Life gets complicated pretty quickly, particularly when you’re striving to maximize your productivity and success. One way to gain control over the complications is to craft them all into a “Priority Action Plan.”
Done properly, a Priority Action Plan creates a centralized repository where you can keep track of all the balls you’re juggling, and quickly identify the most important item you should work on next, a strategy I’ve discussed at length in my book: How to Organize Your Work and Your Life.
Here’s how to benefit from a Priority Action Plan, starting now:
The idea of a Priority Action Plan is to keep track of everything you’re working on and trying to accomplish. Obviously, this requires that you itemize them all.
Many of these tasks, projects, and goals are “top of mind,” and therefore easy to remember and write down. Others are slightly more hidden, and won’t emerge into your conscious awareness until they come up on their own, akin to a “Check Engine” light on your dashboard.
There’s also a steady, inbound flow of new tasks, projects, and goals that you should add to your Plan as soon as you can see you’re going to work on them.
As you build this Plan, remember to include your longer-term goals, even if they are not currently represented by a specific task or project that requires your immediate action.
Don’t be discouraged because you may need to spend a few hours getting this list compiled. Keeping it current will be much quicker.
As you compile the complete list of your tasks, projects, and goals, you may begin to notice patterns. Some of them may be aspects of a single item. Some of them may be similar to others, or may overlap to some degree. Some of them may be outliers – far different from or unrelated to anything else on your agenda.
Take advantage of these natural patterns by arranging your tasks, projects, and goals into meaningful groups. As you do this, you may notice ways to refine or restructure individual items to better reflect how you’ll be spending your time and energy, and what you’re ultimately trying to accomplish.
If you’re doing this right, you’ll begin to notice that some of the groups are more important and/or more urgent than others. You may also notice that some are shorter term (such as filing your taxes) and others longer term (such as raising your kids or completing a product development cycle).
While there’s a natural tendency to prioritize “urgent” and short-term items over everything else, it’s important to intentionally block out time and energy for “important” tasks, projects, and goals, particularly those that promise large benefits and more positive outcomes. You must also schedule work on those with longer time-horizons that you could (but shouldn’t) justifiably kick down the road until they become more urgent.
Because you have only a limited supply of time and energy, spending it all on urgent, short-term tasks, projects, and goals is – effectively – allowing events and other people to control your schedule.
Think about it: the odds are extremely low that events and other people will care to maximize your long-term productivity, success, and satisfaction. That responsibility is entirely your own.
With all this information tightly organized, prioritized, and readily available, it becomes very easy for you to run through the full inventory of tasks, projects, and goals in your Priority Action Plan to select the next ones to work toward. When several tasks seem about equally urgent, important, and beneficial, prioritize the ones that seem more interesting and exciting to you.
You’ll become even more productive when you pre-select these “next” items during your “off” hours, while you’re cool, calm, and collected, rather than hurriredly in the heat of daily action.
One reason is that it takes time and energy to go over the Plan and make this kind of “Basic Choice.” Doing this chore multiple times a day is inefficient and taxing.
But even more importantly, making these “Basic Choices” in advance allows you to craft a carefully dispersed agenda that even-handedly pushes forward a multitude of important tasks, projects, and goals. Creating a list of “Basic Choices” at your leisure, instead of in the midst of a hectic workday, also eliminates most worries that you’ve inadvertently let an important item fall through the cracks.
Stick To the List
All these tips and techniques will help you climb up through your life’s complications to a higher level of productivity and success, but only if you stay connected to your Priority Action Plan.
By resisting the tendency to make impulsive choices on the fly, without regard to your Plan, you assert greater control over your schedule, reduce any time-sucks or energy-drains such as hesitations or second-guessing, and steadily direct your best efforts toward tasks, projects, and goals that will maximize your outcomes, productivity, and success.
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