The to-do list is never-ending.
As soon as we tick something off, two more tasks will take its place. It’s an admin hydra. The sooner we accept this, the better, because it’s not going to change anytime soon.
That doesn’t mean, more work, harder work, longer work – it just means that we have to learn to accept that our work is never done. We need to learn to give it boundaries or it will dominate everything.
Taking this as our starting point, there is value in execution, for sure, but there is also huge (and often hidden) value in prioritisation.
When you’re not going to get to everything, what are you going to get to? What will you complete and what will you leave?
Irrespective of which method of prioritisation you use, you first need a realistic understanding and acceptance of the time and resources you have available. This means not pretending you have 10 productive hours if you have 3 hours of scheduled meetings. It means not saying you can work late if you have to pick up the kids and get them to bed.
Once the playing field is established, you can then bring your priorities to bear.
There are an infinite number of ways to cut this, but here are two personal favourites, and they’re not mutually exclusive.
The first is to use an Eisenhower matrix which is a great tool for distinguishing what’s urgent for what’s important (we tend to always conflate the two, and that can create a lot of unnecessary noise). Lots has been written about this, so I won’t repeat it all here. Google is your friend.
The second is to ask “which task will add the most value for the effort required, right now?” It’s important to add the “right now” when you ask the question as both the value and effort required to complete a task will change over time. It’s also vital to not just do the easy tasks first, but whatever is most valuable with respect to its effort.
Both of these methods will then give you a focussed list which you can then slot in to your available time. If there isn’t enough time to complete at least one of your tasks, then you need to break them down and learn how to eat the elephant.
Either one of these methods will go a long way towards making sure you’re focussing your time and attention somewhere useful, but neither will offer you any solace until you’ve made peace with the fact that there will always be something more to do, and you’re not going to get it all done in this lifetime.