We live in a time when ‘multitasking’ is a way of life. An era, where technology – vital, necessary and indispensable – has made our life even more tangled. That means more to-do lists than ever. How to prioritize work has become a special skill you have to learn.
On one hand, emails, chats, social media, constantly help us stay in touch with everything and everyone out there. On the other hand, they have become intrusive, a feeding point to our ever-growing to-do list.
I am in no way negating the benefits of technology. Life would not be what it is without technology – easy and convenient. But, there is a downside to everything. Because we can do more, we expect more to be done.
In my professional life, I wear many hats. I am a co-founder of a Digital Marketing Agency, I am a startup & entrepreneurship blogger; also, I do a million other things like running an IT company, currently in the midst of venturing into resourcing.
Not that my personal life is any simpler. I am a husband and a father of not one but two very active young kids.
So, how do I prioritize work with so many competing priorities or ideas jostling for space on my ever-growing to-do list?
Here are the steps I have been following for the last few years to efficiently manage my workload:
a. Start by writing all the tasks
I have figured that the first step to manage your workload is by writing all the tasks somewhere.
If you are someone who hates technology and uses mobile phones only to take calls and access internet, you can start by carrying a diary to write tasks.
And if you are a part of the millennial generation, I don’t have to ask you whether you love your mobile phone or not?
You get the point.
Find a good task management software to set up a task list.
Once you have all your tasks written in a single place, you are ready to move to the next stage of managing the workload.
b. Prioritize the tasks
Prioritizing a task list is one of the most difficult steps in managing your workload.
I must confess – in the initial years of my business, I was a horrible task planner.
My workload was controlled by my emails.
Add to above, my bad habit of procrastinating. I would keep the easy tasks at the top of list and the difficult ones or the ones I hated doing – at the bottom of the list.
And then, I would procrastinate.
It led to total chaos in my personal and professional life. The procrastinated tasks would come home from work with me. I would stay awake late at night working at my lowest efficiency on the tasks which required the highest level of attention.
Predictably, the end results were sloppy work. And it all came at the cost of our valuable family time.
In fact, as a proven fact – Procrastination is a horrible habit.
As per a survey conducted in 2017:
- 40% of people have suggested financial losses because of procrastination.
- 1 out of 5 people procrastinates so so badly that they end up jeopardizing their family, health and relationships.
It’s human nature to pick easy battles first and then do the heavy lifting.
Anyways, all this continued until I decided to get my act together and prioritize my workload.
Today, I arrange my tasks based on the Eisenhower Matrix, the simple concept of task management explained by Dwight D. Eisenhower. He emphasized prioritizing your tasks on two dimensions: important and urgent.
As per Dwight D. Eisenhower “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Today, on top of my priority list goes:
Urgent and Important Tasks. i.e, tasks which are important for my work and tasks that have to be addressed immediately.
Some of the examples of these tasks are:
- Taking a scheduled client call.
- Responding to an urgent email.
- Responding to a VC. (Money matters!)
Next on the list comes the important tasks that are not urgent and so on. Prioritizing my task list and my workload has helped me better manage my workload.
c. Plan – how you will complete each task
You have the list of tasks and you have prioritized them. Now comes the difficult part about planning how to execute each task.
When I am working on how I will knock off each task from my task list, I make my decision based on two simple scenarios:
i. Tasks that can be delegated
My work involves interacting with teams and delegating work to managers. Though I’m the point of contact for clients, the task has to be completed by the team lead.
I immediately assign tasks to the team leads along with the deadline. I mark myself and the team lead as responsible for deadlines to ensure I’m in the loop with upcoming deadlines.
ii.Tasks that require my direct involvement
After completing the above step, my workload usually looks manageable. Now I move to the tasks which require my direct involvement. I allocate them to myself and assign a time to complete the task.
The key to success in tasks which require your direct involvement is time allocation. Take an example of a meeting where you are the presenter. A meeting which has to be wrapped up in 30 minutes should be wrapped up in 30 minutes.
Decide in advance, what should be done to finish the task in the stipulated time.
Plan beforehand what external factors might delay the task and plan accordingly. For example, keep some extra time for questions and answers or keep a strategy in place for a colleague who tries to take the meeting off track.
Another situation where you might end up spending more than the estimated time is aiming for perfectionism. I know perfection is always appreciated, but there are tasks that do not require perfectionism.
You must get them done on time. It’s a simple choice in doing a perfect job at the expense of delaying other tasks or delivering all tasks on time.
d. Getting the Task completed
At this point, you’re done with the strategy and planning. Time to get the work done.
Here are a few tips to help you complete the tasks and stick to the schedule set by you:
Learn to cut the distractions
I hate it when someone looks at their mobile phones in the middle of a meeting to check their WhatsApp messages or Facebook feed. It very clearly means they are not in the moment. Social media and the internet in general are one of the biggest workplace distractions.
When you’re working on important and urgent tasks, social media should be the last thing on your mind. Keep them away from your life and you will swiftly complete your tasks.
Also, avoid opening emails which can wait. They will distract you from the work you are completing. Focus and channel your energy to finish the task at hand.
Learn to say No
As an entrepreneur who has been a part of multiple ventures, let me tell you a secret. If you do not learn to say “No,” you will never finish your task list by the end of the day.
Your work as an Entrepreneur involves a lot of multi-tasking and a lot of last-second work that will come out of the blue. Learn to say “No” to the unimportant and not so urgent tasks, and you will be able to manage your workload as per your plan.
Learn to be fluid with your work
By being fluid, I obviously do not mean putting all your workload aside to finish one task and letting your plan for the day go haywire.
Imagine a scenario where you’ve been waiting to hear from a client for weeks to close an important deal and the client calls you. They have a board meeting tomorrow and want you to make a presentation to the board.
It’s once in a lifetime opportunity. You know what to do ?
But before you set aside everything planned for the next day, delegate the work that can be done by someone else and re-plan the task list to accommodate the workload based on the new task (highest priority).
Managing your workload is not rocket science. All it requires is proper planning and discipline.
Always remember, 20% of the work leads to 80% of the value. Prioritize that 20% and you will be able to manage your workload efficiently.
Jasmeet is an Entrepreneur, Avid Reader, Startup Consultant, and a Reluctant Blogger at Lessons At Startup. A regular family guy and a proud father of two adorable Kids.