Before you can manage your time effectively, you need to know your priorities. Learn how to prioritize your goals so you can create the highest value for your organization—and yourself.
Use your goals as a guide
Successful time managers have a vision of how they want to spend their time and a clear set of priorities.
When you focus on your most important on-the-job objectives, you:
- Gain a sense of direction for you and your team
- Devote less energy and time to non-critical tasks
- Increase your motivation and job satisfaction
Because effective time management stems from knowing your goals, that’s where you need to begin to improve your skills.
Know your values
You can perform at your peak only when your activities align with your values. Lack of alignment in this area can cause you to feel stressed, unhappy, and dissatisfied. The starting point of peak performance is for you to choose—based on your values—what goals and tasks are most important to you.
When you set your priorities, think about:
- What is really important to you?
- Of all the things that are important to you, what is most important?
- What do you believe in and stand for?
List your goals
Make a list of your current work-related goals. If you are uncertain about what they are, work with your manager to develop and clarify them. To effectively guide your actions, goals must be SMART, that is:
- Specific. Goals should clearly define what you are going to accomplish.
- Measureable. You must be able to measure progress toward your goals.
- Action-oriented. Your goals identify concrete behaviors or processes.
- Realistic. Goals can be achieved given existing constraints, such as time and resources.
- Time-limited. Each goal should have a deadline by which it needs to be accomplished.
Examples of effective goals include:
- “I will acquire three new clients within two months. To do so, I will ask for referrals from current clients, increase my social media activity, and network with local businesses. This will help me to grow my business and increase my revenue.”
- “I will submit a project status report on the last Friday of every month. The report will document the tasks that our team completed the previous month, the tasks for the upcoming month and their deadlines, and who is responsible for each task. By referring to the report, my team and the groups we’re partnering with will be clear on the status of the project.”
Types of goals
As you list your goals, you may notice that they fall into three categories:
- Unit goals
What your group as a whole will do to bring value to the organization
“To increase efficiency, everyone in the department will receive training on the new software by the end of the quarter.”
What you will do to contribute to achieving your unit’s goals
“I will update all departmental policies and review them with my team within the next month.”
Personal development goals
What you must achieve to grow and find satisfaction, in and out of the workplace
“I will learn basic Spanish so I can better communicate with coworkers and clients in our South American office.”
All three types of goals are equally important and shape how you use your time.
Long-term versus short-term goals
You may also notice that your goals differ in terms of how long they take to complete. Short-term goals are achievable within one or two months. Long-term goals can take several months or even years to reach. Your individual goal of updating your departmental policies would be a short-term goal. Learning another language would be a long-term goal.
Often, short-term goals are stepping-stones toward reaching your long-term objectives. For instance, to meet your long-term goal of speaking another language, you would have some related short-term goals. These short-term goals might include taking a class and attending practice groups at your community center.
Review your goals periodically
As you work toward your goals, step back periodically and review them to see if they are still realistic, timely, and relevant.
If the organization or external environment has changed and a particular goal no longer creates value, modify or eliminate it. Before making any changes, be sure to get buy-in from your boss, team, and other involved groups.
Prioritize your goals
Once you have a list of goals, narrow it down to the ones that bring the greatest value to you and your organization. Start by asking yourself questions that will help you distinguish high-priority goals from lower-priority ones. For example, consider:
- Which goals does your organization value the most?
- Which goals will have the greatest impact on performance and profitability?
- Which goals best position your team for future success?
Next, review your list of goals and rank each as A-, B-, or C-level priority:
- Priority A: Goals that have high value and primary importance.
- Priority B: Goals that have medium value and secondary importance.
- Priority C: Goals that have some value but not much importance right now.
Set aside C-level goals for now. Then look at your B-level goals again. Reassign them as A- or C-priority—they are either worth your time or not. The goals that are now on your Priority A list are your top-priority goals.
Next, review your A-level goals and rank them according to importance. A common temptation is to tackle short-term goals first. But don’t let short-term goals automatically take precedence over long-term ones.
Finally, write down your final A-priority list, ranked by importance.