“This task is a priority” is a phrase we hear, and say, all the time. But what does that truly mean?
When used as an adjective like this, it indicates that whatever we are talking about is taking precedence over something else. We might say something like “this is my highest priority”, but more often say “I have these priorities”. Over time the meaning has softened… ‘taking priority’ simply means ‘ahead of something else’. Trying to decide what to do next might look like this:
Key Project > Email > Family Time > Facebook > Sleep > Exercise > Food prep > Breaking Bad > Twitter > etc.
Each thing in the list has priority over the thing after it. So in this example, exercise ‘is a priority’ over watching Breaking Bad (not all of you will agree) and both of those are at the end of a long list of other tasks. Its no wonder that this word has softened to the point that it isn’t all that useful. We can execute on ‘our priorities’ all day long, and still not make any real progress.
I find myself doing this all the time. I have a list of tasks – priorities – all of which really need to be done. If I tackle them depending on their urgency, I’ve often wasted my most valuable time. Inevitably the thing that gets pushed to another day is the one that requires the most focus and attention but isn’t urgent. (Quadrant 2 for my Time Management Students)
Instead lets consider the word PRIME. As an adjective prime means of the first importance; demanding the fullest consideration.
One of the things that helps me to get things done is that instead of asking myself “what are my priorities today?” I try to decide what my “prime” is for the day. This idea is all over the place in the personal productivity literature, most recently in a great book by Gary Keller called The One Thing. It is also mirrored in The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney and others. Both of these authors recommend finding something to focus on at the exclusion of all the other things that might pull us away from our most important task.
Try this experiment. Ask yourself:
What is the one thing that I could do today, that if I got it done with excellence, would make everything else either easier or irrelevant?
then do that first! Make it PRIME. Don’t open your email, ban Facebook and twitter… don’t let distraction in. Focus on your prime task until that task is done… then everything else will be easier or irrelevant.
I hope you have a prime day.