Setting priorities! (Short-term / Easy)

Articles, Management - Dr. İzel Levi Coşkun - September 4, 2015

The stress caused by not being able to organise one’s work or time may even affect health…

I have noticed both in the workplace environment and in some associations of which I am a member that people have serious problems managing their time. I have met many people who do not have personal lives, have problems at work or avoid taking part in non-governmental organisations due to time management failure. The problem, and of course the excuse, is always the same… “There is no way I can meet that deadline, no I can’t do that, I don’t have time…” As a matter of fact, the trick is to be able to manage your time…

When I was in the elementary school, every Friday our teacher would make us write down what we needed to do in the coming week. I would take great pleasure in crossing out the items on my list as I completed them. Back then I thought this was a magical habit because when I did not make that Friday schedule I could never complete all my tasks and my whole week would be chaotic. On the other hand when I did prepare a schedule, everything was completed on time. Of course, I was too young to understand how much I would benefit from that habit in the future.

Maybe 50 years ago when we only made a few phone calls or had one appointment a day and when it took a long time before a message reached its recipient, the difference between those who could manage their time well and those who could not was not so obvious. However, not being able to be organised in the midst of mail bombardments, telephone traffic, all that workload and endless competition can in fact cause serious problems. While some people pretend that they do not care about the external problems caused by a lack of organisation, the stress generated by not being able to be organised poses health problems for others.

In reality, the key to managing time is to first set our priorities and put them in order. When we do not set our priorities, for example when we cannot determine which task has priority over the others while making our weekly schedule on a Sunday night, we start having problems. For most people, this is what causes their failure to organise the tasks they have in their mind. Not being able to set priorities.

Well then, how do we set priorities? This is the critical point. You can easily determine the priority of most of the tasks on your list but there are certain things for which setting a level of priority requires making predictions. I am not only talking about weekly schedules here. We all have desires, wishes and goals for the future. These goals have different priorities in terms of being put into practice in a timely manner. In such cases, getting close to the right decision requires some experience in planning.

When I am setting my priorities there are two points I take into account. These are “long-term vs. short-term” and “easy task vs. difficult task”. I give priority to the easy, short-term tasks and complete them within the shortest time possible, so that I have both ample time for the difficult tasks and so that my mind is not busy thinking about other things. I usually try to tackle the difficult, short-term tasks at one sitting, while I tend to address the difficult, long term tasks at intervals, between other things, so that they are not left to the last minute.

It is useful to perform what I call a “feasibility analysis” when determining the priority of a task or piece of work. You may find this difficult at first. When you make monthly or yearly plans, make predictions as to why you choose what you choose and the results your choices will lead you to. Put these predictions in order of term (long/short) and difficulty (easy/difficult), and try to do this consistently. For example, I will be completing my graduate studies by such-and-such a year (long-term/difficult) or I have to see so and so by such-and-such a day (short-term/easy). You will find that your predictions about the priorities you have set will start coming to fruition on the dates you have assigned. The number of deviations will drop and the outcomes will get progressively closer to what you had in mind. Just like those company budgets, which have inconsistencies at first but fall into place over time, resulting in lower deviation rates.

Just as realising your goals on your predicted dates and in the forms you envisaged helps you set your priorities, it will also equip you with increased self-confidence. However, if the feasibility analysis contained goals or priorities that could not be met or were delayed, it would be useful to analyse the reasons why, just like we study the causal links in budget deviations and record the reasons for that in our book of experiences. The aim here is to help you avoid any reasons for deviation that may have been caused by you this time when making the necessary preparations for the next time. If you set your priorities for your critical decisions – whether that is a difficult decision such as drawing up a new career plan or deciding when to go an appointment – you will find that life becomes much easier for you.

It goes without saying that you must not fall into the illusion of thinking you have control over every single minute of your life for the sake of organisation and forget to make room for surprises.


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