Time management is essential in achieving your goals and getting your work done. With time management comes organizing, planning, and prioritizing, but why would the interviewer ask about this? The company is interested in how well you manage your time because they want to see if you do your work in an organized way, they want to know your strategies for completing a given task in a short span of time, and they want to determine what your priorities are.
Prioritizing your work is not that easy. You have to identify which things need to be done first. It is a crucial process, but once you get used to it, organizing and planning will be less difficult. If you know how to effectively organize and prioritize your workload, you will learn how to be more efficient and productive.
How do you organize and plan your work? What are your priorities? There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions. The way you do things is ultimately up to you. People are different, so what works for you may not work for someone else. Still, there are some guidelines that can help you in prioritizing your work and answering questions about your time management skills.
1. Make your to-do list.
Listing on paper what you want to accomplish for the day is an effective way to remember the things you need to do. It can be a weekly to-do list, but daily ones are more effective. Write your list on a notepad, starting with the important tasks and then adding the less important ones.
2. Rank your to-do list.
After writing your tasks on a notepad, rank them from the most important to the least. Rewrite your list on another page, and make sure that your handwriting is legible. Tip: Did you know that usually bigger fonts can motivate you to complete the task more than small fonts?
3. Post your to-do list.
Put your to-do list somewhere you can always see it: on your planner or calendar, in your wallet or purse, cell phone (type it in your memo section), or on the board in your office. If you always see the list, you’ll never forget that you have something to do.
4. Note your responsibilities.
Type or write in bulletpoints some notes about your reminder. For example, you can write the exact time when you have to finish the task, materials that you need for the task, or the name of the person that you’re about to meet (if the task is a meeting). Notes are especially important for people who forget things easily.
5. Avoid unnecessary tasks.
When you’re done writing your to-do list for the day/week, try to analyze the less important task/s in terms of whether you really need to do it/them. If so, then you may need to adjust your schedule for the day; if not, then you can allocate more time for the other tasks or you can just take that opportunity to rest.
6. Set realistic deadlines.
When you’re working on something and a deadline was set by your boss, set your own deadline ahead of the deadline that your boss gave you. However, set realistic ones. Don’t try to rush yourself just to finish it earlier. Take everything one step at a time and don't set yourself up for failure.
This is also applicable for your everyday work. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You don’t want to force yourself to finish something and then suffer the consequences of creating poor-quality work.
7. Set your break time.
Working all day with no break is not fun. If you’re already tired, take a break. There’s nothing wrong with a 10- to 15-minute food break or a quick nap. Drink coffee when you need or want to. Stretch when your body feels cramped. A rule of thumb: rest for ten minutes after every hour of work.
8. Put away distractions.
In this modern world, a lot of things can distract us from doing our work. These include camera phones, mobile devices, gadgets, the World Wide Web (especially Facebook and Twitter), and many more. How are you supposed to finish your work if you spend your time on these things?
Put away the things that distract you. Don’t check your inbox every minute; you can do this during your breaks from work or schedule time slots in your day to check. Once you learn to pay less attention to these things, getting the job done will be much easier.
The key to productivity is good time management. Prioritizing is difficult but is also essential if you want to get things done. Aside from being more efficient and productive, it will also help you alleviate stress in your life. Learning how to prioritize is not an impossible task; you just have to determine what needs to be done and how much time you need to do it.
You’ve got a ton of work to do right now.
Your to-do list is an unstructured mess of action items, and you’ve only got a faint idea how to prioritize tasks.
Luckily, there are a few (almost automatic) ways to quickly get your to-do list prioritized without much effort. In fact, you can apply one of these methods within 5 minutes and know exactly what to do next. There have been a number of methods over the years, and all have their own quirks and considerations.
Which is right for you?
In previous chapters of my task management guide, I’ve taken you all the way through from writing, organizing and planning your to-do list. Go and check out those if you haven’t already.
Now, let’s look at at 4 different ways to prioritize your tasks.
