Prioritizing tasks: If it’s not a nine or 10, it’s a one


One of my favorite sayings is, “You can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything you want.” There isn’t enough time to do everything, but there is plenty of time to do what’s important.

The problem is, when you look at your list of tasks and projects, at a certain level, everything seems important. That’s why we wrote it down. To be productive and reach our goals, we need to decide which tasks are the most important and should receive top priority.

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, suggests using “The 90% Rule” for prioritizing tasks. It allows you to take a step back and look at your list objectively.

Laura Vanderkam at Fast Company explains McKeown’s method:

You’re looking at a new opportunity. Rank it on a scale of 1 to 10 on how amazing you think it is. Then try this little thought experiment: “If it’s not a nine or 10, then it’s a one,” says McKeown. The goal is to take on tasks that are “a superb use of my time,” he says, “and I don’t mean that selfishly. I mean, is this the best way I can contribute to others, to society, is this my very highest point of contribution?” The point is that “we need to see the difference between things that are good and things that are exceptionally good,” he says. “It’s an important distinction in a world exploding with options.”

Out of ten tasks, one or two are likely to deliver the most value or biggest results. Put those tasks into their own category and put everything else aside. If this sounds like a variation of the 80/20 rule, I agree. And that’s why I like it.

Don’t get hung up in deciding what’s a six and what’s a seven. If it’s not a nine or 10, it’s a one.

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