Perhaps the greatest single problem that people have today is "time poverty." Working people have too much to do and too little time. Most people feel overwhelmed with responsibilities and activities, and the harder they work, the further behind they fall. This sense of being on a never-ending treadmill can cause you to fall into the "reactive/responsive" mode of living. That is, instead of clearly deciding what you want to do, you continually react to what is happening around you. Pretty soon, you lose all sense of control. You feel that your life is running you, rather than that you are running your life.
On a regular basis, take stock of yourself and what you are doing. You have to stop the clock and do some serious thinking about who you are and where you are going. You have to evaluate your activities in the light of what is really important to you. You must master your time instead of becoming a slave to the constant flow of events and demands on your time. And you must organize your life to achieve balance, harmony, and inner peace.
Sociologist Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard University wrote a book titled The Unheavenly City, in which he described one of the most profound studies on success and priority setting ever conducted.
Banfield's goal was to find out how and why some people became financially independent during the course of their working lifetime and others did not. He started off convinced that the answer to the question would be influential contacts or some other concrete factor. What he finally discovered was that the major reason for success in life was a particular attitude of mind.
Banfield called this attitude "long time perspective." He said that men and women who were the most successful in life and the most likely to move up economically were those who took the future into consideration with every decision they made in the present. He found that the longer the period of time a person took into consideration while planning and acting, the more likely it was that he or she would achieve greatness during his or her career.
The key to success in setting priorities is having a long time perspective. You can tell how important something is today by measuring its potential future impact on your life.
Economists say the inability to delay gratification – that is, the natural tendency of individuals to spend everything they earn plus a little bit more, and the mindset of doing what is fun, easy, or enjoyable right now – is the primary cause of economic and personal failure in life. On the other hand, disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.
So setting priorities begins with deciding what you want most in life and then organizing your time and activities so everything you do is the most valuable use of your time in achieving those objectives.
With your larger long-term priorities in order, you can much more easily decide upon your short-term priorities.
The process of setting short-term priorities begins with a pad of paper and a pen. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by too many things to do and too little time in which to do them, sit down, take a deep breath, and list all those tasks you need to accomplish. Although there is never enough time to do everything, there is always enough time to do the most important things, and to stay with them until they are done right.
Peter Drucker once said, "Efficiency is doing things right, but effectiveness is doing the right things." And this requires thought.
Once you have listed your tasks, ask yourself this question: "If I were to be called out of town for a month, and I could finish only one thing on this list, which one thing would it be?" Think it through and circle that one item on your list. Then ask yourself: "If I could do only one more thing before I was called out of town for a month, what would it be?" This is the second thing you circle on your list.
Perform this exercise five or six times until you have sorted out the highest priorities on your list. Then number each priority according to its importance. With these priorities, you are now ready to begin working toward the achievement of your major goals.
Once you can clearly see the one or two things that you should be doing, above all others, just say no to all diversions and distractions and focus single-mindedly on accomplishing those priorities.
Much stress that people experience in their work lives comes from working on low-priority tasks. The amazing thing is that as soon as you start working on your highest-level activity, all your stress disappears. You begin to feel a continuous stream of energy and enthusiasm. As you work toward the completion of something that is really important, you feel an increased sense of personal value and inner satisfaction. You experience a sensation of self-mastery and self-control. You feel calm, confident, and capable.
Getting Things Done
Here are six ideas that you can use, every day, to help you set priorities and keep you working at your best:
- Take the time to be clear about your goals or objectives so that the priorities you set are moving you in the direction of something of value to you. Remember that many people scramble frantically to climb the ladder of success, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong building.
- Develop a long time perspective and work on those things in the present that can have the greatest positive impact on your future. Maintain your balance in life by setting priorities in the areas of your health, your personal relationships, and your financial goals.
- Make the commitment to improve those aspects of your life that are most important to you. If you're in sales, learn how to be an excellent salesperson. If you're a parent, learn how to be an outstanding mother or father. The power is always on the side of the person with the best practical knowledge.
- Be sure to take the time to do your work right the first time. The fewer mistakes you make, the less time you will waste going back and doing it over.
- Remember, what counts is not the amount of time that you put in overall; rather it's the amount of time that you spend working on high-priority tasks. You will always be paid for the results that you obtain, not merely the hours that you spend on the job.
- Understand that the most important factor in setting priorities is your ability to make wise choices. You are always free to choose to engage in one activity or another, but once you have chosen, you must accept the consequences of your choice.
Resolve today to set clear priorities in every area of your life, and always choose the activities that will assure you the greatest health, happiness, and prosperity in the long term. The long term comes soon enough, and every sacrifice that you make today will be rewarded with compound interest in the great future that lies ahead for you.
In order to get your personal time under control, you must decide very clearly on your priorities, but at the same time you must also establish "posteriorities" as well. Just as priorities are things that you do more of sooner, "posteriorities" are the things that you do less of. It is just as important to know what to focus on as it is to know what not to focus on.
Some think that time management is only a business tool, like a calculator or cellular phone. It is something that you use so that you can get more done in a shorter period of time. In reality, it is not a peripheral activity or skill. It is a core skill upon which everything else in life depends.
The fact is, your calendar is full. You have no spare time. Every moment is extremely valuable. Therefore, to do anything new, you will have to stop doing something old. In order to get into something, you will have to get out of something else. In order to pick up something, you will have to put something down. Before you make any new commitment of your time, you must firmly decide what activities you are going to discontinue.
Time is your most precious resource. It is the most valuable thing you have. It is perishable, it is irreplaceable, and it cannot be saved. It can only be reallocated from activities of lower value to activities of higher value. The very act of taking a moment to think about your time before you spend it will begin to improve your personal time management immediately.
Personal time management and proper prioritization enables you to choose what to do first, what to do second, and what not to do at all. It enables you to organize every aspect of your life so that you can get the greatest joy, happiness, and satisfaction out of everything that you do.
Six Steps to Efficient Prioritizing
- Be clear about your goals and objectives.
- Develop a long-term perspective.
- Make the commitment to improve.
- Take the time to do it right the first time.
- Always work on your highest-priority activities first.
- Make wise choices of which activities are higher priority.
Follow these steps and you’ll consistently make the best use of your time, all the time.