Imagine all of your priorities are balls you are juggling. Too many balls in the air at one time can result in total chaos. It creates the feeling you are doing everything, working all the time and yet never accomplishing the things that are really important. To change this dynamic, decide which balls are made of rubber and which are made of glass. You have to decide what can you let go of and what will shatter if dropped.
Studies show that the more goals we set for ourselves, the less likely we are to achieve any of them. If we set three goals, we have about a 90 percent chance of success. In contrast, if we set ten goals, we have almost no chance of accomplishing any of them. Why? Because when we take on too much at one time, we lose focus and become distracted, which leads to procrastination and stress.
The question is how to narrow it down. Spread out your priority projects so that everything isn’t an urgent matter all of the time. Make a list of everything you want to accomplish and give each item a ranking of high, medium or low priority. Now reduce the list to tasks that absolutely must be done by you.
Look at your weekly calendar and actually schedule a time to accomplish the jobs most important to you — such as that report you have to write at work, the evaluation that is way overdue, the family dinner you keep promising to host. This system works because it provides the opportunity to actually schedule the important tasks, not just meetings, so you don’t feel as if everything must be done today. This increases the chance of getting it done while providing a schedule that you can manage.
The first time you try this exercise, expect to have more needing to be done than there are hours in the week. That’s normal. But doing this exercise also helps you see what might be eliminated all together or be scheduled farther out. It helps identify the things that you really should be saying no to. You don’t have to rationalize to others why you can’t do something. The art of saying no can be a difficult one to master, but be persistent in your practice. It helps to remember that saying yes to too much is actually saying no to other more critical items, like spending time with your family or getting some much needed rest.
Don’t worry about scheduling an end time on every project when you first start this exercise. Instead, just schedule a time to start it, and then schedule a time to work on it. That in itself will provide a sense of success and accomplishment. You will be motivated to keep going and stop putting off the hard tasks because your schedule will also have some time to have fun, spend time with friends and family, exercise, and do something just for you.
The most successful executives are those who successfully set limits and manage their time well, using this technique of actually looking at the days of the week and scheduling time to fit in the most important things first. Once you get in the routine of making a weekly schedule for your priorities, the natural flow will be to look further ahead and schedule projects months in advance.
So make your list for the week. Narrow the list to the most important tasks you need to accomplish. Look it over to see what you can eliminate entirely, and consider where you might need to start saying no, so you can say yes to yourself more often.