Personal Development

Prioritize like a ninja

Sometimes you need to quickly decide on where to spend your time and effort.

Prioritize like a ninja
Editorial Team
February 11, 2019
Prioritize like a ninja

Have a lot of priorities and feeling paralyzed about how to get started?
Try some of these tips on for size!


1.  Identify what is urgent and important:

  • Write down all of your thoughts on paper - list out all of your to-dos (even the distracting ones like replying to non-urgent emails, cleaning your desk, scheduling that doctor appointment, etc.)
  • Prioritize each item with a: 1,2,3,4 according to the Urgent / Important matrix.

URGENT - Deadline this week or the following Monday, and/or a powerful person has requested something.

IMPORTANT - Task fits into overall goals of your organization/team and has consequences if you don’t do it.

2.  Order the 1s by what will take the longest.

3.  Break down the 1s into their individual tasks and accurately estimate the time for each.

Hint: if you aren’t sure how long tasks take, start timing yourself using this tool:

4.  Block out your calendar in chunks for each #1 quadrant task.

  • Plan to do the tasks that will take the longest first.
  • Think about what times of day you have the most energy (after that first cuppa joe) and schedule complex tasks during this time.
  • Find a balance between not allowing yourself to take 5 hours to complete a task, but also creating enough buffer time allowing you to take micro-breaks and accommodate for distractions.

5. Once you have fit the 1s into your schedule, insert any 2s, and 3s.

Here’s an example: I have a report due in two days. I have broken this project into the following tasks and noted in ITALICS which tasks will take the most amount of focus and brain power:

  1. Conduct research and gather information (1 hour)
  2. Hold meeting with 3 colleagues to gather information and ideas (10 mins each x 3 = 30 mins)
  3. Organize my thoughts (20 mins)
  4. Create an outline (30 mins)
  5. Draft report (2 hours)
  6. Review report for grammar/formatting/flow (1 hour)
  7. Draft email and submit report to ED for final review (10 mins)

I have also identified that I have the most energy during these times:

  • 9:00 am - 11:00 am
  • 1:00 pm -3:00 pm
  • 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Therefore, based on my energy levels and tasks, my schedule looks like this:

DAY 1:

8:15 - 8:45 am: Conduct research

15 min break to get coffee and gather my thoughts

9:00 am - 10:00 am: Meet with colleagues to gather info

15 min break

10:15 am - 11:00 am: Organize my thoughts and create an outline

20 min break (check and respond to emails)

11:30 am - 12:00 pm: Do other tasks unrelated to this project

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm: Take a real lunch break and prepare myself to draft a report this afternoon.

1:00 pm - 2:30 pm: Draft report - plan to get as much on paper during this time.

2:30 pm - 3:00 pm: Take a break/reward myself,

3:00 pm - 4:00 pm: Check & reply to emails, focus on other tasks unrelated to project.

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm: If I haven’t completed the draft, finish the details and review my schedule for tomorrow.

DAY 2:

8:00 am - 9:30 am: Review & revise report for grammar/formatting/flow

30 min: coffee break & time to check emails

10:00 am - 10:30 am: Draft email and attach report for ED to review

NOTE: If you find that your day is booked up with meetings and you cannot plan your time, this is an indication that either: 1) your core job focus is being in, and participating or leading, meetings and the other tasks take 2nd or 3rd priority; or 2) you need to have a discussion with someone about revising your job priorities to make time for the other tasks.