"Your calendar should not be something that stresses you out when you look at it. Each new day should be an exciting adventure. If it's not, then change it."
- Michael Hyatt
Prioritization is easy to do. We do it all the time, everyday. In fact, it is so easy to do that when you search for 'prioritization' on Flipkart, it throws up over a hundred book results. When I eye-balled the titles, they are all seemingly full of advice on how to squeeze the most out of your life by prioritizing the things you do.
Only it's not about squeezing the most out of your life.
We prioritize all the time, sometimes consciously and most of the time unconsciously. And the more it happens unconsciously, the less likely the outcome is what we want it to be. Every time we are saying we don't have the time for something, we are simply saying that whatever we do spend our time on is of a higher priority. And when we do this, we often prioritize what pleases us in the short term than in the long term.
Which is why I like to prioritize at multiple levels.
Level 1: The task selector
One of the famous pieces of advice attributed to Warren Buffet is born out of his interaction with a young intern. He asked the intern to list down the 5 things that he really wanted to do, and then asked him to pick one that was most important. Then, he asked him how he'd split his time among the five things. The intern responded by saying that he'd spend a majority of his time on the most important thing and the rest of the time on the other five. Warren Buffet asked him to scratch out the other four and do only the one thing he had circled out as most important before even starting with any of the others.
This is what I do with the OKR process at the start of each year. I pick one or three or five or how many ever things make sense to me at the start of the year. And then when I have the opportunity to take something up that comes along during the year, I go back to that list to see if it fits into anything and pass it up if it doesn't. I could have been learning Bachata and swimming along with Salsa this year, but I passed up on the other two.
It is easy to begin things. Learning the basics in anything is simple. And takes little time. But seeing it through when it begins to increase in complexity gets harder and harder. And that's when you'll have to prioritize. Or you'll split your time among all and probably get through the basics of all and not much further. So, setting up guidelines on what tasks you'll pick and what you won't is the first step.
Level 2: The ideal week
Once you have picked the tasks, you have only gotten started. The next step is to ensure you do something about them day after day and week after week. And given my lifestyle of a work week and a weekend, I've found it optimal to plan for a week at a time. This is not about cramming my calendar with tasks and overwhelming myself, but designing an ideal week that I'll be excited about and look forward to.
For every task I have prioritized in the first level, I dedicate solid blocks of time to create, practice, learn or whatever it is that I have to do for that week.
Level 3: Removing interruptions
Even after I'm selective about the things I pick to do and I've designed my ideal week, there is still a key unconscious prioritizer to remove. And that's the barrage of notifications. Be it emails, Whatsapp, Messenger, Slack or any of the plethora of other apps on the phone, they act as a constant source of distraction with the notifications. And I do have a tendency to respond to what I see immediately. This is a killer during the blocks of time when I'm doing involved work, like writing or defining a new feature. So, I'm now trying out dedicated time to attend to notifications. I no longer have notifications on the phone during these blocks of time. It's a little early to say how it's going, but the start has been encouraging.
Although all three levels are equally important, the real discipline comes in designing the ideal week and that has been my challenge. I have now done this for over 80 weeks and have not once hit a week that has been all green. Nevertheless, there has been a noticeable shift towards conscious prioritization of what I do than before.