Updated: Jul 6
How Highly Successful People Really Prioritize Their Tasks
Richard Branson does it. Arianna Huffington does it. Oprah does it. Keeping a to-do list and prioritizing your tasks.
I already touched upon this a couple of times in past video sessions. We looked at scheduling your tasks in the diary to ensure you do them. We also looked at the importance of scheduling buffer times to catch-up with note taking, action items and emails.
Who Does What?
Prioritizing is called the ‘big secret’ of highly successful people. From Richard Branson to Brian Chesky - and many others, everyone has created their own workable system.
Here are a couple of examples to discover what they actually do:
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic, is a bit old school. He actually keeps a notebook in his back pocket. When he has an idea throughout the day or a conversation, he just writes it in his book. The key, he notes, is not only to write it down - but to act on it later; and ensure it serves your long term goals.
Brian Chesky, founder of AirBnB, also keeps a to-do list and revisits it every morning. He then takes a step back to group tasks together and find the one action he can do that day that’ll take care of a number of tasks in one stroke. In essence, if the list has 20 tasks on it; he ends up with 3 things to do for the day.
Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, puts all of his tasks on a list. Everything he wants to focus on that day. You might say many people do this; but Jack goes one step further. He also has a list of tasks he won’t tackle that day. Or as he would put it, all the tasks he won’t allow himself to be distracted by.
And lastly, Whitney Wolfe, founder of dating app Bumble, uses yet another approach. She asks herself the question of nine. When a task lands on her desk, whether she’s going to tackle it depends on whether it’ll still be important in 9 minutes, 9 hours, 9 days, 9 weeks, 9 months and 9 years. If it doesn’t matter for all of those time scales, it’s not important - so put your focus on something that is.
“You can have it all. Just not all at once.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
How is this relevant to you and me?
You might think at this point that you’re not one of the richest people on the planet, nor are you (or want to be an entrepreneur), but: prioritizing your tasks is still super important if you want a career and life worth your while!
Here is my own strategy that I find really useful: the seven whys: why is it important to me?
This is how it works
Let’s say you have a task that needs doing, I'm going to go with something very easy and say clean doing expenses.
How can you ensure you get this done with all the other tasks that you have going on? Just ask yourself “why is doing expenses important to me”?
You might respond “because my credit card bill is due”. This answer becomes your new baseline and you ask yourself, “why is my credit card due date important to me”?
You say “because I don't want to incur debt”. And then again, you ask why is that important to me?
You see, you question your motive for doing something for seven times.
And doing that gives you a lot more motivation than you would have if you just did your list without really giving it some thought. The one thing all our examples have in common is that they’re thought through.
Highly successful people have a system in place that is thoughtful. It's not just a list of things that they have to do, it's actually a list that they have put together by thinking about it, by asking questions, by eliminating things that aren't important.
And you can do exactly the same.
Remember in the first session we talked about the importance of clarity and having a goal. If you’ve done the work and written your goals down, go back to them today and make sure your tasks align with what you want for your future.
The point is: don’t just write your goals down and then put them in a drawer somewhere and never think of them again.
When you have a reason and the task is completely anchored in your life and in your future you will make it happen. It serves a purpose to bring you further. And that’s why it will really boost you to go ahead and do it.
Now, it’s over to you
Theories and stories are great. We can learn a lot from them and we've talked a lot about how other people are prioritizing.
But now it’s time for you to develop your own system of what works for you. You can try all the ones we discussed; you can search for more online; you could ask someone at work what system they’re using. You can also think of something on your own; you just need to do it.
Have some fun with it and try it out for a week; try different styles. Debrief yourself on what worked well and what didn’t. The great thing is that you have a list, so seeing progress and whether your strategy worked should be fairly simple.
As always, please let me know how you get on with this. I love to hear your stories of what you're doing to prioritize your tasks and I shall see you again next week.
Remember: Make time for the things that are important to You! Without compromising your career or conscience.