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Why and how to prioritize - Part 2 of a series on Focus (Part1 here: goo.gl/9xcoU)
What will be written on your tombstone? What are you doing today to make that happen?

Heads up: the below is my "recipe for prioritization" in ~1,000 words. There is a ~10-word version: be clear on your prioritization criteria + prioritize often, starting from a "NO" assumption. Maybe I should stop here (and you too). But it took me a while to be happy with how I prioritize, and I still feel I can improve a great deal. If you are in a similar situation, I suggest your read on.

Focus without prioritization is like a sailboat without a helm: it won't take you very far. In fact, for many who have an innate ability to focus, "focus = prioritization + filtering" (thank you +Rod Dunne).

This is obvious, but we need to prioritize because
1- There is (way) more we can do than what we will do
2- If we don't prioritize, others will prioritize for us. I don't have anything against others, but unless we want to be the slave of one single master, we'd better get started and do the prioritization ourselves.

So how to prioritize
This question has been addressed by millions of talented professionals, and you will find thousands of tools/systems on the web and elsewhere. More often than not, I have found suggestions too complicated and/or too limited. So here is my contribution :)

1- Be clear on what matters to you
Start with your lifetime goal(s). The good news is once you have them, you're done, you'll just need to check in periodically. Try to be short but specific. It may sound corny, but having articulated your lifetime goals is important: they will serve as your compass throughout your life, your ultimate prioritization criteria. Personally, having defined my lifetime goals brought additional peace, confidence and determination to my life.
Once you have your lifetime goals defined, many will tell you to draw a path to get there. I really don't think it matters much. For some it will be useful, for others it won't. Life is full of unexpected events: your ability to navigate matters more than a carefully crafted plan... (but it doesn't hurt)

Sanity check your lifetime goal(s): if they were written on your tombstone, how would you feel?

Now think about your support system. To put it simply, whose energy fuels your energy? Put these people first. Be mindful of their needs and priorities. Revisit as you make new acquaintances :). Everyone's support system is different, but it generally help to have a diverse and robust support system. Warren Buffet's financial advice (concentrate, as diversification is quickly achieved) is highly applicable here: 10 stocks carefully selected will achieve a better performance AND diversification than a large index.

Sanity check: is there anyone you interact to regularly not on that list? Is there a good reason why? Is there anyone you haven't interacted with on that list? Is there a good reason why?

2- Define mid term goals (1 month to 1 year is appropriate).
What matters here is to have a manageable list of goals (less than 10, I personally have 5 pro and 3 perso). These goals must be written in such a way that reading them helps visualize "what success looks like" at my chosen time horizon. Having measurable objectives (KPIs...) helps, but it is not critical.
From there, it helps to budget your time according to your goals, but it is not always possible. I personally don't.

Sanity check. "what's the link with what really matters to me?" Hopefully the answer will be obvious for some goals (not necessarily all, but that's ok). If not, you may want to revisit

3- Make prioritization AT LEAST a daily routine
1- and 2- were about defining prioritization criteria (i.e. what matters, the people who matter, what we want to accomplish). Now we need to apply them.

Let's first realize that we live in an unpredictable world. Many unexpected activities will pop up. What we need to do is "not let events take over".

The best way is to create a prioritization routine. By this I mean carving out a bit of time to think about our upcoming activities and choosing what we will and will not do. I do this daily by looking at my calendar and glancing over my email when I open my computer (5 minutes max) as well as after completing every serious task/meeting by taking a quick walk.

Use the routine that works for you. E.g. +Eileen O'Duffy says "I allow at least an hour each day for strategic thinking/planning/reflection. Switch everything off. I normally walk to the beach without my phone".

The other key here is to be realistic on what we will be able to do today. The good news is by prioritizing regularly, we create quick learning / improvement cycles (a bit "a la" Pomodoro, thanks +James O'Sullivan and +Vincent Murphy for suggesting, I will get back to it in later posts on how to actually focus).

