Time Management Part II – Setting Priorities

by Joe on April 30, 2010

Yesterday we looked at the value of time in relation to Money in our Part1 series of time management. Today as the title reads we will briefly look at setting priorities in relation to time management. I am certain I am not alone on this; there are many times when I feel overwhelmed by tasks that I have to accomplish in a day. Sometimes I get consumed by one task that the other tasks are just shoved for another day and the pile of unfinished tasks/work just keeps growing. This trend may slowly lead to stress and setting priorities may be the antidote.

You have probably heard about the illustration that a physics teacher demonstrated to his students. He first gave them a wide-mouth  jar, several big rocks, a handful of marbles, a container of sand and a glass of water, and told them to put all the elements inside the jar in the least amount of time. After a while the teacher shouted “Time is up.” still sitting on the table were few large rocks and the glass of water. The students complained that – the jar was too small, it’s impossible to fit those elements in that jar.

The teacher calmly said, “it can be done and I will show you how”. He then took the jar and placed a couple of the big rocks in the jar. He filled in any gaps around the big rocks with the marbles and continued to fill the jar until it was full to the brim with all the big rocks and all the marbles. The teacher then took the sand and slowly poured it into the jar while shaking the jar to fill all the gaps between the big rocks and the marbles. He then took the glass of water and poured it into the jar. Everything fit perfectly in the jar.

 He then said, “It all fits in perfectly – however it depends on the order that you put the elements in the jar” – that order is priorities.

Everything we do has a level of significance and importance to us otherwise we would not do it in the first place. Setting priorities the ‘right way’ (I say the right way because I have heard people say that so and so have their priorities backwards) requires us to be able to separate the very important, the important, and the non-important. Stephen Covey his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People describes a scheme of setting priorities. In his scheme, he categorizes tasks into four quadrants:

  • QI – Important and Urgent
  • QII – Important but Not Urgent
  • QIII – Not Important but Urgent
  •  QIV – Not Important and Not Urgent

By following this scheme we are able to precisely fit the tasks that we have to do into the four quadrants.

The important thing is to be able to separate the important from the non important and the urgent tasks from non urgent ones.

How to Set Priorities

To be able to set priorities well, we need to be able to answer these questions!

  1. Do I know the tasks that I wish to accomplish?
  2. Can I write all of them down on a notepad?
  3. Can I sort these tasks in order of importance?
  4. Can I begin to work on it now?
  5. Do I know the stopping point?

Setting priorities keeps you focused on tasks/job/projects/ goals that you have chosen to accomplish and when properly set, priorities help you major on what matters most ‘the important stuff’

(Psalms 90:12 NIV)Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom

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