Life’s a game of needs and wants.
I want a strong relationship with my wife and kids, so I need to spend time with them.
I want to avoid hospitals as much as possible until I’m in my 70s or 80s, so I need to take care of myself by eating right and staying active.
I want my lights to stay on, so I need to work so we can pay the bills.
The problem is, those needs and wants don’t always go together. In fact, most of the time what we want to do is not at all what we need to do.
I want to drive an awesome car, but I need a car payment that doesn’t drive us into self-imposed poverty.
I want to eat a giant bacon cheeseburger with fries, but I need my heart to keep kicking in the near and distant future.
You may want to follow your passion and launch into your great new idea or business full-time, but you need to pay bills and keep the lights on.
That’s called prioritization. And whether you can see it or not, priorities directly affect your productivity.
If enjoying myself and letting loose is my number one priority in any individual situation (say, at a baseball game or birthday party), eating healthy may take a back seat to hot dogs and birthday cake.
The same goes for your career and your business.
Every time you decide to work on one task, you’re deciding to not work on another.
Deciding to work on side projects during hours that should be devoted to the thing that’s paying your bills is the same thing as deciding that your bills aren’t important.
Look, I struggle with the same thing. When what you want and what you need are on opposite ends of the spectrum, I think our natural tendency is to lean more towards the “want” side.
But I learned a common sense solution from Dave Ramsey’s book EntreLeadership that helps me prioritize and keep myself in check so I’m getting the most important things done every day.
It’s as simple to do list and it goes like this:
Make a list of things you need to do (this can be as long as it needs to be).
– Things that need to be done today get marked as an A
– Things that need to be done very soon get marked as a B
– Everything else can be marked as a C. However, if these things aren’t moved to a B or A soon, they should be delegated or put in an idea file. Don’t let these C tasks linger on your to-do list.
Now go through the As, and ask yourself, “What is the single most important item that must be done today?” Put a 1 beside that (A1).
What’s the next most important? Make it A2, etc. all the way through the Bs and Cs.
Now reorganize your list from A1 down.
When problems or tasks come up, ask yourself if that item is more important – not more urgent, but more important – than A1 (or whichever item you’re on at the time). If not, put it on your list in the most appropriate place and keep working down your list.
This may seem like a very basic thing to do, but most people don’t do it. I know for me, I’ve done to-do lists before, but never explicitly ranking them in order and sticking to that order. I just always used to write everything down, then do them as I feel they need to be done.
Making your to-do lists the way Dave recommends forces you to only focus on the things that absolutely have to get done today before you start losing focus and doing other things.
That way, at the end of the day you’re not looking back wondering where the time went and what you accomplished.
It also makes you put the “need-to’s” above the “want-to’s”, and seeing it on paper like that should help keep your priorities on track and your productivity on the rise.