Slot your tasks into 4 boxes — Urgent vs Important
Here’s a task prioritization method from former U.S President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In 1954, he said:
“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” — Eisenhower
It was this quote that created the Eisenhower Matrix; a 4-box system for organizing your tasks by urgency and importance, then getting them done.
The Eisenhower Matrix puts tasks into 2 categories, then prioritizes them for you. It’s a fast way to get everything in order at the start of the day.
Action: Get into the habit of quickly categorizing tasks by using this checklist on your to-do list:
The ‘Important’ Checklist:
It is overdue
It is due soon
It demands immediate attention
The consequences of not doing it are immediate
To apply the matrix to your to-do list, use tags to denote which quadrant of the matrix it falls into. From top right to left, you’ve got:
- Urgent AND important
- Important NOT urgent
- Urgent NOT important
- NOT urgent OR important
When I check this against my semi-fictional task list in TaskPaper, it’s easy to see what’s a priority and what isn’t:
The Eisenhower Matrix saves the day.
When you have two frogs to eat, eat the ugliest one first
In slight contrast to the Eisenhower Matrix, Brian Tracy’s method of consuming amphibians focuses on your feelings towards the tasks on your list.
In the words of Mark Twain, if you eat a live frog each day for breakfast, nothing worse can happen for the rest of the day. And so, the idea is to eat the worst frog as early as possible then breeze through the day. Replacing frogs with tasks, how does this method work?
You categorize tasks into 4 boxes, of course.
1. Things you don’t want to do, and actually don’t need to do.
2. Things you don’t want to do, but actually need to do.
3. Things you want to do and actually need to do.
4. Things you want to do, but actually don’t need to do.
The logic is, that if you don’t want to do a task, it’s probably because it’s hard. You know it’s important but you’re procrastinating. Get the biggest, ugliest task out of the way as soon as you can, and the rest will come easily.
You can use the same tagging method of 1, 2, 3, 4 like I demonstrated above, or you can apply this methodology to one of the 7 task management lists I’ve previously outlined.
Use the ABCDE method for precise prioritization
Another prioritization method here from Brian Tracy, this time a little more mathematical. I love how it takes into account that different tasks can take the same priority level. Instead of randomly doing equal-priority tasks as they come along, the ABCDE method has two levels of priority. Here’s the steps to take to prioritize your tasks with this method:
- Going through your list, give every task a letter from A to E, A being the highest priority
- For every task that has an A, give it a number which dictates the order you’ll do it in
- Repeat until all tasks have letters and numbers
So, for example:
To make sure there’s point in categorizing them so strictly, you’re going to have to be hard on yourself.
You’re not allowed to start on a new letter until the previous letter is fully complete.
If you reference this against the other two methods I’ve outlined already, your A tasks would be your … urgent and important frogs.
The simplest method: pick your 1-3 most important tasks
True to form, the simplest way to prioritize your tasks comes from Zen Habits. In the book Zen to Done, Leo Babauta says:
“At the beginning of each day, review your list, and write down 1-3 MITs [most important tasks] that you’d like to accomplish for the day. That’s your whole planning system. You don’t need any more than that.” — Zen to Done
Using the other methods in this article, you should be well equipped to pick your 1-3 MITs quickly, and get on the path to hitting to-do list zero.
The beauty of this method, however, is that it relies on your intuition. After you’ve been on a few projects, or swamped by an overpowering to-do list enough times, you instinctively know which tasks are your most important.
In the end, there’s not a complete mathematical formula for working it out, but there are some ways to make prioritizing your tasks a habit, and a skill you can hone to get work done faster.
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This guide will teach you how to manage your tasks, prioritize properly, and get a ton of important work done.
You’ve heard it all before. You have the same amount of hours in your day as anyone else…
…But what good are those hours if you’re not managing tasks properly?
I’ve improved my productivity threefold since I started researching and writing this ebook, and it’ll help you too change bad habits and put you on the path to productivity.