• David Strittmatter

Master the skill of prioritization - [+3 tips to better prioritize]

Know what matters most to you and be unwilling to compromise those priorities - Frank Sonnenberg
Photo by Phil Desforges on Unsplash

Summary:

  • You, your friends, family, colleagues, boss, etc. - everyone has certain needs; everyone has a certain agenda; and everyone has certain priorities

  • Prioritizing properly is essential to ensure one's own needs are met

  • At work and in school, to perform best, it's essential to differentiate between the tasks creating value and those creating limited or no value


Practical advice:

  • First, we need to create an overview of all the things/actions we need and want to accomplish

  • Second, we need to evaluate which actions are most valuable

  • Third, we need to communicate our priorities transparently, empathically, and clearly


Dear friend,


In life, I've learned in the past few years, it's all about prioritization. 99% of the things are scarce, whether it's time, food, energy, money, our attention ... Hence, we cannot "have it all". It's always a balancing act of scarce resources.


At work/school, this fact is even more significant. Without prioritization, we spend most of our valuable resources - time and energy - on the things that don't lead to desired results. If we don't think about what topics are relevant for an exam or what tasks of a project create the largest impact, we waste our precious resources.


In my role as a consultant, I have to continuously assess whether the tasks I'm doing are the ones creating the most impact for my clients. For instance, I cannot simply do an analysis without considering how valuable it is. Doing a market segmentation might be interesting to me, but if the client doesn't even understand their products, this analysis isn't very valuable. In addition, like in any job, there are so many things to do, I could literally work my way to death. Hence, I need to not only prioritize tasks but evaluate whether my work meets the expectations I created or I've to spend more time to do so.


Mastering the skill of prioritizing properly is an ongoing process for me. I spend a lot of time reflecting on the things I do and whether I prioritized them properly. In today's blog article, I will discuss why prioritizing is a key skill to master and give you 3 practical tips to better prioritize.


Everyone has a certain agenda


You, your friends, family, colleagues, boss, etc. - everyone has certain needs; everyone has a certain agenda; and everyone has certain priorities. Every day, these priorities clash with each other and need to be harmonized. Some needs are met, some aren't, depending on whose priorities came first.


Prioritizing properly is essential to ensure one's own needs are met. If we don't know what's most important to us, how should others know and consider it? No matter in which area of life - in relationships, at work, in friendships, etc. - having clear priorities is the basic requirement so that our needs are given consideration.


For example, if I don't tell my project manager and teammates that doing sports every morning is very important to me, they cannot take it into account and might schedule internal meetings early, making me unable to do my workout.


Be a better friend, family member, and partner


If you're like me and want to make sure not only you but also everyone else is doing well, prioritizing properly allows you to have better relationships.


We need to know our own priorities so that we can take care of those of others. Only if our own key priorities are met, we can "enjoy pleasing" others; otherwise, we'll feel dissatisfied and neglected.


For instance, I love working and doing things that make this world a little better. Hence, I don't have much time for friends and family from Monday to Friday. My work is a clear priority. However, if I spend time with them, I'll give my best to make this time as meaningful as possible.


Make better work


At work and in school, to perform best, it's essential to differentiate between the tasks creating value and those creating limited or no value.


Just learning stuff can take us very far in middle and high school. In university, though, there's so much content, we just cannot learn everything. Then, what differentiates the A student from the rest is the capability to prioritize properly.


At work, that's the very same story. Yes, we can compensate for a lack of prioritization capability by just working more, but to be a top performer in a company, that's not enough. The best people not only work a lot but also do a lot of the things creating the most value. On the other hand, we can perform well while having less stress and fewer working hours if we prioritize properly and do the things that create the most value.


How to better prioritize


Before we can prioritize, we need to know what to prioritize. Hence, the first step to prioritize properly is to create an overview of all the things we need and want to accomplish. To do so, I make use of the "Getting Things Done" principles: (1) I have a project list for each project in my life. Thereby, a project is defined as something that requires more than 1 action. (2) I have a next action list. Each and every project has a next action, which I captured there.


Second, we need to evaluate which actions are most valuable. That is an iterative process and requires continuous reflection. Today, we might think project A and task Z should be prioritized over project B and task X; tomorrow, though, project B might reveal as more important. Depending on the circumstances and context, we have to make a conscious decision about what's most important to us, whether is going out with a friend, spending time with our partner, working late hours, doing sports in the morning, or learning certain topics for an exam.


At work, I ask my project lead in case I'm not able to prioritize my tasks/projects by myself. With my girlfriend, I've regular conversations on what new things we could try out, what we / I shouldn't do (anymore), and what we / I should do more often. And for other areas of my life, I regularly reflect on what's valuable to me and others and what's not.

Third, we need to communicate our priorities transparently, empathically, and clearly. As stated at the beginning, everyone has needs, a demand, and an own agenda. To harmonize those with ours, communication is key.

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