Time management Monday: How to constantly re-prioritize when new tasks come at you

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Frequently online I see people expressing frustration that the plans for their day did not happen the way they expected. They’d written out their schedule, added their Most Important Tasks, and knew what they were going to do and how they were going to do it.

Then something came along and threw their plans off. Sometimes it’s something big that completely derails your day (read here to see what to do about that). But most often, it’s just day to day things that come up and change how we thought our day was going to go.

This is true for everyone, whether you work in a big corporate office, are a stay at home parent, have kids in school, work from home, homeschool, travel often for work, etc. We all have smartphones/ email/ messaging where new information comes at us that needs to be dealt with.

The reality of our lives is that new things come at us All The Time. This is our new normal. It’s very rare that nothing new comes up during the day and that your schedule and task lists will tick off exactly as planned. Constantly throughout the day we get new tasks, updates to projects, changes in schedules and notifications that change our workflow for the day. New things come at us from all directions and we have to adapt again and again throughout the day to cope with it all.

How can you keep up?

The answer is: we have to constantly re-evaluate our priorities, and adjust our plans accordingly.

Here’s what to do when something new/ unexpected comes your way:

Triage: When a new item (scheduled event or task) comes in, evaluate it and assign priority:

  1. Is this immediately urgent and must be done right now?
  2. Is this urgent and needs to be done within the next few hours?
  3. Is this important and can be done some other day?
  4. Can I get someone else to do this instead of doing it myself?

For items that must be done right away, think of when you will complete the things you had planned on doing during that time. You may need to notify other people that you won’t be able to meet with them as planned, or the work you expected to get done during that time will have to be put off to another time. This communication process will also take time, so take that into account when making the new plans for your day.

For items that must be done within the next few hours, take a good look at what is on your plate today and see what you can shunt off to a different day (or have someone else do for you, if you are lucky). This is where some serious prioritization takes place. Be honest with yourself about how much you can realistically get done today with the new important item. Look at how much time you will have to get your other things done, then be ruthless about prioritizing what absolutely must be done today. Everything else can be rescheduled. This may have a knock-on effect for the rest of your week, so plan accordingly.

For important things that can be done some other day, take a look at where you can fit these into your schedule. It’s tempting to let other, more urgent things edge out these types of tasks. But if someone is depending on you to do this, make sure you allot enough time to complete the task by the time it needs done.

If you can get someone else to do it instead, make sure the person who originally asked you to do the task knows who will be doing it. Follow up to make sure the task was done or is in progress.

It’s worth repeating: it is completely normal for new tasks and events to come at you throughout the day. Try not to get upset when your plans get disrupted. Just reshuffle your priorities, and go from there.

Next Monday I’ll give you some tips on how to be more flexible in your scheduling to help you cope with new tasks and schedule changes that come your way.

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