As we head into the New Year, many of us have a list of resolutions we'd like to tackle both in our personal and professional lives. I'd encourage you to add another item to your list: stop peanut buttering your time.

What I mean by this is that too often we tend to spread our time evenly when it comes to tackling the items on our to-do list--what I call peanut buttering. Because every item seems important, you want to make sure you spend some time on each of them.

But what usually happens? Most of those items never get done because you don't allocate enough time to the most important ones.  Even worse, the low value ones get cleaned up and the most important goals never get touched.

There's a lesson we can learn from the game of chess. In theory, since both sides of the board begin equally and with the same number of pieces, every game should end in a tie. But the best players understand that if they want to win the game, they need to concentrate their forces if they want to break through their opponent's lines to capture the king--even if that means that they sometimes have to sacrifice a few game pieces to get there.

That same analogy applies to how we spend our time as well. Rather than devoting equal time to all of the items on our to-do list, we should be concentrating our forces on tackling the most important items on our list--while sacrificing others that aren't as valuable.

The way you can accomplish this is by creating a ranking system based on three factors--economic value, riskiness, and personal satisfaction--and then assigning each item on our list with a score based on its expected return to you on any of combination of those three factors. You should then spend most if not all of your time on just tacking the items that scored highest.

For example, I considered going Marlin fishing with friends in Mexico. When I ranked this item, I found that it didn't score well on economic value (it would cost me money), it's not really risky, but its score is off the charts when it comes to amount of satisfaction or happiness it would generate for me. Based on that result, I decided to immediately book my trip and pushed my other to-do items off until later.

Another example would be when I ranked the value of landing a big new client. Since the economic value of acquiring a new customer like this was so high, this quickly moved to the top of my to-do list. Unfortunately, landing a new customer can take a long time--potentially months. But I understood that I needed to devote more of my time to accomplishing this task, so I nixed other lower priority items instead of spending less time in my pursuit of new business. 

The point is that if you really want to generate meaningful and interesting results, you need to concentrate your time on the limited number of tasks that will return the biggest payoff rather than just spreading your time around on tasks in a way that you get nothing valuable done in the end.

So, as you head into 2018, think about what you really want to accomplish and focus all your time on the most valuable tasks that will help you get there while sacrificing all the rest. Your personal and professional lives will prosper as a result.