Prioritisation: Why It is Not Effective Until It Hurts

Why did the manager prioritize the stapler over the pencil? Because it was the staple of the office!

Everyone at work talks about prioritisation. It’s a concept that is often cited as a key factor in success, productivity, and effective time management. However, the truth is that many people don’t fully understand what prioritisation really means or how to put it into practice. In this blog post, I’ll explore my views on prioritisation, why it’s not effective until it hurts, and how to prioritize effectively in both your personal and professional life.

What is Prioritisation?

At its core, prioritisation is simply the process of deciding what is most important and should be done first. I am not good at multitasking. So I rely heavily on prioritisation to get sh*t done.

It’s a way of making choices about what to focus on; and more importantly what to ignore. Whilst, the idea of prioritisation is simple, but the execution can be challenging.

One of the key challenges in prioritisation is that there are always more things to do than there is time to do them. We all have limited time, energy, and resources, so we must be selective about where we invest them. Otherwise, we won’t able to complete those tasks that actually move the needle. It requires us to be intentional about where we put our time and effort, and to make difficult decisions about what we can and cannot do (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is a book I would recommend).

Why It’s Not Prioritisation Until It Hurts

One of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to prioritisation is trying to have multiple priority lists. We think we can prioritize everything, and as a result, we end up with a bunch of different lists and priorities that are all competing for our attention. The problem with this approach is that it dilutes our focus and makes it difficult to make progress on anything.

There is only one of you, so you shouldn’t need to have two priority lists.

And the truth is, prioritisation isn’t effective until it hurts. To truly prioritize, we must be willing to make sacrifices and say no to things that are not essential. This means making difficult decisions about what we can and cannot do, and being willing to accept the consequences of those decisions (I have written a blog post before on how to say no without feeling guilty).

It’s only when we start saying no to things that we can truly focus on what’s most important. When we have too many things on our plate, we end up spreading ourselves too thin, and we don’t make meaningful progress on anything.

Why We Should Say No

Saying no is one of the most important skills one should develop when it comes to prioritisation. It’s also one of the most difficult. Many of us struggle with saying no because we want to be helpful, we don’t want to disappoint others, or we fear missing out on opportunities (I have discussed these topics in detail in the above blog post).

Saying no is about setting boundaries and being clear about our priorities. Saying no is not about being unhelpful or selfish, it’s about being honest and realistic about what we can realistically accomplish.

Tips for Effective Prioritisation

So, how can we prioritize effectively? Here are some tips:

Start with a Single List: The first step in effective prioritisation is to create a list of everything you want/need to do. This includes both short and long-term tasks, as well as personal and professional responsibilities. This list serves as a way to get everything out of your head.

Identify Your Top Priorities: Once you have this list, the next step is to identify your top priorities. These are the tasks and responsibilities that are most important to you and require the most attention. You can have several top priorities, but try to limit them to no more than three or four. These are the things that should be at the top of your priority list. When prioritizing, it’s important to consider both urgency and importance. Urgent tasks are those that require immediate attention, while important tasks are those that contribute to long-term goals and objectives. Ideally, you want to focus on tasks that are both urgent and important, but sometimes you may need to prioritize one over the other.

Be Realistic: When prioritizing, it’s important to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Don’t try to take on too much or set unrealistic deadlines for yourself. This will only lead to frustration and burnout. Instead, be honest about what you can realistically accomplish and prioritize accordingly.

Say No: We have covered this in detail before.

Review and Adjust: Always keep in mind that effective prioritisation is an ongoing process. You should regularly review your priorities and make adjustments as needed. This may mean adding or removing tasks from your list or adjusting your timelines. The key is to be flexible and adaptable as your priorities and circumstances change.

Remember to start with a single list.