French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
If you’re anything like me, you’re good at spotting which tasks will move the needle and which ones may not. But sometimes, our best-laid plans are overshadowed by challenges that arise within our teams, playing catch up on missed deadlines and the ever-pressing unread emails that notoriously have additional requests.
As your to-do list continues to grow, it’s easy to get sidetracked. Or perhaps you are working hard, but analysis paralysis kicks in, rendering you useless. An excellent way to discover why you aren’t moving the needle is by holding yourself accountable for your choices.
When juggling multiple moving parts within one project, we sometimes need help prioritizing work. Unfortunately, it is easy to mistake having too many things to do for being productive. But when you peel back the layers, the differences are apparent. Here’s how to do that.
Poor Planning = Overwhelm
In a culture where we are accustomed to having multiple tabs and screens open in tandem, it’s too easy to get distracted and have difficulty actually getting anything done.
Unfortunately, many people wrongly assume that multitasking is a productive strategy. But doing so may lead to feeling overwhelmed by trying to juggle multiple things simultaneously. And there is a reason for that overwhelming feeling.
Our society prizes productivity and hustle culture, so the more plates you’re juggling, the better. Right? In reality, multitasking makes your brain work overtime in a non-productive way. “When you’re focused, both the left and right sides of the prefrontal cortex work in tandem. But when you multitask, they attempt to work independently. So even though it feels like you’re doing two things simultaneously, you’re actually switching between the two sides of your prefrontal cortex. This switch takes a fraction of a second, but those microseconds add up: it actually takes you up to 40% longer to complete the same tasks than if you were to tackle them separately.”
Additionally, multitasking leads to chronic stress. For example, Psychology Today reported that “in a study of college students, the constant bombardment of information to which they were trying to respond elevated their stress responses, which means that chronic multitasking can lead to chronic stress.”
So how do you remain productive without juggling everything all at once? Productivity is achieved through planning and prioritizing.
How to Plan and Prioritize Projects
When you have a list of competing priorities, it can be confusing to determine which ones you need to tackle first. Multitasking, engaging in busywork (time-consuming, nonproductive work like checking your inbox repeatedly), and procrastination are signs that you may be struggling to set priorities.
Luckily, there are several ways to prioritize and plan for success so you can move effortlessly through your projects.
Create A List
Whether you think you’ll remember it later or know you’ll forget it, write it down.
A to-do list acts like a visual reminder of everything you need to accomplish daily, weekly or monthly. So get in the habit of creating a list of everything you must complete as the first step to planning and prioritizing projects.
Another consideration is breaking down what each task requires. Most people don’t include each step within a task, but not doing so can mean that you miss essential steps or have difficulty measuring how long something will take. Plus, including those steps can help you feel accomplished, create a roadmap, and determine whether you can delete or delegate.
Tasks can range from one-on-one meetings to chipping away a report due next week. At this stage of planning, do not worry about the order.
Sort Your List by Priorities
You can identify your list of priorities using three simple steps.
To start, look at the tasks with urgent deadlines or high-value items essential to complete before moving on, aka dependencies within your project. Then, you should allocate time for these items before you dive in so that you have an action plan. People often overestimate how much they can do in a day, so this step is crucial in your planning.
Next, look at medium steps such as meetings, email communications, and planning. Then, you can batch some of these tasks in time blocks on your schedule. Emails, for example, are a huge time-suck, so batching your email activities can save you distractions and time throughout the day.
And finally, the low-priority tasks should go to the bottom of your list. These are items that are not time sensitive and do not have a high value. If you’ve noticed a certain task is moving from one list to the next and never gets done, consider deleting it or assigning it to someone else.
Schedule Your List
Now that you have your priorities list, add each task to your calendar to map it out. A visual guide of what items you must complete daily can help you stay organized and focused. In addition, visualizing your schedule may help you find ways to time block and batch similar tasks.
Note Your Responsibilities
Within each action item on your list, it may be helpful to write notes on deadlines, materials you need to complete the task or people you are meeting regarding the project. Notes are useful while you juggle multiple priorities as they bring clarity to you and your team and help balance everyone’s workload.
Create a Road Map
A neverending to-do list with competing priorities and seemingly constant dumpster fires may get overwhelming pretty quickly. However, keeping in mind that you need to work through your priorities one step at a time, I suggest you create a system.
Moving through your priorities will always have unexpected obstacles. And sometimes, your list may have to shift around to accommodate the challenges. However, with a stellar plan and effective prioritizing, you should be able to remain focused and at the top of your game. If you’re still struggling to prioritize, book a consultation now, and we’ll work through it together.