Time Management: Set Clear Priorities

14/03/2023by dang tin0

Set Clear Priorities

I HAVE STUDIED time management for more than thirty years, reading hundreds of books and articles on the subject, listening to countless audio programs, and attending semi- nars. Using the ideas that I have assembled, I have written books of my own on time management that are worldwide bestsellers, produced audio and video learning programs, and conducted seminars and workshops on time manage- ment all over the world.

What I discovered was simple: All of time management boils down to helping you determine the most important task that you can do at the moment, and then giving you the tools and techniques to begin immediately with that one task, so you can keep working on it until it is complete. I explained the ABCDE method in the last chapter. It is one of the most powerful priority-setting methods ever dis- covered. There are a series of additional techniques that you can also use to set priorities.

The Pareto Principle

In 1895, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto concluded that the 80/20 rule seemed to apply to money, property, and the accumulation of fortunes in every society. After years of research, he discovered that 20 percent of individuals and families—those he called the “vital few”—controlled 80 per- cent of the wealth and property throughout Europe.

The 80/20 rule seems to apply to almost all areas of human endeavor, especially tasks and responsibilities. That is, 20 percent of the work that you do will account for 80 per- cent of the value of all the work that you do. Peter Drucker says that often it is the “90/10 rule.” Sometimes 10 percent of the work that you do will account for 90 percent of the value. When you start off each day with a list of your tasks and responsibilities, before beginning work, quickly review your list and select the top 20 percent of tasks that can make the greatest contribution to achieving your most important goals and objectives. If you have a list of ten items to accom- plish on a particular day, two of those items will be worth more than all the others put together. Your ability to clearly identify those two items and act on them first will largely determine your success in your career.

Put on the Pressure

Here’s another technique that you can use for setting priori- ties: Make up your daily list of activities and then ask your- self, “If I were called out of town for a month, starting tomorrow, what activities on this list would I want to be sure to complete before I left town?”

The greatest enemy of time management and personal productivity today is “majoring in minors.” Because of the natural tendency for each person to follow the path of least resistance and to settle into a comfort zone, it is normal and natural for people to begin with small, easy, fun, enjoy- able, and usually unimportant tasks and activities at the beginning of the day. But alas, whatever you start doing at the beginning of the day quickly becomes the pattern that you will follow in the hours ahead. By the end of the day, you may find that you have spent all of your time on small and meaningless tasks, and you will have accomplished nothing of real value.

Get More Important Things Done

Another technique you can use is to imagine that you come into work on Monday morning and your boss approaches you with a dilemma. He has just won a fully paid vacation for two people, with first-class airfare, to a beautiful resort. His problem is that he is too busy to take advantage of this prize, but it is time dated. It must be used starting first thing tomorrow morning.

Your boss makes you a deal. If you can get all of your most important work done by the end of Monday, he will give you and your spouse this wonderful, all-expenses- paid vacation. If you had this kind of incentive or motivation, what would you do? You would probably be astonished at how much work you could get done in that single day. You would probably complete the top 20 percent of the tasks that you had planned for the entire week.

With that kind of an incentive, you would not waste a single minute. You would have no time at all for idle conver- sation with your coworkers. You would start early and im- mediately work through coffee breaks and lunch and concentrate single-mindedly on clearing your desk by com- pleting your most important tasks. You would become one of the most productive people in your organization, virtu- ally overnight.

This is a great exercise for you to practice on yourself. This exercise just illustrates the fact that your efficiency and effectiveness is largely a matter of choice. With a suffi- cient incentive, you would be astonished at how productive you could be, virtually in a few minutes. With a sufficient incentive, and a decision on your part, you would almost immediately become one of the most valuable people in your organization.

The Law of Three

This principle is probably worth the cost and time of reading this book. It is based on an amazing discovery that I have made over the years, working with many thousands of exec- utives and business owners. It is that, no matter how many different things you do in a week or a month, there are only three tasks and activities that account for 90 percent of the value of the contribution you make to your business.

If you make a list of everything you do in the course of a month, it will probably include twenty, thirty, or even forty different tasks and responsibilities. But if you review that list carefully, item by item, you will find that only three items on your entire list account for 90 percent of your value to your business. How do you determine your “big three”? Simple. Make a list of all your work tasks and responsibilities, from the first day of the month to the last day, and throughout the year. Then, answer these three magic questions.

1. If I could only do one thing on this list, all day long, which one activity would contribute the greatest value to my business? Your most important task—the one that accounts for the greatest contribution you can make to your busi- ness—will probably pop out at you from the list. It will usu- ally be quite clear to you, as it is clear to the people around you. Put a circle around that item.

2. If I could only do two things on this list, all day long, what would be the second activity that would make the great- est contribution to my business? Usually, this item will jump out at you as well. It may require a little bit more thought, but it is usually clear and obvious.

3. If I could only do three things on this list, all day long, what would be the third activity that would contribute the most value to my business? When you analyze your answers, you will clearly see that only three things you do account for almost all the value that you contribute. Starting and completing these tasks is more important than everything else you do.

Here’s an important point: If you do not know the answers to these three questions, you are in serious trouble. You are in great danger of wasting your time and your life at work. If you do not know the answer to these magic ques- tions, you will always end up working on lower-value and often no-value activities.

If you are unclear for any reason, go to your boss. Ask what your boss thinks are the three most important things that you do to make your most valuable contribution at work. Ask your coworkers. Ask your spouse. But whatever you do, you must know the answers to these three questions.

Pass It Along

Once you are clear about your “big three,” you must help all the people who report to you gain clarity about their “big three” as well. There is no kinder or more generous thing that you can do for your staff members than to help them become absolutely clear about the most important things that they do to make the most valuable contribution to your business. In a well-managed department or organization, employ- ees know exactly what the most important things are that they could do to make the greatest contribution. At the same time, every worker should know what every other worker’ big three are. All day, every day, everyone should work, both alone and together, to complete one or more of those three big tasks. People who are dominated by “fast thinking” naturally react and respond to the demands and pressures of the moment. They continually veer off track and away from working on their highest-priority tasks. But this practice is not for you. Before you begin work, take some time to think slowly, select your most important task, and then start work on that task to the exclusion of everything else.

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