When the rest of the world started working remotely in March of 2019, I was already working remotely for more than two years. Everything I ever wrote, my every research, my every problem – was set in my dining room. So, when everybody struggled to survive their nine-to-five shifts from home, I worked like a pro. But being able to prioritize didn’t come overnight, to be honest. It was a long, long, long way.
Working remotely, is a life choice I deliberately made in 2017. helped me grow into who I am today. I am not perfect; let’s make that one clear. And I am not pushing myself to be perfect either. It’s not easy to work fully concentrated while your whole family (plus seven months old baby) orbits around the kitchen table, aka. “the office.” But, as life usually makes you drink more sweet lemonade after it just gave you a few bitter lemons, I actually learned something. Some of those new skills were true blessings. In fact, I am not sure I ever knew how to prioritize before I simply had to. With so many distractions, how can one actually learn how to prioritize? Well, it’s a bumpy ride, and this article is going to help us do just that, the right way.
So, here is what I am going to write about:
- Finding out the truth – do we actually need to prioritize?
- How to start the journey?
- Do we need to train to become aware employees?
- Finding balance in “urgent” and “very important.”
- Mixing friends & family with what we do
- Making peace with not being superhuman
- Surviving week #1
Table of Contents
Finding out the truth – do I actually know how to prioritize?
Are you able to tell what’s urgent and what can wait for a better moment? Can you actually tell the difference? If yes, then – congrats, mate, you’re a champion for all I know. If not – it’s okay; most of us struggle with prioritizing.
I started thinking about this skill when the first month flew right by me, and I had less than 100 billed hours. I had started a lot of things, but almost nothing was finished!
I was waking up at 7 AM every morning, had my breakfast while I was reading my emails (because I believed that saves time), and worked for two hours. Then, I had to do the laundry. And to start preparing lunch. And to watch TV a bit. Ant to answer all my messages (was it FOMO?). And then I would check all things that needed to be done. The next thing I knew was – 5 PM. Okay, I said, I will do better tomorrow.
Back then, I would be insulted if anyone told me I was not able to prioritize. I knew how. I was just… warming up.
Except I didn’t. I had to admit to myself that I don’t know what I’m doing in order to start mastering new skills. That’s how it goes. We’re basically never told that we need to change ourselves fast. It’s our consequences who are screaming that to our faces.
How to start a journey
Okay, the first thing is a fact – there is no such thing as “Everything is important.”
I know you have reasons to believe that your work is actually that special. But it’s not.
What helped me, in the beginning, was the simple old grading. Like in school:
- 10 – very important.
- 5 – so/so.
- 1 – it will resolve itself in a day; just give it a chance.
The next step is – make a list of things you need to do before the end of the day and grade the duties. For example – I always grade with 10 those tasks that can get me fired.
This is how my list of priorities looks like:
- read all the emails – 10. (Let’s be honest – most of the emails are just follow-up-s. One part of emails can be settled with a short phone call. Especially when some of those calls will need special attention. Grade those calls with 10 as well.) (30 minutes)
- Read everything on the managing platform your company uses. Grade 9. (Do the same gradation with tasks as you just did with emails) (30 minutes)
- List out the projects you have this month and grade the ones that need to be done today or by the end of the week by 10 and so far. (10 minutes)
- Pick the “biggest issue” and think about solving it in your head while you have your breakfast (30 minutes)
- Work for 2 hours by following the grades.
- Have a snickers (20 minutes)
- Work for 2 hours by following the grades.
- Re-do the list by erasing what you finished today and have some lunch (30 min)
- Wrap it up for tomorrow (1 hour) (aka. make your bed!)
On your first day, you’ll need 2 hours just to make a list. And the next day, you’ll need an hour for snickers and a scroll scroll. And that’s okay. Being able to prioritize is progress, you’re not born with it. But, make sure you’re following what you do. Set up a home office that suits you the best. Follow your progress and praise yourself for finishing your day with a neat plan for tomorrow. I know that sounds funny, but being aware is half of the job.
Do I need to train to become an aware employee?
People who are not aware of who they are and what they can do for their company are generally not very good employees, and they usually can’t keep their job for too long. Being lost in a moment is okay, and it happens for most of us, but those moments are too short to affect our work. However, being lost as a person is a whole different world. If you are lost in what you do and who you are, you will have a hard time learning how to prioritize.
We all need to embrace our failures in order to develop self-awareness. But that doesn’t mean that things we can’t do interfere with the things we can. Awareness training is simple. Write down all the things you can do, and ask people around you to do the same. If you find some skills on both ends – yay! This is what you can do, and that is your strong skill that will help your company or your business.
