doing that I couldn't do anything. To get unstuck I had to force myself to look at what really needed to get done now and accept that everything else could and would wait.

Prioritizing has kept me both sane and moving forward. I'm a strong believer.

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