Why Knowing How to Prioritize Matters
It can be tough to figure out your next step when you’re facing a bunch of responsibilities all at once. Truly, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when tasks or decisions pile up, whether big or small. You may struggle to stay on one item at a time or fail to fully complete one thing. Alternatively, you may just not know where to start. Thus, knowing how to prioritize can ease some of the frustration and confusion and help you on your way.
Prioritizing can be a simple or difficult process, depending on many factors. Obvious situations such as deciding between completing a report that’s due tomorrow or a passion project with no deadline are no-brainers for most people. But many of us may choose the wrong path in the moment.
However, both in work and in life, we will run into situations that are not so clear. Should you focus on raising a family or building your career first? Is it better to upgrade your bedroom first or your living room? When applying for jobs, should I focus on pay or growth opportunities? These situations have no real right answers. They come down to an individual’s circumstances and preferences.
Thus, learning how to prioritize is more than memorizing a formula. You need to know yourself, your abilities, and your goals; learn how to analyze situations; and figure out how to predict outcomes. These skills come easier to some than others, but they are skills. Anyone can improve and become better at prioritizing.
Benefits of Learning How to Prioritize
Learning how to prioritize will help you improve your decision-making skills in multiple spheres. Indeed, this vital skill will help you earn promotions at work, especially in the managerial department, and excel in your personal life. Leaders need to know how to prioritize tasks and ensure staff focuses on what’s important. As a result, employers will look for people who get stuff done.
Outside of work, you’ll be better prepared for tough situations and decisions. When things go wrong, it’s easy to get bogged down by tasks and chores. Prioritizing skills allow you to take better care of yourself and your home and take quality steps toward improving your home and well-being.
Below, we’ll go over how to become better at prioritizing.
Put Everything Down on Paper
When learning how to prioritize, you should recognize the importance of putting your thoughts down on paper. When everything is floating around in your head, it can be difficult to organize it all. You may lose important details, forget complications, or fail to think far enough into the future.
Writing your tasks down on paper or typing them into a document makes them tangible, permanent, and easy to return to. Nothing gets lost in the void as you walk downstairs or head to a new room. Furthermore, having a physical copy allows you to jot down notes and easily break decisions down into smaller blocks. And you can cross things out as they’re complete, which can be rewarding in and of itself.
As we mentioned, knowing how to predict the outcomes of your actions is a large part of learning how to prioritize. You’ll need to have some foresight for just about every task you plan. For example, imagine you’re a parent trying to clean the house before their child returns from school. Every room needs attention, but you do not have time to deep clean each one. You must prioritize and figure out which rooms are most important to you to be clean.
Considerably, the kitchen and bathroom may catch your eye. The kitchen must be clean so you can make dinner and the bathroom gets rather gross when it goes without cleaning. However, your bedroom is a mess and you get stressed out when it’s in disarray. You may choose to prioritize cleaning your own room first and end up straightening up your child’s room as you collect laundry. But other things pop up during the day. Your mom calls to catch up on life, the baby has a blowout, and you discover your spouse never took the clothes out of the wash when you tried to start a new load. Your child runs off the bus and through the door and now it’s pizza night again.
While you did nothing wrong and were productive all day, you never got around to your two biggest concerns: the bathroom and kitchen. While things are bound to pop up, especially if you’re a parent, a little bit of foresight would have gone a long way. In this case, you could have considered baby-related delays and the consequences of not getting the kitchen cleaned.
Decide What Matters Most to You
Beyond the logical, your personal feelings and goals may impact how you prioritize. This sentiment is especially true in your personal life but may also affect certain parts of your job. Consider if you’re looking to move departments or into a new role. You’ll probably focus on tasks that highlight your skills and show you’re ready for a new position over everything else.
Thus, knowing how to prioritize involves knowing yourself. You can’t make the best choice for you if you’re not quite sure what your end goal is. So, as you’re analyzing the tasks ahead, consider how they play into your grand plan.
Break Each Task/Goal Into Bits
Another key step in learning how to prioritize is knowing how to break your tasks or goals down into smaller bits. Big lofty tasks are hard to tackle. For example, getting promoted is a great goal to have. So is starting a family or renovating your house. But when you get down to business, what do you actually do first? A lot of people stall out on their dreams because of this one simple thing: they don’t know how to take the first step.
Notably, when you rent your house, you may find it fun to get caught up in Pinterest posts or Tiktok videos from interior designers. But seeing and watching is a lot different from doing. Even when you know what you want to do with your home, there are dozens if not hundreds of steps between vision and reality. You must measure, find correctly sized furniture, hire contractors or learn how to do some DIY, paint, sand, level, and so on and so forth. Your one goal of renovation consists of dozens of bits that you need to acknowledge and prepare for.
However, you don’t want to get too granular with this stage. Too many details can be just as overwhelming as too few. But it’s good to get a good outline for your plan so you can track progress and prioritize steps. Notably, it’s not smart to buy furniture before you replace the floor.
Figure Out What’s Possible Right Now
As you’re figuring out how to tackle your goals and tasks, you always need to consider how realistic your list is. Choosing to complete an important report first makes sense, but not if you don’t have all of the data on-hand or available. Same with a goal such as buying a house. You may need to take several steps to get there as getting a mortgage may not be possible right now. For example, you may need to get a new, stable job to qualify and save money. But to get that job you might need a new degree. And to get that degree, you may need to take a step backward and move out of your apartment and back into your parents’ house or into a dorm.
Our paths to reaching a goal are rarely linear. Thus, a big part of learning how to prioritize involves looking at your goals and resources and figuring out what’s possible. You may find that your journey will take a lot longer than you originally hoped. But at least you’ll know and you’ll be able to plan every step as you move closer and closer to your goal.
Regularly Assess Your Progress
As you move through your tasks, you must keep track of where you are. People tend to either overestimate or underestimate how long it will take them to complete work. Notably, many assume that cleaning is a very time-consuming process. They’ll estimate vacuuming takes thirty or forty minutes when they rarely spend more than fifteen minutes on it. Of course, unenjoyable tasks often feel like they last longer than they truly do.
Thus, it’s important to regularly assess your progress. You may discover that your plan isn’t accurate and that it needs to be reworked one way or another. Sometimes, this is for the better and you wind up with extra time. Other times, you’ll wind up spending hours longer on the first task than you planned to.
When this situation occurs, it’s important to learn from it but acknowledge that it can happen to anyone. Truly, some things are just out of our control. We can’t control every factor or outside force. Thus, that brings us to the last step of learning how to prioritize.
Don’t Be Afraid to Reprioritize
Once you improve your prioritization skills you’ll realize just how important reprioritization is to the process of completing goals and tasks. You’ll want to switch up your focus as you go, analyzing your progress and what you’re excelling at. For example, as you clean your house, you may want to maintain a certain level of cleanliness. On cleaning day, you’ll gather trash and laundry, vacuum, and declutter as you go. But you never fully clean any one room. Now, dust and dirt are building up. To fix this, you should reprioritize and dedicate part of your cleaning day to fully clean one room each week. Thus, you don’t get overwhelmed and your house gets cleaned.
Notably, reprioritization will fade out for repeated tasks. Indeed, a process will become habitual and you’ll learn what aspects are the most vital over time. But for everything new and unknown, if you’re not reprioritizing, you may be doing something wrong.
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