You have a lot on your plate — the dogs are barking, the kids need feeding, and all of your work work needs finishing. You have emails to send, documents to edit, and meetings to schedule. Beginning your to-do list feels like a task in-and-of-itself.
We’re identifying our top challenges at Chillistore, and while “asking for help” is our top challenge, prioritizing our work is a close second — and the two are related. Most of the time, if we don’t prioritize our tasks, we don’t know how much help we actually need. Think about it: you can’t ask for help and then just hand your computer over to a willing helper. You need to explain why you need help, as well as what kinds of help would be most effective. Break down your workload into digestible bits (hand the helper your keyboard, or your mouse — not the entire computer!).
What’s the best way to break down tasks? We find it easiest to gather all of the “quick tasks” on our lists and complete those first. You’ll feel accomplished, which will likely encourage you to dive into the meatier tasks.
It’s also important to check the flow of your work — have you been in a consistent rhythm, or have there been starts and stops? If there are tasks that seem stuck, ask yourself why that is — perhaps the ball is in someone else’s court, and you need to nudge them. Or, perhaps you’ve had a mental block and haven’t been able to complete something. Regardless, acknowledging what’s stuck and why is the first step toward becoming unstuck. Completing what you can, and making a plan for what’s to come, are great ways to create forward motion and momentum.
Understanding your unique process is also important. Our internal conversations have led us to conclude that trying to keep our to-do lists in our heads can become overwhelming. Try as we might, we can’t all be like those waiters who remember every order without a notepad! At Chillistore, we use the Pomodoro method to keep ourselves focused and on track. This method focuses on breaking large tasks into smaller ones; combining smaller tasks and completing them as a unit; and dedicating 25 uninterrupted minutes to the task(s) at hand. After each 25-minute session, you get a short break! This method allows you to stay organized and complete things efficiently, without getting burnt out.
While we subscribe to Pomodoro, we understand that not everyone’s prioritization looks the same. Some people are able to maintain consistent schedules from day to day, while other people’s change regularly. For example: Marta is able to schedule a set amount of “immersion time” per day, during which, she closes her apps and focuses on work. Mari, on the other hand, finds that blocking time on her calendar doesn’t always work — things come up. Instead of foregoing immersion time altogether, she simply moves it to another time that’s more aligned with her schedule.
Once you know your process, you can identify any necessary prep work. Su’s mornings are regularly packed with meetings, so she does her prep work in the afternoons. Before finishing her work day, she outlines what needs to get done the next day. This helps one day flow into the next, without too much confusion. Someone else, however, might do their clearest thinking in the morning, and so might get organized during the first part of the day. Both approaches are okay, so long as they work for the individual.
Another key to prioritization is being realistic about your expectations. Keeping a tidy calendar might work for one person, while another person might completely neglect the calendar’s insistent notifications and reminders. What type of person are you? Can you stay organized digitally, or do you need a paper calendar? Do words work, or do you need cues and reminders to stay organized (like the ringing of an alarm)? Understand how you function, accept it, and use it to your advantage. There’s no wrong way to function, so long as you’re completing tasks in a way that works for you.
Now, let’s get back to work!