[Translate to English:] Terminplaner und Tacker in bunten Farben

Setting priorities – 5 tips on time management and prioritisation

Really truly: Who always has a grip on all their assignments and deadlines? It's not always easy to keep an eye on everything. But there is a solution: If you set your priorities right, you can make better and more effective use of your time. Prioritisation methods are especially helpful at work when it comes to mastering all those to dos and projects efficiently. This article tells you more about the methods you can use to set priorities!

Finding the right balance between time management and self management

[Translate to English:] Frau schaut nachdenklich auf ihren Bildschirm.

As soon as possible – asap for short – is the preferred timing in most companies and often in our private lives, as well. Everyone wants everything, and preferably right now. Multi-tasking takes over virtually our entire life, which can be stressful. It is worth considering whether you "only " need a new approach to time management to manage your assignments or whether you also need a different approach to self management. In most cases, the challenge does not lie in organising time – i.e. effectively and efficiently allocating time – but rather in managing ourselves and using the right methods to set priorities.

7 prioritisation methods for successful self and time management

The following methods can help you set priorities successfully. Making procrastination a thing of the past!

1. The Ivy Lee method

At the end of each day at work, write a list of the 6 most important jobs for the next day. Prioritise them in order of importance and start on the first assignment as soon as you get to work in the morning. Focus only on this one assignment. As soon as you have finished it, move on to the second job on your to do list. At the end of the day, make a list of the jobs for tomorrow. Foremost candidates are those assignments that weren't finished today.

Conclusion: You will be forced to make decisions and to focus on the most important topics. The Ivy Lee method is a simple way to help you focus on work and avoid postponing assignments.

2. The ABC method

This method involves categorising your assignments in order of importance and urgency. How do you do that? Quite simple: for each assignment, ask yourself: How important is this assignment for the success of my company? Then categorise the assignments: Category A (very important & urgent), category B (important) and C (less important). Once you have categorised your assignments, adjust your time management to suit the categorisation. The following schedule may help: Category A: 60% of your total time, category B: 25% of your total time, category C: 15% of your total time.

Conclusion: This is a very good method for understanding more about the prioritisation of the individual topics and tasks.

3. The Eisenhower principle

The classic prioritisation method, invented by President Eisenhower. Here again, jobs are classified by importance and urgency – like the ABC method. An assignment is important if it achieves objectives. An assignment that does not bring you any closer to your objectives is not important. An assignment is urgent if it becomes pointless after a specific deadline in the near future. If it doesn't matter when you complete the task (in the near future), it is not urgent. Using these parameters, you can then divide your assignments into 4 quadrants.

  • Important & urgent – Tackle them yourself right away
  • Important but not urgent – Set a precise deadline and tackle them yourself
  • Not important but urgent – Delegate
  • Neither important nor urgent – Ignore

Conclusion: This is an even more precise method for determining which assignments are the most important and how you should tackle them.

4. The Pomodoro method

Developed by an Italian, Francesco Cirillo, this method is based on his egg timer. Yes, you read it correctly. Cirillo used his egg timer in the shape of a tomato ("pomodoro" in Italian) to divide his time into 25 minute cycles. Purely because his pomodoro timer could only be set to 25 minutes. The method evolved from this. And this is how it works: You divide up your assignments in the mornings in such a way that they fit into these cycles. Larger assignments are spread over cycles; smaller jobs are collated. Then you start working and spend 25 minutes concentrating on these assignments without taking a break. At the end of each unit, you take a short 5 minute break. After 4 units, you take a longer break of half an hour.

Conclusion: Easy time management. Working in units helps to increase productivity. Time guzzlers and interruptions are blocked out and moved to the 5 minute breaks.

5. The ALPEN method

If adhered to rigorously, it can successfully structure your whole day's workflow:

A (for Aufgaben, German for jobs) – write down your assignments and deadlines – compile a to do list
L (for Länge, German for length) – estimate how long it will take you; we work with more focus and more effectively if we have a time limit
P (for Pufferzeiten, German for buffer times) – define buffer times to cope with jobs that take longer or unforeseen contingencies
E (for Entscheidungen, German for decisions) – make decisions – set priorities, using the Eisenhower method, for example
N (for Nachkontrolle, German for follow up) – how did the day go? Lessons learned for next day

Conclusion: A simple self and time management method. Ideal for combining with the prioritisation strategies.

6. The GTD principle

Developed by management consultant David Allen, the GTD ("getting things done") method has meanwhile gained cult status because it gets everything out of your head that is blocking the convolutions of your brain and reminds you of them just when you need them. It is a self management method involving your writing down everything – absolutely everything – you have to do in to do lists in an administrative system. If you write everything down and make sure your diary reminds you to do it in time, you relieve the stress in your head. Leaving you free to devote all your attention to the current task in hand without having to worry that you might forget other assignments.

Conclusion: You can manage your entire life with this method. Even if it takes a bit longer to compile these lists at the start – once you have got the routine down, your work will be more organised, more focused, and less stressful.

7. The SMART method

This method helps you find a SMART formulation for your objectives:

• S Specific: Describe your objectives as specifically as possible
• M Measurable: Stick to measurable facts
• A Achievable: Make your objectives attractive to yourself
• R Realistic: Make sure they are realistic
• T Time-based: Keep an eye on the timing

Conclusion: The SMART method can help you set objectives properly and thus efficiently arrive at the desired result.

Working more productively and effectively

[Translate to English:] Mann schaut nachdenklich auf bunte Post Its.

These seven prioritisation methods help you work more effectively. Choose one and try it out for a while to see which one suits you best. The most important thing is to apply the method consistently. If you need a bit of pressure when working, take a look at Edward's Law. The closer the deadline, the harder you work. Which might also help you achieve your objective but is usually much more stressful.

3 mistakes to avoid when setting priorities

  1. Unclear priorities cause confusion and result in our not knowing which assignments need to be tackled first. In the very worst case, we get all muddled up and don't finish anything at all.
  2. Not tackling the most important job straight away. There is a reason for the saying "Eat the frog first" – tackle the most important job of the day first. It means you will have completed a big chunk of your to dos and are not risking procrastination time and again.
  3. Not having a clear objective in mind. Why all the effort anyway? Working towards a goal not only raises your motivation, it also makes sure you set the right priorities.

If you keep your eye on the goal, always tackle the most important jobs first, and are proactive, you'll find happiness and success come virtually on their own. (Stephen R. Covey)

Why not give it a try!

Finally, 3 theories voiced by Stephen R. Covey, author and effectiveness expert

1. Be proactive Live proactively if you want to improve your personal effectiveness. Act intuitively when the opportunity arises. Think ahead and work responsibly.

2. First things first Focus on the things that are most important and most urgent. Procrastination is not an option! The methods outlined above can help you set priorities.

3. Begin with the end in mind Effective task management starts with a goal. Goals help us to make the right decisions and motivate us. So the big question is, what do I want to achieve?

Setting priorities and focusing when working is really not that difficult. The various methods offer simple ways to help you tackle your assignments. All you need to do is implement and internalise them. Thus avoiding stress and allowing you to work in a more relaxed fashion. To make your work even easier, make sure you have practical and high quality tools, such as staplers, hole punches, etc., to hand in the office. When you work with them daily, they are much more efficient and don't bog you down unnecessarily.