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Ink It In – How to Prioritize Your Day and Stay Present

GovLoop Featured Contributor BadgeWhen I’m wrapping up my workday, I take some time to look at my schedule for the next day. Sometimes it’s already full of meetings and training, but other times I don’t have a single thing on my plate. For someone like me, those days are actually harder. It can be difficult to remain present on those days and stay focused. Often times this is because of ad-hoc requests from management or my mind wandering to other things like laundry. That’s why I spend time every afternoon to assess the following day and plan my day to a T. Here are some ways that I recommend to help prioritize your day and stay present.

This Could Have Been an Email!

As I mentioned before, sometimes your day takes the liberty of scheduling itself for you. Meetings, presentations, etc. can take up a substantial amount of space without you even realizing it. But when you think about it, how many of these meetings require your presence? Some may have you on the docket as optional. Depending on how many meetings you are on, it’s worth exploring whether it is to your benefit to attend. There was a time where I had 10 recurring weekly meetings on my calendar, and I’m not even a supervisor. There were plenty where I was just a “casual observer” and could take away what I needed from post-meeting notes. Even skipping one of these meetings could help free up some time to focus on more important projects.

Busy “Work”

When it comes to what needs to get done in our days, sometimes we have a slightly skewed view of the priority of our tasks. Franklin Covey discusses how these tasks can be categorized and treated on a daily basis in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It boils down to how important and how urgent the task is. Obviously, the tasks that are the most important and urgent should be tackled first. Sometimes we prioritize “busy work” that may appear urgent and important, but might be hindering larger objectives. Sometimes these tasks are part of a process that is time-consuming while a better, more improved process is lying in wait somewhere.

Often times this busy work can distract us from larger, long-term projects that should be allotted some energy. In order to achieve these projects, it’s vital to allot time on our calendars in order to do so. Setting aside even an hour or two a week on your calendar can allow you to focus purely on that project and moving it forward. I’ve certainly had a wish list of projects that I wanted to work on, but got sidetracked with the aforementioned “busy work” of spreadsheets, course maintenance, and whatever micro-tasks might’ve distracted me at the moment. I will admit, I’m one of those people that loves the feeling of getting a bunch of little tasks done. If I’m feeling unmotivated about a larger project, breaking it down into smaller tasks and scheduling those tasks makes the mountain seem more surmountable.

But what if you don’t have any long term projects in mind? You might not, and that’s ok. I would highly recommend scheduling a planning session with yourself to think about what your goals are. What competencies do you want to improve? Is there any training available that you’d like to take? Are you noticing any opportunities in your work group that can be improved upon? Taking 30-60 minutes a week to reflect on your goals can flesh them out and make them more of a priority. When you set aside time on your calendar to actively reflect and work on these projects, it’s a lot easier to say “no” to other things that could distract you from achieving those goals.

Take. A. Break.

The pandemic has definitely made it harder on many of us physically and mentally. It has caused us to rethink our routines and re-prioritize our projects and goals, especially for those of us that are working from home. I’ve felt more pressure to increase output and work beyond my normal hours, so I’ve started penciling in my breaks. I will make sure to put time on my calendar two or three times during my day to take a walk, eat lunch, perhaps unload the dishwasher. Whatever I do with my break, I make sure that I step away from my machine and do something else. Having it on my calendar makes it much more likely to happen, versus looking at my clock and saying “I’ll take a break after this video.” Before I know it, it’s 4 p.m. and I haven’t moved from my desk since lunch.

So…what if something comes up?

Scheduling your day can really help keep you focused and present, but we all know that emergencies can happen. On occasion, we may need to move something aside from our plan and prioritize tasks. That’s just how life works! However, ask yourself if this is something that really should be done immediately, or perhaps if a colleague can assist with the issue. Take it from me…you don’t have to do everything. If you really are the only one that can do it and it’s urgent, then sometimes sacrifices need to be made. But prioritizing our own schedules hones our self-respect, something that I feel our workforce has been downplaying for some time. We don’t need to be martyrs to be good workers. We can be good at our jobs without sacrificing our health and goals.

The number of hours and time allotted to these tasks can vary for everyone, but if you’d like a guide on how to prioritize these tasks throughout the day (give or take a few hours for meetings), check out this great article on budgeting your workweek!

Myranda Whitesides is a Performance Support Specialist for the Interior Business Center, the Department of Interior’s Shared Services Center. She conducts personnel and payroll systems training for over 50 federal agencies, as well as providing training in Diversity and Inclusion for her peers. Myranda also serves as the Education Co-Director for the Mile High Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), coordinating Educational content for Human Resources professionals in the Denver Metro area. Myranda also enjoys singing, camping, and exploring local breweries and restaurants with her husband, Daniel.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

I loved this piece, especially this closing quote – “We don’t need to be martyrs to be good workers. We can be good at our jobs without sacrificing our health and goals.” Having time and space to work independently is just as important as the collaboration we do everyday working toward common goals with our team.

Avatar photo Mark Hensch

This primer is sorely needed Myranda! I’m grateful for the tips here. Particularly, I always encourage people to carve out short breaks so they can recharge and do their best possible work.