First Things First

Don't know where to start? Six ways to set priorities.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the December 1999 issue of Subscribe »

It's tempting to give all your tasks top-priority or low-priority status, but how do you decide what actually is or isn't important? Setting realistic priorities serves many purposes, including helping you stay focused and productive. Use the following criteria to determine your top priorities.

  • Know the difference between important and urgent. Important means something needs to be done; urgent means something must be done immediately.
  • What's the worse thing that would happen if you didn't complete the task today? Would you lose your business? You may think everything has to be done today, no questions asked. Be realistic--admit you can't do everything.
  • Will postponing one task affect other projects you're working on? Tasks and projects can have a domino effect. If you do one task, but fail to do another, you may have wasted effort on the first task. For example, if you set up a meeting with a client out of town and schedule your flight, but wait until the last minute to book your hotel, your whole trip could fall apart if there's no room at the inn..
  • Is it a task that helps you achieve your goals? If you haven't yet set both personal and business goals, put aside time to do so as soon as possible. Remember the adage, "If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?" By not setting clear goals, you may be accomplishing tasks with short-term benefits.
  • Focus on quality, not quantity. You may feel a sense of accomplishment after crossing several tasks off your list; however, the tasks you accomplished may be of little benefit to you. In the meantime, your important tasks remain on your list, uncompleted.
  • Which task will increase your sales? Will writing a proposal be more profitable than dropping off product samples or talking to a client? If the task only serves to keep you busy, it's not a top priority. Think in terms of how the task improves your productivity, performance and income.

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