Establishing Effective Priorities

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Setting a goal is easy. Achieving a goal is hard. Whether you're striving to lose weight in the new year, or working toward a promotion in your job, saying you want to do something is only the first step in actually getting it done.

I have two primary functions at the Garland Chamber: Strategic Planning and Marketing. Both require that I set goals, and if I'm really fulfilling my responsibilities, I need to meet those goals too. I'd imagine your job is similar. You've got to do what you say you're going to do!

As my role has evolved, I've tried several methods of doing my most effective work. What I've learned is that prioritizing is key, and it's helpful to break down the long-range goal into bite-sized, actionable tasks. For me, it all starts with a list.

I know what you're thinking. "Really, Jenna? A list? That's pretty basic. I'm not going to read your entire blog if that's the best you've got."

I hear ya. Lists are basic, but I think that's what makes them such a great foundation for establishing effective priorities. And in case you can't make it to the end of this thing, I'm going to give away my process right here.

  1. Write a List of Everything that MUST be Done in Your Given Time Frame
  2. Give Every Item on Your List an Estimated Time to Complete
  3. Add Deadlines for Each Task or Project
  4. Add the Tasks to Your Calendar

That's it. It's easy. And if you can carve 5 or 10 minutes out of your day to do this simple activity, it will have a tremendous impact on your productivity, and your stress!

So, here's how I do it ...

Write a List of Everything that MUST be Done in Your Given Time Frame

For smaller, routine tasks, I like to work a week at a time, and a week in advance. If I can help it, you'll never find me working Thursday on a project that's due on Friday of the same week. Chamber newsletters are a great example. The publication goes out on the first Tuesday of every month. I'll have "Complete the E-Newsletter" on my to-do list the week prior. 

For more time-consuming, large-scale projects, I create the entire project task list the minute it lands on my desk. The Garland Guide magazine falls in this category. We produce the Guide every year, and as soon as a completed magazine is delivered, I create the task list for the next publication. For annual projects, a task list generally already exists and can be modified based on lessons learned.

Give Every Item on Your List an Estimated Time to Complete

I've been putting together the Chamber's newsletter for more than 6 years, so I'm pretty familiar with how long it will take me to get one done. I start there. Then I take a look at the list of content and figure out if I'm writing a feature article, if I need to adjust any layouts, and if any web content needs to be added to accompany the newsletter information. All these factors could lengthen my standard task time.

Add Deadlines for Each Task or Project

This step is critical, especially if your job requires any level of process improvement like mine does. I have a lot of projects without specified time frames. For example, I like to freshen up our email format at least once a year, offering new content and a more current, user-friendly format. If I don't assign a deadline, that item will live a perpetual existence on my to-do list, constantly getting pushed to the bottom until I have the extra time to do it. I don't know about you, but I almost never find "extra" time! If there's a task important enough to put on your to-do list, it deserves a deadline too. 

Add the Tasks to Your Calendar

When I can avoid it, I don't put items on my calendar bumped up next to one another. Why? Because, like you, I get interrupted. Someone may pop in with a question and take 10 minutes out of my estimated task time. If two tasks were snuggled up next to each other on my calendar, I'd be 10 minutes late in starting the second one. I also like to give myself a little time to breathe. Taking 15 to 30 minutes between tasks gives me time to follow up on emails, return voicemails and organize any tasks that have popped up since I made my original schedule.

I already told you I like to work in advance, and here's why: Sometimes things pop up that need to take priority. If I'm working ahead and have left myself some wiggle room in my calendar, I can move tasks around and still meet deadlines. As an added bonus, my whole team can take a look at my calendar and know exactly when they can expect an item I'm working on for them to be completed.

At the end of the day, it's all about accountability.
Prioritized, time-sensitive lists help keep you focused and on track toward meeting your goals. This system may not work perfectly for you, but if you're struggling to find enough time to get your work done, or you find yourself procrastinating on some of your more daunting responsibilities, I encourage you do give it a try. Here's to a new year full of new goals and, hopefully, many achievements!
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