Start With Your Most Important Tasks First

You know the saying “First things first”? But how do you know what tasks you should prioritize? How do you know you are putting the right things first?

Knowing how to prioritize your time is integral to success at so many levels. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once used a clever demonstration to illustrate how important “first things first” is. You can watch a reenactment of his enlightening demonstration on the topic in the video above.

Time management is a misnomer. No one can “manage” time, but one can learn how to prioritize their tasks as a way to become more effective. Nowadays most people have to wear multiple hats at work and in the personal lives as demands on time are ever increasing, and it is easy to be pulled in many different directions all at once. Little tasks pile up in our daily lives and you may find it hard to say “no” or “no more” at the expense of not getting what’s truly important accomplished.

Picking the Large Rocks

Large rocks are a metaphor for determining what is most important to you so that they are dealt with first (and get accomplished). Start by identifying your priorities. Once you have determined exactly what you must make time for, you can the focus on smaller less important tasks after important tasks are complete. Here are some strategies meant to help you focus on your priorities.

Learn to Say “No”

You don’t have time for everything. As much as you like to think you are Superman or Wonder Woman, you cannot do it all. You are the best person to dictate your priorities. We all need to help one another to be successful, however knowing what not to do is often as valuable as knowing what to do. Other people will put a lot of demands on your time. You do not have to say yes every time someone asks for something, learning the right times to say “no” is an important skill.

Learn to Take Breaks

One of the stones in Covey’s example is vacations. There is a reason why: We all need downtime. Downtime is good for the mind, increases productivity, and is good for creativity. If you are stuck on a task and feel you have reached an impasse, step away. Go work on something else or take a break. Stepping away from a task and clearing your head can actually help you re-focus and invigorate you so that you accomplish more in less time.

Learn to Manage Your Distractions

Some distractions can be good. As stated above, downtime often let’s you come back to a task more focused and energized. However, distractions are generally a productivity killer. Learn to set aside specific times where distractions are welcome (like an open office policy) and other times where distractions are not allowed. If that means turning off your phone, shutting down your Web browser, and ignoring your email, then make that happen and stay focused on the task at hand.

Focus on the Big Picture

When small tasks (Covey’s gravel, sand, and water) feel like they are taking over it can start to become overwhelming. When you stay focused on the big picture it is easier to see the insignificance of less important tasks. Taking away their power to grab your attention also allows you to stayed focused on your priorities. Smaller tasks do not require the same mental focus large tasks do and can often be batched together or delegated making them easier to cross off.

These are just a few of ways one can stay focused on their priorities. If you have any additional advice that has worked for you, please add it in the comments section below.