Updated: Feb 28, 2020
I've written a few posts about how to and the importance of creating proper to-do lists and thoughtfully prioritizing the items therein. However, how do we know which task should we tackle first? When the first look at our to-do list tells us that everything in there is a must-do, what do we prioritize? How do we identify the one task that's more important than the rest?
In Margaret Davis' book Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci’s Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation, I found a very fitting quote for this topic of prioritization. "The public had the impression, for example, that Mrs. Kennedy was doing an enormous amount for the arts, was busy every moment. But Mrs. Kennedy herself was much too wise to be busy every moment promoting the arts. She would do one thing with superb taste, and it would have a tremendous impact."
That's the key to prioritizing: tackling first the one task that will have the most significant positive or negative impact. In most cases, the answer is evident, and we don't require much brainstorming to figure out which task is more important than the rest. Yet, in other cases, the difference is subtle. What do we do in such situations? Well, we ponder the consequences of doing or not doing each task.
Let's start with an example. When you have some extra money, enough to pay off some of your debt, you'll pay off first the debt with the highest interest rate. You'll pay off the debt that will have the most positive impact on your current financial situation. The same principle works with prioritization. You tackle first the task with the most positive or negative consequence, the task that will generate the most significant impact on your productivity.
Go down your to-do list and identify which task will generate the most benefit if completed now or the most severe consequence if left undone. For instance, since tax day is fast approaching, getting ready to file your tax return should be getting higher and higher in your order of priorities. If you bring your paperwork to your accountant soon, you'll have the benefit of peace of mind knowing that your tax filing is on time. On the other hand, if you delay getting the paperwork to your accountant, you run the risk of being late and paying penalties for late filing—a consequence I'm sure you want to avoid.
Every task on our list has positive and negative consequences -big or small; we must identify which has the highest positive or highest negative outcome. Most of the time, the task with the most severe consequence if left undone is the one we keep putting off because it's difficult or complicated, tedious, or extremely time-consuming. And that's precisely why we should take care of it first thing in the morning. Completing that particular task first will increase our motivation, and make us feel more productive -and that's an amazing feeling!
Unfortunately, we cannot circumvent complicated, dull, or unpleasant tasks, and putting them off for days, weeks, or months, won't make them disappear. We can only wish, right? So, why not prioritize them, tackle them early on, and be done with it? Weight the benefits or adverse consequences of each task, and consider undertaking the most important ones when your energy level and mental clarity are at their best.
Prioritizing doesn't mean doing first what we like to do and keep kicking the can on the rest of the pending activities. Prioritizing means dealing first with what's most important to avoid paying the price for delaying something we know we need to do.
Are you usually good at prioritizing your to-do lists? Do you tend to kick the can on tedious yet unavoidable tasks? Share your thoughts below. Did you like what you read? Let me know by commenting, liking, and sharing this post!