If you’ve browsed or studied material on the subject of productivity or time management, you’ve probably encountered the words priority and prioritization. These terms are used in our daily language and understood by most people. As an example, you might read sports articles about how “America’s Team” (aka the Dallas Cowboys football team) made it a priority to bolster their offensive line, and you didn’t need to get a dictionary in order to understand the word priority; you comprehended the meaning, even if you have no idea what an offensive line is. Yet when it comes to time management, prioritization can be a tricky principle for many people to understand and implement. If you are in this boat, the following will help you to understand what priorities are and why priority determination is important.
What exactly is a priority?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines priority as:
“superiority in rank, position or privilege;
a preferential rating;
something given or meriting attention before competing alternatives”
When you examine the word priority in the realm of time management, you’re:
*comparing competing requests for your attention and time
*evaluating which requests are more or less important and/or of more or less value
*determining which requests you should put your time toward
*identifying the chronological order to use when addressing these requests
Why is identifying your priorities so important?
Determining your priorities is the key to any and all decisions related to your use of time. Identifying your personal and professional goals, the objectives you need to achieve in order to reach your goals, as well as what you should (your priorities!) or should not spend time on in order to achieve your objectives will successfully guide you in both strategic planning and situational decisions.
A common adage that is oft repeated is: “If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.” You see, if your brain is unable to pinpoint what the priority is in a situation, you’ll be likely to default to the easiest action to take – which is quite often not what’s ideal for the situation and can result in taking no action whatsoever.
When you’ve identified what your priorities are, this will help you to remain more focused throughout the workday and will also help you get re-focused more rapidly if something unexpected happens and causes you to veer off track.
Keeping your list of strategic and daily priorities in your workspace also helps you to respond instead of just react. When you haven’t identified your priorities, you’ll tend to operate in a reactionary manner and hastily answer questions or work on task requests in the order they were received, which, quite often, is not in the order of the actual priorities.
Establishing your personal and professional priorities will also help you better protect your time, which is a critical part of time management.
In Part 2, we’ll look at the benefits of determining your priorities.
In Part 3, I’ll share recommendations for how to determine what your priorities should be.
In Part 4, I’ll share techniques for prioritizing work tasks situationally.
For more strategies and tips on priorities and their importance, check out The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer.