Prioritizing your workload

Do you have well-thought-out workplace priorities? Or, do you often have trouble deciding if you should set aside an important sales report to meet with an unhappy customer, or wonder if it’s best to answer your e-mail, answer the phone, or mail customer statements?

“In order to reach your workplace goals, it’s essential to define just a few key priorities and expend most of your energy supporting those priorities, instead of spreading yourself thin trying to keep up with too many concerns,” says Jeff Davidson, author of The 60 Second Organizer. “If you don’t decide what’s important at work, anything can compete for your time and attention and dissipate your day, your week, your year, your career, and your life.” 

If you take the time and effort to set priorities, it will be easy to decide what to do when several tasks are competing for your time.

Mr. Davidson offers these strategies for setting priorities at work.

Be prepared

In the workplace, it’s essential to discuss priorities with your boss, but you must prepare before meeting with him or her. Because you have firsthand knowledge of your workday, you should come prepared with what you think are the top priorities and a strategy for getting them done.

To do so, for a week, write down everything you do during each day. Make a separate list for each day of the week. Then make separate lists for tasks you do biweekly, monthly and annually.

Sort it out

Look through your documents, calendars, and support materials for information that can help you evaluate your work priorities, and examine the lists of tasks you created during the week as you do the following:

  1. See if any projects or tasks can be grouped together or done more efficiently.

  2. Mark tasks you think should be deleted.

  3. Add tasks that would improve your work and efficiency. “It’s crucial to have the mental and emotional strength to cross off what doesn’t apply,” explains Mr. Davidson. “You may even discover that making one bold, decisive change can take the place of several other things you can delete from your priority list.”

  4. Label your tasks A, B or C according to what you think should be the priority.

  5. Plot out your A tasks on a calendar first. Next, plot out B tasks. Your C tasks should be reevaluated to see if they’re even necessary. If you decide to keep them, plot them on your calendar. Even though you may not be able to stick to your calendar, you have given each task a time frame and can reschedule tasks if you have to.

Meet with your boss

Now you have the information and thoughtful evaluation you need to discuss priorities with your boss. Be prepared to be flexible because your boss may change some of your priorities and tasks. After the meeting, prepare a list of priorities you’ve agreed upon.

Review your priorities often

At first, it may be easy to forget what takes priority. Therefore, keep your list posted in your work area, and review it daily so you’ll stay on track.

“With so many things competing for your time and attention, it’s easy to lose sight of priorities and lose valuable time,” reminds Mr. Davidson. “You’ll soon realize the time spent setting your priorities is saving you from countless moments of frustration and indecision, and is allowing you to be more productive on the tasks that are most important.”

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