Prioritization made simple: write a list of all the things you have to do and cross them off as you go. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, right?
Not quite. To-do lists might help you get things done today, but they're also a double-edged sword. Ticking things off looks productive, but it's an illusion: there's always something new to add so you never feel accomplished. And unless these things are truly top priority, they aren't serving you in the long term anyway. When I used to rely on this kind of system, I spent more time reorganizing my list than actually doing anything!
There's a ton of prioritization systems out there (GTD, anyone?). But over the years, I've developed a simple, two-step process that ensures I'm always focused on the most important task.
It's a take on the Ivy Lee Method, and I call it My Top 3 (MT3). Here's how you can make it work for you, too.
Step 1: The Painted Picture
You can't prioritize anything unless you have a clear end goal. First, you need to create a vision of what you want to achieve in the long term. At O2E Brands, we call this our Painted Picture: a highly detailed snapshot of where our business will be every five years. It keeps us on track and gives us a benchmark to measure all of our priorities against.
The Painted Picture is the central component that makes the MT3 system work. With everything we do, we aim to move closer to this vision. If a task doesn't contribute to these long-term goals, then it isn't a priority and isn't listed in the next step of the process.
Take a piece of paper and divide it into thirds. The top portion is where you'll write out (a mini version) of your Painted Picture. It can be steps towards achieving a personal goal (like running a marathon) or a professional one (like starting your own business). It might not span five years, but give yourself a workable time frame to make big things happen. I suggest a year, at least.
Step 2: Top 3s
In the second phase of MT3, you'll write out your Top 3 priorities -- for the day, week, month and quarter. Divide the remainder of your page into four quadrants. Then write down three top tasks you need to complete in each time frame. Resist the urge to throw everything down! The key is to never have more than three on each list. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says, "If you have more than three priorities, you don't have any."
To help you decide what tasks are top priority, go back to your Painted Picture. With each item, ask yourself: will this ultimately take me where I want to go? If not, take it off the list -- be ruthless with this practice. At the end of each day, prepare your daily list for tomorrow. At the end of your week, do the same for the following week.
As you work through your lists, your quarterly priorities will become your weekly priorities and so on, until eventually, your vision is complete. It comes back to the old saying about how to eat an elephant: one bite at a time. Limiting your priorities to only three makes your goals easier to digest.
At first, it might not feel like you're accomplishing a lot, especially if you're used to slogging through a never-ending list. But reducing your number of priorities will ultimately enable you to achieve more. The MT3 system works like a laser beam: when you narrow your focus, it becomes powerful enough to cut through steel.