How To Prioritize: 6 Steps

I thought I would share my process for prioritizing. I touched on it a little in past blog posts such as The Need for Structure: Creating a Schedule, How To Focus Your Attention When You Have Too Many Things To Do: Life, and How To Focus Your Attention When You Have Too Many Things To Do: Writing. I thought I would flesh it out into a more usable and universal form here. Warning: this method will require some deep thinking on your part.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Brainstorm a list of things you want or need to work on. This can be anything. Don’t put labels on everything yet. Just write whatever comes to mind.

Brainstorm a second list of goals. Where do you want to be, in any aspect of life six months from now? A year? Five years? Ten Years?

Finally, brainstorm a list of steps you can take to reach your goals.

Step 2: Organize

Organize the brainstormed list of wants and needs. Then, further organize it into short-term and long-term projects.

Specify which tasks on the wants and needs lists apply to the goals list. Break down the steps to achieve your goals list into a timeline. What can you do right now? In a week? In a month? In six months? What can wait? What needs to wait until you have more information or experience or any other prerequisite you don’t have now?

The needs need to be done. To prioritize the wants, continue steps three through six.

Step 3: Prioritizing Questions

Ask yourself questions to determine how pressing each task on all three lists is. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • What can you do right now? In a week? In a month? In six months?
  • What can wait?
  • What needs to wait until you have more information or experience or any other prerequisite you don’t have now?
  • What do I need right now? (money, keeping my blog updated, meeting a deadline for some of the projects, relaxation)
  • Are other people depending on me to do something right now?
  • What will help me reach short-term goals?
  • What will help me reach long-term goals?
  • What am I most passionate about?
  • What will give me the greatest return on investment? (money, followers, a movement towards a goal)
  • What will give me the greatest sense of accomplishment?
  • What is the easiest thing for me to do?
  • What do I feel like doing?
  • What skills do I need to acquire in order to do each task?
  • What do I need in order to achieve this goal? (money for college or classes, scheduling in time in a busy schedule, a new set of skills, finding resources, a mentor, a support group, etc.)
  • What do I have time for?
  • When can I fit it into my schedule?
  • How much time will this task take?
  • How much of a commitment am I willing to put into the project at this time? (time, money, energy)
  • How much of a commitment am I able to put into the project at this time without burning out? (time, money, energy)

Brainstorm a list of questions that pertain to the projects you are working on.

Step 4: Prioritize The Questions

Organize them into the most important to less important things. This is based mostly on intuition, feeling, and personal preference. The key here is to think about it and make it so the top two to five questions if all answered positively, would be a sure-fire way to catapult the task to the top of your priority list.

What would make the project a priority to you? What would motivate you to do the project right this second? What things do you normally consider important and why?

Sometimes you have to do some self-observation as research for this step. Notice why you make decisions you do. Notice what makes something a priority to you over the next couple of weeks. Write down the determining factors, questions and considerations that went into your decision.

Each project may have a slightly different order for the priority questions. A general one will suffice from your observations, but if you want to really go into detail, do this step for every project you have.

Step 5: Answer the Questions

Go through each task and answer the questions. The questions might not pertain to every project. Answer what you can.

Step 6: Make Your Decision

I like to make a general rule of thumb. In my opinion, if the first five questions relevant to the project on the prioritized question list are not in the affirmative, I throw the project on my “later” list. I may get to it. I may not.

On my “later” list, I write down the reasons why it was put there. Did I not have the skills? Did I not have the time, money or energy to commit to it?

Revisit the “later” list as often as you need to. Revisit and update the goals list as well.

This process may take weeks to complete. Consider this an ongoing project. Take a little time out of every day to work on a step or two until you have completed the list. It will be worth it, I promise.

I hope this helps those of you. You may breeze through all six steps. You may skip steps. This method may not work for you. This is just a suggestion on how to prioritize if you don’t already have a system for yourself.

 

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