How to set priorities and control your time

Make time for what matters TypewriterLearn how to plan and prioritise your workday and you will  be more effective at reaching your goals. I have been able to see first hand what happens when busy people don’t plan or prioritise properly. As a consequence of poor planning many people often miss the results they seek.

There are only 24 hours in a day, so you need to use them all wisely. I previously shared a summary of the 80/20 Principle which, roughly interpreted; means a mere 20% of your efforts will earn you 80% of your results. I believe this is a great reminder for us all to discover which of our efforts yield the greatest results. Do them first!

Here are a few practical steps to help you plan and prioritise your workday.

  1. Make a list of tasks that you need to complete this week.
  2. Decide which tasks are urgent and which tasks are important:
    • The Oxford Dictionary defines urgent as, “requiring immediate action or attention” (“Urgent,” 2015);
    • It defines important as, “of great effect or consequence; momentous” (“Important,” 2015).
  3. Mark tasks that contribute directly to your own goals as important and those that do not as unimportant. Mark tasks that require immediate action as urgent and those that don’t as non urgent.
  4. You should make tasks that are both urgent and important as your top priority. Do them first; always.
  5. Second; you should focus on tasks that are important, even when they are not urgent.
  6. You should find a way to reduce or eliminate the time you spend on non important tasks, whether they are considered urgent or not. You might decide to take one of the following actions on non important tasks:
    • Act if tasks can be done quickly and without taking time from your important tasks. Never work on non important tasks when there are more important things to be done;
    • Automate routine tasks, like email sorting, if you have a way of doing that;
    • Delegate task if there is someone more suitable to take care of it within your organisation;
    • Deny unimportant tasks and requests when there are more important things to be done.
  7. Make time for what matters. An easy trap to fall into is to make and prioritise your task list but not to block out time in your calendar to get these tasks done. Find a way to focus on each task, so you don’t fall into the trap of multi-tasking.

I first learned about the importance of categorising tasks in terms of urgency and importance from Stephen R. Covey’s, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Covey provides a simple summary of this in his ‘Time Management Matrix’ (Covey. S., 1997 pp148-154).

I have used this simple method many times and find it to be extremely effective for managing my own time. I have also observed effective managers use their time in the same way. Take action by deciding and acting on your own priorities today.

Reference List:

  1. Urgent. (2015). In the Oxford Dictionary Online. Retrieved from
  2. Important.  (2015). In the Oxford Dictionary Online. Retrieved from
  3. Covey, Stephen R., (1997). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Great Britain. Simon and Schuster UK Ltd.

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