You can’t do everything and there will always be more to do. This is one of those non-negotiable aspects of reality that is best to just accept. When you do this, it will be easier to make decisions about how to invest your precious time, energy, and attention. The next step is to prioritize what you will do and how you’ll do it. A little wisdom and skill here will go a long way.
When you’re facing an inflated inbox, scheduling meetings, following up on vague commitments or are in the middle of responding to a request—take a moment to pause. Step back and reflect for a moment on all that is on your plate and ask yourself if this is the best use of your time and talents. Not every activity that is begging to be done, needs to be done, or should be done by you.
How do you decide what goes to the top of the list, what can be delegated and what goes into the pile of things that probably won’t happen? Create whatever buckets you like. The important thing is that you are stepping into the place inside of you that is conscious, mindful, and is willing to make a decision. This is easier said than done. It’s always easier to just roll with old habits and to take the line of least resistance. The problem with this is that these well-worn lines of response are often reactive, not in your best interest or in the best interest of those you are working with.
What to consider when prioritizing
The following questions and suggestions will help when prioritizing any activity:
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- Is it within your control, partially in your control, or out of your control? The more out of your control it is, the less likely you should be taking it on.
- Is it out of scope for your job? If it is, it may be best to delegate, say no, or renegotiate expectations.
- Who are the stakeholders for this activity? How important is it to meet their expectations? Knowing who you are doing the activity for and what is at stake, can help you assess how essential it may or may not be. This will also help you stay in a more strategic mindset where you stay connected with the overview of what is important and why.
- What is the risk and reward associated with the activity? If it’s high risk and low reward, your efforts may be better placed somewhere else. If you’re looking at high risk and high reward, it may be worth it. Low risk and high reward sounds promising. Low risk and low reward may be a safe way to go, but might not be very inspiring.
- Does it feel energizing or depleting? We all have to do activities that we don’t enjoy and that can even be draining at times. But when you have a choice, put the energizing activities to the top of the list!
- Does it require focused attention? Perhaps you can pair it with something else and multi-task. Not everything needs your full focused attention. But some things, like creative work, strategic thinking, prioritizing, challenging conversations, need focused attention to get the best results.
- Does it need to be done perfectly? If it doesn’t need to be a masterpiece, you’d be better off suspending any perfectionism so you can get it done efficiently and quickly.
- Is this going to be a time suck? If it is, assess carefully if you are the one who must do it. If you are the one responsible, look for ways to get additional support and contain the damage.
Honor your life force
When you make conscious decisions about where to invest your energy and time, you’ll definitely become more effective in your work. Along the way, make sure that your choices honor your work, your relationships, and the need for renewal. By doing this, you’ll carve a path toward a life that is not only more productive but more fulfilled as well.