How To Prioritize When Everything Is #1

Time Management

Often when I am speaking in front of a group on the topic of productivity and time management, inevitably I get this question:

“I have so many tasks to complete and they are ALL top priorities. How do I figure out what to do when everything is #1?

Good question.

I have some good news and some bad news for you.

The good news is that there is a way out of this feeling of frustration and overwhelm which then allows you to determine the TRUE priority in any given moment. I call this micro-prioritizing.

And then there’s the bad news. The ability to micro-prioritize depends on your coming to terms with the idea that not everything is your #1 priority.

Think about it. If you have ever worked in a restaurant you are in a constant state of competing priorities – yet there is a flow to the process that keeps hungry people happy.

Or what about the President of the United States? His entire life is about “#1 priorities” and yet he can’t afford to be caught in prioritizing-paralysis. There is always a way out.

So how do you micro-prioritize?

Ask yourself big picture questions.

Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask that put my tasks in a larger context. This helps me determine which task is truly my highest priority when I am overwhelmed:

  • What would I delegate, delay, or get rid of completely if I got sick and had to go home right now?
  • What would I delegate, delay, or get rid of completely if I was getting on a plane in 2 hours?
  • Which tasks have the most consequences? The least?
  • Which tasks have stretchable deadlines?
  • Which tasks are urgent AND important? (Thank you Stephen Covey)

Before You Begin

Before you begin the process of prioritizing, take 30 seconds to breath deeply from your belly. This is going to rush oxygen to your brain, which is going to calm you down and help you think more clearly. Even better would be to take a walk outside.

More Prioritizing Tips

The more you plan your days and weeks ahead of time, the less micro-prioritizing you will need to do. Pre-prioritizing offsets most in-the-moment-prioritizing.

Communicating with other involved parties is a critical piece of this puzzle. Often this is the real source of anxiety. Make it a regular practice to keep people abreast of your capacity and progress and you will find it easier to prioritize.

Distinguish between YOUR priorities and others’ priorities. Often the feeling of “everything being #1” is a result of your taking on someone else’s emergency as your own.

Try this process out and tell me what you think.

Do you have other tips on how to manage your competing priorities? Be sure to share.

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