I love this phrase from Patrick Lencioni (one of my most fave business authors). There is something about it that is so concise, so precise, so to-the-point. It addresses our obsession with multitasking and speaks to everything — from our inboxes to our life values. Eight tiny words … one huge impact!

As a productivity consultant, one of the largest areas that I focus on with clients is their time-management system. We go through their calendar and time systems with a fine-toothed comb, looking to “create more time.” Inevitably, the conversation turns toward priority setting.

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How do they determine what is most important, what deserves the most attention and focus? Over the years, I have heard many great ideas, tools, tricks, and methods around setting priorities; however, ultimately, they all come down to this simple idea: Individually, we each know better than anyone else what we have to get done.

With that said, here are three “individual” criteria for setting priorities and organizing your time.

  • Judgment: You are the best judge of what you have to do. Let your feelings sharpen your judgment. This may sound counterintuitive. Let my “feelings” be a part of my judgment? Have you ever felt anxiety, guilt, or sheer panic when you realized that your presentation is due in two days and you haven’t even started putting it together? Those feelings can either be paralyzing or used as a springboard to move forward … and fast! Often, the more panic we feel, the more in-tune we become with what we need to get done!
  • Relativity:  Some tasks are always more important than others. Let yourself be guided by the question “What is the best use of my time right now?” I suggest writing this sentence on a sticky note and sticking it to the top of your computer or on your bathroom mirror so you see it often. It’s a powerful question and one that really helps us become realistic.
  • Timing:  Always give yourself a required start time in order to meet your deadline. Here’s my theory: The deadline doesn’t really matter if you haven’t started. It is really easy to get bogged down with multiple responsibilities, projects, and tasks. At the end of the day, look ahead, see what is coming up and what is due on which dates, and plunk them onto your calendar. For example: Project X is due on June 15 — I know I need three days to work on it. I look ahead, I see what’s on my horizon, and I realize that my date to start on it is on May 26th in order to give me the time I need. Even if you don’t officially start on the 26th, it’ll be there staring you in the face as a (gentle) reminder!

The next time you are faced with a pile on your desk, and you find yourself saying that it’s all important, remember these eight tiny words: If everything is important, then nothing is important!

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