As I wrote in my post last week, we tend to procrastinate because we’re paralyzed by all of the things we have to do. What’s more, we can spin our wheels and do small, menial tasks that make us feel productive in the short term… But still leave us scrambling to get work done at the end of the day.
If we want to go to sleep feeling accomplished, we have to learn to prioritize.
Now, I’m pretty deep into the personal development space but I never really learned how to prioritize. And believe me, I’ve tried.
- I’ve tried doing it by category in my life (emotional, spiritual, mental, physical, etc) but that didn’t really help me start working.
- I’ve tried prioritizing by the size of the task (30- , 60- , 90 minutes) but that didn’t help with feeling accomplished by the end of the day, since a lot of tasks can take an unforeseeably long time than allowed.
- I’ve also tried focusing on just one big thing each day and, although it works well in theory, I would feel anxious as I worked because of all the small things I wish I had done, too.
I’ve tried all different kinds of prioritization methods, but the only one that stuck was the one from a book I read called Eat that Frog and it was called The ABCDE Method.
The ABCDE Method to Prioritization
Instead of prioritizing or categorizing tasks by length, size or type, the ABCDE Method forces you to prioritize based on a more objective metric – consequences.
With the ABCDE Method, tasks are categorized based on how important they are and what will happen if you don’t do them:
- A – Very important. Something I must do. Will have serious positive or negative consequences if you do it or fail to do it.
- B – Task you should do but has only mild consequences if you don’t do it.
- C – Nice to do but no consequences whether you do it or not.
- D – Delegate
- E – Eliminate
The ABCDE Method in Action
- As tasks crop up during the day, I would add them to my master to-do list, along with the letters I think they fall under. This way, I can easily sort and arrange my tasks alphabetically.
- At the end of each day, I would look through my master list and assign each task to a day.
- At the beginning of each day, I would pull up the list for the day after and assign numbers after each A and B task, in the order I want to do them.
Here’s what my task list looks like after prioritizing:￼
(If you’re wondering what “HA” stands for: I keep both my work and home to-do lists together in Google Tasks so I add an H to home to-do’s.)
Once I start, I work on m A1 task until I finish it before moving on to my A2. Only after I finish all my A tasks do I move on to my B tasks.
This method works well if you’re not sure how long a task will take, or if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to structure their day. You can be confident that you’re working on the biggest, most urgent task you have for that day, without worrying about more pressing tasks.
This will also work for you if you constantly overstuff your schedule. The ABCDE Method lets you to put in as many things as your monkey brain allows while forcing you to be real with yourself on how important each task actually is.
Now to be perfectly honest with you, there are days when I power through my whole list and check off all my A, B and C tasks. And there are other days, I can only get through a couple of A’s.
But I have learned to celebrate both kinds of days.
By using this method and focusing on A tasks first, I can take comfort in the fact that regardless of the outcome, I had done my best that day. At the end of each day, that is all I can ask of myself.
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I publish practical and motivational posts on productivity, careers and success every week on my newsletter, Defy Gravity.
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