Stop spinning plates: get your priorities right!

I was leading technical sales activities for a major customer. I had to keep many plates spinning. And more kept coming.

I was overwhelmed and some plates came crashing.

I put systems in place to avoid breaking more. I would delegate some of the spinning to others. Try to remove some plates. It helped.

But I was still struggling to keep my priorities right and stay on track. So, more plates came crashing. I ended up quitting.

When this kind of situation hits you, it completely drains your energy. If you’re not careful, you end up burning out. I left before that happened, thankfully.

Are you asking yourself:

  • How do I manage all my priorities at work and in life?
  • How can I stay clear-headed under pressure and avoid getting side-tracked?
  • How do I resolve conflicting high priorities?
  • What is the best way to prioritize a to-do list?
  • How do I avoid burning out all my energy?

Many systems out there will help you set and manage priorities. And they did help me at the time, but not nearly enough.

A couple of years later, I found a method to answer these questions and manage my priorities effectively. It now helps me avoid being overwhelmed.

I want to share it here to help you and others.

The premise of the system is to keep everything simple. But it takes a bit of work to set it up. If you plan using it, don’t hesitate to tweak the template below. You need to own the system.

Step 1: Your mission

The first step is to be clear on what you want in life. There are methods freely available on the Internet to help you figure out where you want to go. And you can check my post here (link) to guide you.

What you want here is to define your life mission, your destination. It stands at the convergence of your skills, passion and something of value that people are burning to get.

Whatever method you use, this is your chance to get clarity. So, take your time.

To set my mission, I had to take a deep look at myself and reflect on where I wanted to steer my life. My mission became to: Dream, explore and design a life of freedom, passion and growth for ambitious entrepreneurs.

Step 2: Write down your goals and milestones

The second step is to write down specific life goals.

What goals do you want to achieve in life, that are congruent with your mission?

You might already have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in life. Or maybe only a vague one. Take your time to crystallize it.

Set 5 goals.

They don’t have to be a direct output from your mission, but they need to be congruent with it. Don’t fret if you’re not fully sure about your goals. You will refine them on your journey towards achieving them.

Always keep your goals close to you. They need to be clearly set in your mind. I keep my goals in Evernote so they’re always handy. But you can keep them anywhere you want, by your bed, in the bathroom or in any electronic format on your computer.

I review my goals regularly (at least once a week). Life goals change over time, so they need to be adapted when necessary. My advice is for you to do the same.

Once those life goals have been set, I set short terms milestones on the way (1 year, 6 months, 3 months, 1 month). I write them down. You need shorter milestones to stay focused and measure your progress.

Your life goals and milestones are your map to the journey. They are the backbone of the system.

Step 3: Chose a system to classify your tasks

We’re almost there. We’re going to deal with incoming tasks in the next step. But before we jump in, we need to have a system to classify them.

One very popular classification system is the one advocated by David Braben in his method Getting things done.

But you can use other systems. For example, you could have two folders: Work and Private.

Then, split each of them into 3 sub-folders: Urgent and important, Urgent but not so important, Important but not so urgent (the not urgent and not important tasks can be discarded straight away). An alternative to that system is to have only the last three folders and mix work and private tasks in them.

It is entirely up to you what system you use, as long as you have one that you’re comfortable with. And, most importantly, one that’s effective. Once again, I recommend keeping it simple. I personally use a variation of the Getting things done system to sort out tasks.

Step 4: Get rid of the clutter

Every time I have a new task to deal with, I write it down first. It is important to get your tasks of your mind, to keep your head clear of clutter.

Then, I also classify it straight away. That means I decide on the spot how I am going to deal with it later on.

To decide what to do with each task, I basically look at my goals (usually in my head, but you could also read them) and decide where each task is fitting. Either a task brings me closer to my goals or further away. Anything that brings me away from my goals is either delegated to someone else or simply discarded.

I will write it again as this is key to stop being overwhelmed:

  • If a task brings you further away from your goals, delegate it or discard it.

This will help you to clear out a lot of tasks! And yes, that means you have to be pretty ruthless.

Step 5: Prioritise the remaining tasks

Finally, classify all the tasks that make it through in order of priority.

With clear goals in your head, you can figure out quickly which tasks will have the biggest impact on reaching you goals and sort them out accordingly.

Bonus step

Avoid perfectionism. The Pareto principle states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This translates into: 80% of your impact comes from 20% of your actions.

Keep that in mind. Focus on the 20% most impactful tasks first. The rest is bonus.

Weather the storms

With a map (goals) and a list of checkpoints (tasks), I can now navigate the sea of life and keep my head above water. When there is a risk of going under, I can always refer back to the map and stay clear of any storm. And regular reviews allow me to make adjustments to stay on course.

I can now stand my ground, be confident about my priorities and be effective. I’m glad I made it through.

How do you manage all your priorities at work and in life and what are you planning to do now? Share your methods and plans below.

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1 comment on “Stop spinning plates: get your priorities right!Add yours →

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