Sanity check. Do you know your agenda today? Have you blocked enough time to finish what you need to finalize today? Does everything fit in your day, with some room for the unexpected? If you answered no to any of these 3 questions, re-prioritize now

4- As long as it is one of your priorities, it can't hurt doing it
Regarding what to actually start with, there are various schools of thought. One is to start with your frog (get the tough thing out of the way in the morning, you have more energy and if you don't you will keep being distracted by it - Thanks +Madeline Ng for sharing). A variant is put your big rocks first, i.e. start by allocating time to your largest projects and then squeeze in the rest until you are full. A contrario, some suggest doing the quick and easy first to get it out of the way and be able to focus on the long and difficult.
I personally find it counterproductive to force me to work on something in particular. Rather, I give myself options. The only catch is that all my options are somewhat aligned to my goals . More on this on my post on procrastination: goo.gl/ChfCY.
Some like having a to do list. I used to have one. The key here is to have ONLY ONE, and make it easy to order the task list. todo.ly has a nice to do list (reordering and nesting elements is super-easy - Thanks +Amarpreet Singh for the tip)

Sanity check. Are you doing something productive right now? If not, move on.

5- Park stuff
Here is a key to effective prioritization (thanks +Karim KAIEL for sharing). As new and unexpected requests pop up, park them. Add to your to do list. But be very clear on one thing: having acknowledged a request, even having written a note to do it, doesn't mean we should do it. Rather it is the opposite: parking it was our polite way of saying no. "I realize there must be a good reason why you asked me this. I will take it in consideration. Thank you and good bye".
There is a balance to find between being open and welcoming to one's environment and getting some actual work done. Also, often, addressing a problem on the spot is actually time effective. I would not say that I use the "Park stuff" technique vigorously. I am still looking for the right balance here

Sanity check. Are you working more than you'd like? If yes, you may want to revisit your priorities or park more stuff

Here we are. I hope you find the read helpful. I am looking forward to your comments / suggestions.
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11 comments
 
That resembles a few meetings I have been in... :)
 
Very useful, thanks, +Antoine Carriere ! ADD is my friend, so priority strategies make for interesting challenges!
I work in more circular fashion, rather than linear, with a strong predilection for dot connecting. Hmmm, hmmm...
 
I've been using Trello for several week now to track tasks and prioritize. Working well, mostly because I can change priorities daily and with a glance, everyone knows the game plan.

What I need to do better is define mid-term goals, though the checklists in Trello help a lot with that.

Your suggestions on How to Prioritize are helpful, +Antoine Carriere
 
i echo what jeff and gregory posted.
 
another tracking option is astrid. i've found it to be helpful.
 
The logic of social networks is to attract our curiosity on various topics rather than encourage us to deepen specific topics. The result (at least for me) is that the yield (= things learned / things readed) is low. The fluttering is the enemy of concentration. That's why I circled very few G+ members.
 
I am with you +Jacques Chazarain: social networking tools are WMDs :). Circling very few people is definitely a great tip. Other is to use the "sliders" on top right of each circle specific stream to mute most circles on your main stream. I am planning something on "focus and social networking" (later in my "Focus" series).

In the spirit of "deepening" through constructive criticism, I would not use the word "logic". I agree a key "consequence" or "implication" of formalizing and expanding one's network, which social networking allows is encourage breadth (and being reactive) vs. depth (and being proactive). But I would not necessarily say that it is the "logic". What do you think?
 
I agree +Antoine Carriere that "logic" is too strong, may be I would have written : "style" ?
There is another point about breadth versus depth : If you choose yourself your interest topics then you are motivated to go in depth but, when you read posts, the subjects are given to you, so you switch in breadth mode.


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Great post Antoine! I also tend to spend some time debating what tasks I'll conquer next based on what's most important and probably easiest and more fun to complete. I think I need to "park" more in my life because I end up distracting my self with something that's just popped up, and such as a new task I received via email whilst I am working on something else. So, it seems to be a common factor that the trick to resolving procrastination may be withdrawing ourselves from everything and reflecting about our present, short term goals and how they will help us achieve our long term goals.

It's so difficult to disconnect oneself from the demands of our environment. That's my one big issue. It'll be like tech and gadget withdrawal! :-)
 
Great post, Antoine. A pleasure, as always ;-)
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