Finding a balance between “urgent” and “very important.”
Is there any difference between urgent and very important? Of course, there is. Urgent is usually the thing you need to do yesterday, and very important is something that you need to do in the near future and it needs to be done with full focus. “Urgent” are usually calls, and project deadlines are very important. So, yes, if something is urgent, everything else has to wait. If something is very important, take your time to finish it when you have your focus and patience restored to the 100%.
Mixing friends & family with what we do
Working from home is the ultimate challenge. Setting up your office at your dining table is somewhat insane and quite brave. Even though we believe that we’re all past that idea that working from home is not actually working but just pretending to work so that you could be left alone for a minute or so. But, Covid 19 changed this for most of the families. Suddenly, everyone needed some space, a quiet background, and friends and family ready to help or even collaborate.
I wasn’t the best company during snacks everyone had at the dining table. I wasn’t the best friend because I stopped spending hours on the phone. I had to cancel a lot of things, and I had to give up on being perfect in every aspect of life.
Here is what you can do:
Establish working hours.
For example – from 7 AM to 3 PM – no disturbing. Relatives will stop by, and your parents will call, and your SO will have to show you the best thing ever found on Amazon. And all of those moments CAN be saved for after 3 PM.
But having your parents over during your working hours to help with cooking and cleaning and babysitting – that is a collaboration.
Something like: “This is important for me, and I will talk to you after work.” or “Yes, I can hear you, but let me just finish this, and then we can discuss it later.” Explaining to them that you can’t have just a short coffee break in the middle of the writing article is my favorite.
Some say that managing your friends and family is not part of prioritizing. But, trust me, it is. It is Big Time!
Making peace with not being superhuman
You spend the whole week trying to prioritize like a pro, and still, nothing is better. That’s okay. Being at home and learning how to prioritize is a whole different level because it takes so much more effort. When I started learning how to “place” all my duties in one excel sheet, it was hilarious. Over 100 tasks were waiting to be done. I wanted to master it all, but the beginning was so, so, so hard. I often fantasize about giving up first thing tomorrow morning, but then I couldn’t. I was just so angry because less competent people mastered the skill of prioritizing, so I knew that I could do it too. And I was too proud to give up.
Having poor management over what you do will undoubtedly result in burnout. Nobody has to experience that. Yes, our bosses are needy, and the world is such a crazy place, and we need to wow them all. But we’re not superhumans. It’s okay not to be super successful in everything. No, really. It’s quite alright.
Surviving week #1
I remember I started with a brand new notebook. I wrote down all the things I need to do this week. And all the things I would like to do since I’m always going above and beyond. And then I added spending time with my friends and spending time with my SO. And preparing meals. And it turned out that I will have to be in constant motion to catch all the strings and sleep from 1 am to 6 am.
So, I sat down, and I told myself that I would likely fail with everything.
The next day I woke up and decided to do anything to keep my job and all my friends as well. I googled for the high-priority websites searching for the best guide to prioritization. I was thinking about the poor project management software we used, and I decided to suggest a change. There is so much good management software! For example, I thought about the methodology that will suit me best – Agile vs. Waterfall? All I knew was that I needed software that would allow me to create a schedule by the hour and by the day. That will help me plan when I will work on the project and for whom. I added breaks and meals and a finishing hour. I turned down the TV and turned my back on it, so I couldn’t see it. I placed my phone on a shelf in the other room. If it rings, I will get up. What’s not urgent will wait. I knew what I wanted, and I would do anything to get there. So, the decision was made. Let’s manage it all in a timeframe from 7 am to 4 pm.
The next day was a “test drive”. I finished it all at 7 pm. But I was happy.
The day after that – I finished at 5 pm.
And a couple of days later -I finished at 4 pm.
And that’s when I celebrated with giving me the weekend on the phone.
Working remotely brought up so many unsolved situations I had with myself. How much CAN I work actually? How much do I WANT to work? What I LIKE to do, and I like to avoid. What I usually avoid and what makes me grumpy. What I hate and what makes me hate my job. The journey of solving one problem at a time helped me with the basics of prioritizing. Once I learned how to prioritize my work, I prioritized everything around me. And having a clear plan of what’s important has changed who I am. Having a strong will and being motivated by your success can move mountains. And while we’re there, we might also learn how to move ourselves, too.
- What is prioritization?
- How can I stop checking my phone during working hours?
- How to get things done during your working hours?
Author: Ines Maras
Ines is SEO and Content Manager. Her latest work is based on creating useful product descriptions and on-page SEO, making her content a part of “Good page experience!”