Ask these 3 questions
To put it simply, priorities are the areas of our lives that are meaningful and important to us. Priorities are made up of activities, practices, or relationships that we want to put genuine effort and time into. Establishing priorities implies that there’s a hierarchy which can be followed for deciding where to direct your time and energy in different areas of your life and/or work.
So rather than feeling like everything is important, priorities help you to choose what you need to focus on first. This way we move from living in a reactive zone to a proactive zone.
A tool that I provided my client with to determine if something was worth their time is to filter every new to do and opportunity through the following three questions:
- Which of my big-picture goals will this help me achieve?
- Where in my calendar does this task belong?
- How long will it take?
What asking these three questions does is ensure that a new to do is of value to you, that you have the space to do it and take it on, and also that you’re realistic in committing to seeing it through.
Our next step was to put each item on my client’s current to-do list through the same process. Boy, did we find a lot of items that didn’t make the cut!! It was a revelation for my client and something I see often when people take a moment to stop and reflect. It saves you a lot of time in the long run.
Now what to do with those items that didn’t make the cut? Run the 4Ds over them.
The 4Ds are handy in times of overwhelm and having too much on your plate. They are Delete, Diminish, Delegate and Delay.
Are there tasks, meetings, items there that just don’t fit anymore, that are outdated and that wouldn’t have too much impact if they didn’t get done? Just because we once did something or had an idea, doesn’t mean that they are all actionable or ongoing. Possibly there are tasks on your list and mind that someone else has given you that don’t align with your values or goals. Can you pass these back? Or check-in and see if it’s still on the other person’s agenda?
Seeing this in action looks like: My client was spending a lot of time doing unique information packs for each new client, he ended up deleting this part of his process after recognising that people weren’t reading his packs.
Are there some tasks on your list that perfectionism is holding you back on? Are there tasks that you think you need more time to get done than you actually do? Take things down a level from perfect to good enough and just get it done. Here is also a great area to see if you can streamline some processes – can you cut out some steps and still achieve the same outcome? How can you help yourself by making things smaller?
Seeing this in action looks a bit like this: A client of mine was aiming to make ten calls to prospects a day but she kept putting it off, instead we went through the list and got it down to five.
Are there tasks that someone else could be doing? A team member? A service? A family member? Could you outsource a task? Sometimes tasks are important but they don’t need to be done by us. It still gets done and by getting it off of your plate, more time is freed up for other more important tasks.
On a personal note, I’ve recently brought a Graphic Designer on board to take on some of my more meatier design needs. Rather than struggling away, it’s a much better use of my time to outsource this and take up someone else’s genius!
Can something wait? Does it have to be done this week, month, year? Delaying is not procrastinating, nor does it mean failure, it simply means that you are scheduling its completion for a later time. It’s smart time and energy management. Not only do you give your brain relief right now but you are giving the task its best shot of being done well rather than hurrying to do it now. Who knows, in the future, you’ll not only have better energy resources to tackle it but you may have learnt something between now and then that makes the whole item an easier experience than expected.
Rule of Three
In reality this looks like a client of mine who is running a business, starting a new business, and has a young family to be present for. School holidays cropped up and my client was stressing trying to get to all things on their plate. What we did was pare back, popped all non-essential new business tasks on hold which then allowed them to focus on their kids for the break. By delaying tasks til after the holidays he essentially gave himself permission to be present and that in turn reduced his stress.
So remember the 4Ds!
Now, you may be wondering, how do we live by our priorities day in, day out?
The best technique I’ve found to work is the Rule of Three. Our brains are trained from early on to think in threes: for example, the beginning, the middle, the end. This is why this technique works so well. How do you do this?
- At the beginning of every day, mentally fast-forward to the end of the day, and ask yourself: When the day is over, what three things do I want to have got ticked off? And how do they tie into my big picture goals? Write those three things down.
- Do the same at the beginning of every week.
The three things you identify then become your focus for the day and the week ahead. Easy!
Do this for a few weeks and you’ll eventually find your sweet spot. Where you’re identifying tasks that are not too hard but not too easy. Reflect at the end of the week: Were they too small? Or were they too large and intimidating?
I encourage my clients to start with setting their Daily Top Three and then build up to adding in the Weekly Top Three.
Remember, priorities are made up of activities, practices, or relationships that we want to put genuine effort and time into. Being clear on your priorities enables you to direct your time and energy into different areas of your life and/or work. Use the above techniques to help you weed out fake priorities and truly focus on the things that matter.