Store, Discard or Recycle? – How to Own Your Schedule

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Efficient prioritization and planning should be the two critical skills of every business professional. Planning is a process of thinking about the tasks and goals one wishes to achieve in a given time. Prioritization is a process of ranking the tasks according to their importance and focusing on those which are the most critical or have the biggest potential impact on your goals. Proper planning and prioritization facilitate your and your team success.

Many of us use paper planners or electronic calendars to plan and maintain some control over our schedules. The real problem comes when the carefully crafted plan clashes with reality. Every single day our mailboxes overflow with urgent requests, the unexpected meeting, ad-hoc requests. That high level of unplanned activities can lead to feeling anxious, burned out and frustrated. Thus, it is essential to approach the planning and prioritization in an efficient and practical way. Below I share what has worked for me; most likely it can work for you too.

I consider planning and prioritizing an ongoing process, never stopping and evolving together with my schedule. For the sake of presentation of my personal planning concept, I will refer to the three hypothetical baskets: “Storage,” “Discard” and “Recycle”:

  • Storage Basket: Urgent and Important Action Items
  • Discard Basket: Remaining Items (Everything of Less Priority)
  • Recycling: Discard Basket Items Moved Back to Storage

Here are my basic planning & prioritization tips:

  1. Own your calendar and do not let your calendar to own you. Create a habit of planning and reviewing the daily, weekly and monthly plans and task prioritization.
  2. Start your day with planning. Consider the action items and rank them in order of importance and urgency. Use the concept of “Storage” and ‘Discard’ baskets. Everything that is not critical should land in the latter.
  3. As the day goes by, and new ‘urgent’ tasks pop up, continue their re-evaluation. Shift tasks from “Discard’ through ‘Recycling’ back to ‘Storage’ and vice versa. Bear in mind when you put new coming tasks to ‘Storage,’ you devalue any other task on your priority list and place them in ‘Discard’ bin. While doing that, make sure you understand an impact of the task delays on the business goals. You have a limited time every day and you for sure do not want to end up working 24/7.
  4. Make some firm rules on your work-life balance. Do you engage for more than 9, 10 hours a day? Do you work during weekends? If yes, what is the maximum you can accept without impacting your private life? Stick to those rules as closely as possible to avoid burning out.
  5. At the end of every day and week review the activities’ status and re-prioritize the tasks as needed. Take a look at your backburner “Discard’ list and shift the duties between basket again. Make sure you did not miss anything.
  6. It is worth mentioning that annual planning is also critical for you and your teams to set priorities right for the year and align objectives with strategic organizational goals. Always keeps those in your mind when you create your long-term work plans.
  7. Another personal advice is on email management after vacation. We all know this pain, and we all know what it means to deal with thousands of unread messages. I read the rather bold advice of deleting all the emails after vacation. The assumption is that if there is anything important people will get back to you anyway. I personally would not dare to proceed that way, but I admire the man for his guts! Here are few pieces of advice on how to deal with emails, for those who are not thrill-seekers:
  • Sort Emails by Subject: you want to see the entire conversation BEFORE you respond. Read first the latest one. You most likely will know immediately what is going on, but also see if the issue or problem was already addressed by anybody (for example your back-up).
  • Sort Emails by From: delete junk, newsletters, coupons, and other things that simply are not critical when you deal with other 1000+ emails after your vacation.
  • Sort by Date Received: see who has been waiting for the longest for a reply. Assess the importance of those inquiries and respond to those senders based on the importance of their question.
  • When processing emails, use the above rules and deal with each and every message. Do not skip them to read later, even if you do not feel (emotionally) like dealing with them at a specific moment.

Summary:

Proper planning and prioritization give flexibility into your plans to accommodate any new additional requests. New demands always pop up thus continuous adjustment of priorities is necessary. You should always keep in mind that what is de-prioritized today may be your key priority of tomorrow. Short, long term planning and tasks’ prioritizing are critical business skills. Implementing the planning and prioritizing routines puts you in the best position to own your schedule, increase your productivity and make you successful in your job.

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