If you are overwhelmed by your to-do list, be smart and take a few minutes upfront to prioritize.
It takes only moments at the start of your workday, but you will accomplish what most needs to be done while enjoying peace of mind.
When you work-at-home as a freelancer or consultant, you can structure your day as you wish.
Here is a tremendous opportunity to run your own life, but you must take responsibility and decide what work gets done now and what must wait.
We have no boss to help us figure it out. It’s all up to us.
Priorities: The big picture
Your priority is to meet client deadlines with the highest quality of work. (If you are not dedicated to doing your best, something is wrong. Perhaps you undercharge and resent it.)
Marketing, longer-term projects and inspired initiatives come in second if you are serious about prioritizing. You can’t focus and do your best on everything all at once.
A step-by-step guide on how to figure out what to do first on your to-do list.
Here’s a simple framework to conquer pandemonium through common sense.
1. List everything important you want to accomplish today.
(If you are a compulsive list writer like me, you’ve probably already done this.)
2. Identify everything that is not work-related.
In particular, see if there is anything personal that must be done before the work day’s conclusion. If there is, can you do it right now? Setting up a doctor appointment or putting Olivia’s dress in the washer, so it is fresh for tonight’s school play must be done now. If it is scheduled for a specific time, note that so you don’t overlook it. Everything else that is personal should wait.
Put aside all the nonessential personal or family tasks. If it’s not essential, ignore it till evening. Trust me, the dirt and the laundry piles will still be there.
3. Underline work projects with a tight deadline, such as those due today at 5 p.m . . . Or perhaps yesterday at 5.
This work will demand your best attention today, but put off digging in until you review the rest of the list.
4. Notice to-do items that must be done in advance for longer-range projects.
The project deadline may be in the future, but it involves tasks that take time to implement. If you must ask someone else for information, ask as soon as possible. Otherwise, your emergency becomes their emergency, and this won’t play out well. If you need to order information or products online, order them now, so you need not pay rush charges.
5. Select marketing tasks for the near term. You have sketched out a marketing strategy, haven’t you? (If not, do it later.)
Effective marketing requires consistency. You should have a limited number of daily or weekly marketing tasks. These should be strategic, meaning that they connect personally with strong prospects. Fooling around on Facebook doesn’t count. Nor does watching cute cats and dogs on YouTube.
The best marketing often involves attendance at live networking events, personal emails, and phone calls, researching leads or following up with past contacts. Some of these activities require daytime hours. Give such tasks priority during the day . . . obviously.
In the long run, continuous marketing is essential. Make it a daily habit. However, it may still come second to immediate deadlines.
6. Quickly note your longer-term work projects.
They come after sirens-blasting priorities, but most days they should be in the works. They are more engaging and stimulating when you have time for thoughtfulness.
7. Don’t overlook projects that require marinating.
For me, this is thinking about topics I will write about later. All I need to do is remember that I should think about this. I implant a question in my brain—the answer may well turn up later while I am doing housework, driving, sleeping, or avoiding more pressing work. Take a minute to put your subconscious to work.
Do you have it all sorted out?
You can do this in a few minutes. It’s worth the time because you’ll have focus. You’ll feel more peaceful, less harried, as you settle into the one most crucial project demanding all your attention right now.
As you clear the most time-sensitive work off your desk, you free up space for longer-term projects. Assuming you don’t slack off without the sword of a desperate deadline hanging over you, you will soon be able to block off time for your most aspirational objectives.
How do you decide what get’s done first? Drop us a note below, we’d love to hear your time management tips!