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It means deciding not to do things you'd really like to do. It also means deciding what's the most important task even when everything on your list feels crucial.
But if you can prioritize until you have only one thing to focus on right now, you can't help but get to work.
To-dos arrive from a variety of sources. Your boss sends you an email, you get a Slack message from IT, a bill arrives in the mail, or a coworker asks for a favor in the hallway.
In order to prioritize your task list efficiently, you need a master to-do list that contains all of the tasks you need to prioritize and complete from all of those sources.
Go through your list, review each task, and decide what you want to do with it. You have 4 options:
Take all of your tasks and assign each a priority.
This tool is particularly helpful for those times when you're drowning under a million things to do, as it helps you visualize what's really important and what can wait.
Whatever you do, avoid the busy work and time wasters that land in the not urgent and not important quadrant as much as you can.
Assign each task a priority number, to weigh each task against the others in order to determine where to start first.
In these cases, it's also helpful to break your tasks down into smaller tasks to better assign relative prioritizations.
Choose a few (usually 3) tasks to get done each day; those become your MITs.
When using MITs, your to-do list would have 1-3 of these, and anything else listed would become bonus, "nice to do if you have the time" tasks. You only work on bonus tasks if all your MITs are done—and if all you get through are your MITs, you've still had a successful day.
When you're really struggling to get anything done, you should try this method, even if temporarily.
When you look at your task list, pick a single thing to focus on that day. It could be one big task you really want to get done, or it could be a theme that relates to several of your tasks. Choosing a single task or idea to focus on can be a good way to remind yourself to stay on track whenever you find yourself getting distracted.
The Pareto principle states: You tend to get 80% of your results from 20% of your work.
What's really tricky is working out what that 20% is that brings in the results. But once you do, you can apply the ultimate ruthless prioritization to your workday: Make that 20% work your priority—and your benchmark for a productive day.
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