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Time Management 101: Prioritizing What to Do First

If you find yourself feeling incredibly busy, but not incredibly productive, it's time to reprioritize.

Allyson Lewis, 04/25/2013

"Enhancing productivity and increasing meaning is not merely a matter of getting more done. The secret to true productivity and meaning comes from getting the right things done by giving your highest value activities the highest priority." --Allyson Lewis from The 7 Minute Solution: Time Strategies to Prioritize, Organize & Simplify Your Life at Work & at Home

What Does Your To-Do List Look Like Today?
While getting out of bed this morning, you likely found your conscious and subconscious mind racing down a lengthy "to-do" list that sounds something like this:

--Don't forget to call John about the bond that is coming due today.
--Where did I put that Morningstar report I was reading last night?
--I need to finish preparing for my lunch meeting with Susan.
--I wonder how long it will take me to write the RFP?
--Did I ...
--Should we ...
--How can ...
--Who will ...

And on and on your mental list goes.

From the moment you wake up to the time you go back to sleep, you find yourself constantly hearing an inner voice attempting to remind you of all of the "things" you said you need to do today. At the end of the day you may find yourself feeling stressed from being so incredibly busy, but still not experiencing a sense of being productive. Just being busy does not mean you are properly allocating your personal time and energy. If you spend your day focusing your attention on accomplishing the wrong tasks, then you may finish the day with a painful, nagging sense of regret.

Good Time Management Requires You to Think First and Focus on High Value Activities
Time Management 101 for financial advisors requires that you think first and then allocate an appropriate amount of time and energy to accomplish your stated set of goals. When you accomplish a stated goal, you are instantly rewarded with a flood of positive chemicals that make you feel happy, more energetic, and more productive. This is a surprisingly different approach than how many men and women in the financial services industry choose to spend their time.

The 7 Minute principles and concepts we teach should encourage you to take literally seven minutes every day to first think about what activities you want and need to accomplish. In just seven minutes you can:

--Ask, what is the most important activity, task, or project that you need to complete today? The most important activities are called high value activities.

--Decide the steps you need to take to accomplish each high value activity.

--Organize those steps into a short-term strategic plan for the day.

--Choose who else needs to be involved in the process of accomplishing your high value activities.

--Prioritize which high value activity you will do first--then, start and completely finish that task before moving on to the next task.

Three Concrete Questions to Help You Focus
The hardest part about implementing the concepts in this article may be understanding exactly what a high value activity is for you.

Low value activities are easy. They include watching your computer screen, texting, looking at social media, looking for a file folder you have lost in the clutter on your desk, reading email, or talking about last night's TV episode with a co-worker. It is obvious that these types of activities rob you of the minutes in your day, and they don't move you closer to achieving your personal goals.

High value activities are very different. First, you must accept that they are more difficult to accomplish. They require commitment, determination, and effort. As a financial advisor, there are only a limited number of high value activities, tasks, and projects. Some examples include meeting with your clients in face-to-face appointments, talking to your clients on the phone with specific ideas that relate to their goals and objectives, proactively prospecting and asking people to do business with you, networking to meet new prospective clients, holding workshops and seminars to educate your clients and prospects, and taking time each day to think, then prioritize, then create your written daily plan of high value activities.

Ask these three questions to discover your high value activities:

1. What is the payoff? Analyze the payoff of every task on your current "to-do" list. Your highest value activities will have a measurable payoff directly related to your values, purpose, or goals.

2. Which activities should you not be doing? Have you said "yes" to things you shouldn't have? Are some activities convenient ways for you to feel busy, while not really producing many results? Are there tasks you could delegate or pay someone else to do?

3. If you could do only five things on your list, what would they be? This question will be much easier to answer if you spent time on the first two questions. It will also force you to rapidly and concretely define what is most important. Those five items will be your highest priority.

Translate Your Thoughts Into a Daily Written High Value Plan of Action
Dawson Trotman said, "Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through your fingertips."

Short-term memory is a useful but unreliable place to store information. Your short-term memory is like a vapor, giving you a 10- to 20-second window to decide what information you will move into your long-term memory. Your subconscious mind is said to have 40 million thoughts a day, and just as soon as a new thought crosses into your conscious mind, it can completely wipe out what you were thinking about just seconds before.

Like a dry erase board, ideas in your short-term memory can get wiped clean at the tiniest distraction. With the buzz of an incoming text message on your cell phone, you can completely lose the breakthrough business idea of a lifetime.

If you slow down long enough to let your brain take the time to truly think about your goals, and then take out a simple piece of paper and translate your thoughts into a daily written plan of action, the results will astound you.

We all have "to-do" lists. You could choose to have some sort of mental "to-do" list circling in your subconscious mind filled with low value activities vying for your time and attention. Or you can decide to improve your time management by acknowledging that you don't have enough hours in the day to do it all.

Good time management requires you to think about what is most important, then prioritize what to do first and focus your full effort on accomplishing those highest value activities.

Time strategy expert and best-selling author Allyson Lewis has spent the last 30 years developing and teaching concrete, actionable business ideas all over the country. Her latest book, The 7 Minute Solution: Time Strategies to Prioritize, Organize and Simplify Your Life at Work & at Home, was released in paperback on Jan. 1, 2013. Take advantage of the worksheets, webinars, and more--subscribe to the FREE Member Tools area of our website http://www.The7MinuteLife.com and follow Allyson on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/AllysonLewis.SevenMinutes and Twitter: @allyson7minutes

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