No matter what our job title, seniority level or area of expertise, we all know how it feels to be overwhelmed by work. Whether you keep missing deadlines, are struggling to keep up with your responsibilities or simply feel overwhelmed by the length of your to-do list, feeling out of control can be seriously stressful.
Because of this, knowing how to prioritise work effectively is one of the most important skills any of us can learn.
It might not seem that valuable at first consideration – after all, identifying where to start is only the first step towards completing a task – but by helping you to effectively manage your time, meet important deadlines and feel more prepared, prioritisation is a skill that can lead to a whole host of benefits.
In particular, being able to prioritise can help us to manage our stress levels and reduce our risk of developing burnout – something that is more important than ever during the current climate. By helping us to stay on top of things, feel more in control and get work done in ample time, prioritisation not only allows us to do our jobs well (and therefore eradicate any stress we might feel about our own abilities), it also stops our brain from becoming overwhelmed with thoughts about all the things we need to do.
And while we’re working from home, prioritisation can also help us to achieve a better work/life balance – by making it easier to complete work in a timely manner and reducing the amount of ‘thought clutter’ in our brain, prioritisation can make it easier for us to switch off at the end of the working day.
So, with all of this in mind, how can we get better at prioritising at work? According to Business and Executive Coach and Life Coach Directory member Jessica Rogers, prioritisation is all about managing our energy levels to get the most out of our day.
“Time is finite, but your energy is not, so focus on managing your energy, not your time – if you are energised you can get more done in a shorter time than if you are not,” she explains.
With this in mind, Rogers suggests, we should focus on looking after ourselves to ensure we can get the most out of our day. For her, this means taking regular breaks and working in time blocks, as well as identifying the things which are of the most “strategic importance” and doing those first.
Writing everything down is a particularly great way to do this – getting everything down on the page not only helps to keep your mind uncluttered, but it also helps you to compare everything you have to do and identify which ones are most important.
Writing everything down also makes it easier for you to set personal deadlines and break down bigger tasks into small, achievable steps – both of which will put you in a better place to get things done on time.
On top of managing your energy levels and setting aside time to identify the most important tasks on your list, Rogers also stresses the importance of focusing on one thing at a time and avoiding multitasking – something which has been shown to decrease productivity, increase our stress levels and leave us feeling mentally exhausted.
“Overwhelm leads to procrastination, demotivation and exhaustion, so think about how you can feel more energised throughout the day,” Rogers says. “Focus on one thing at a time and don’t move on until you have completed it – this way, you can complete tasks fully and that helps to relieve some feelings of overwhelm.”
Finally, Rogers suggests, asking for help can be another important aspect of prioritisation – because sometimes there just isn’t enough time to complete everything on our list.
“Ask for help,” she recommends. “There may be someone who has the strengths to complete your tasks in less time and bringing them on board can help to relieve feelings of overwhelm and leaves you more time to do the things you’re good at.”
Although setting aside five or ten minutes a day to plan and prioritise may seem like a waste of time (especially when you’re already worried about being behind on work), it’s clear that something as simple as writing down what we need to do and thinking about the best plan of action really can help us to feel less overwhelmed.
At a time when so many of us are struggling with work stress and finding it difficult to switch off at the end of the working day, prioritisation could be the key to feeling more in control – and who doesn’t want that?
If working during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.
So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.
Our new Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of wellbeing during this strange time.
For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.