Prioritise significance: how to tackle your todo list

Whenever you say yes to a task you are effectively saying no to a million other things that you could be doing. So how do you best decide what to focus on?

First it is best to know what your long-term values are so that you can align them with your short-term actions. Once you have done that, then you can focus on the daily tasks and prioritise accordingly.

I’ve written before about how to elevate the essential tasks by defining what’s important and urgent, but recently I came across this talk by Rory Vaden which exposed me to a new kind of thinking.

Not only is it best to spend most of your time working on what is important to you; you should also prioritise tasks by their significance.

Ask yourself – what can I do today that will make the most significance in the future? Or put another way – what can I do today that will create more time tomorrow?

We all probably keep a todo list in some form, be it on paper or in our heads; and we likely work through it methodically, top to bottom, or at least skip over those we don’t feel like doing and chose the easier ones first.

The better way would be to look at your todo list and identify what will create the most significance in the future. Sometimes it might be prioritising an evening attending your child’s sports game so that they know you appreciate them. Sometimes it might be prioritising staying an extra 30 minutes at work to put the final touches on a presentation. Sometimes it might be prioritising your laundry so that you have enough clean clothes to wear for the coming week.

You can easily see how all of these three examples are important, however you can only work on one thing at a time, so deciding which one to do first can be a challenge.

This is where you have to let go of the guilt that you may feel when you choose one task over another, or as Rory puts it, give ourselves the emotional permission to choose one task over another.

In this example it might be best to prioritise going to your child’s game because you’ve either missed the last 3 times or you know there won’t be another chance to spend quality time with them for a week or so. Prioritising this task will create the most significance because afterwards you will have more time to attend to other tasks and not feel as guilty prioritising them over your children.

Or it could be that you need to ace a presentation tomorrow to secure a client who will provide a guaranteed income stream for your business, therefore providing the most significance by alleviating the financial pressure for the next month.

Or finally, you choose to do your laundry or get the dry cleaning so that you can be presentable for that presentation providing the obvious knock-on significance.

Choosing the right task isn’t easy but adding significance into the equation helps to make things a little clearer.

We can tend to brush off seemingly mundane tasks like laundry and cleaning as unimportant but at the right time they can provide the most significance. Or you could choose to spend an hour preparing lunches for the week ahead so that you don’t have to cook a meal or buy something out everyday.

The significance process

When looking at your todo list or thinking “what do I need to do today?”, process each task through this quick mental filter:

  1. Significance – will completing this task create me more time tomorrow?

  2. Importance – does this task align with my long-term values?

  3. Urgency – how urgent is this task over others?

It’s not a fool-proof method but it’s a good start to choosing what to focus on.

Lastly, whatever task you do choose to do, really let go of the guilt and pressure to do something else so that you can give over all your attention to that task and fully commit.

Life isn’t about perfection but by making better choices we can take a step in the right direction.

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