From Episode 61 from The Complete Leader Podcast.

The second component of self-management, the ability to manage your time and priorities, is near and dear to my heart because I have had to work so hard to develop this skill. While self-control comes more naturally to me, I remember the angst I had even at a younger age when trying to organize and execute around my priorities.


However, I made the decision to neutralize this as a weakness, to not let it keep me from being successful, and have since gathered a few methods to help me. Let’s break down this skill and review four methods to successfully organize and execute around your priorities.


First things first, prioritize.

I like to dissect this skill into its three components: prioritizing, organizing, and executing.

Prioritizing is first because your priorities are what matter most. You have to determine how to focus on and stay intentional around the things that are most important to you in your work and life—even with the endless opportunities surrounding you.

There’s a quote from Peter Lord that has really stuck with me: “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” For me it was so profound because this is my greatest challenge—I am interested in so many different opportunities that I can have a hard time remembering my priorities. But I’ve adopted this method from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey that’s really helped.

Think about attending your 90th birthday party. People from all facets of your life are attending, from your work, your family, your community, and they each share with you what you’ve meant to them throughout their lives. What would they say? This exercise challenges you to envision your legacy and guides your priorities.

Two Methods for Organization

Once you have determined your priorities, you must first organize before you can execute.

The Ivy Lee Method

I always come back to this exercise if I ever lose sight of what’s going on or if my task list gets too long. It starts with comparing your priorities. First, write down the five most important things you need to get done tomorrow and rank them. When you get to work in the morning, start with the first thing on the list—and don’t work on any other tasks until it’s complete. Once you finish that task, review the other four on your list. Are they still priorities? Are they still in the right order? If so, go ahead with task number two.

You likely won’t finish them all; you’ll get distracted or interrupted and that’s okay. This method will, however, structure your day and keep you on task.

The ABC Method

Since your work is likely more complex than this, you’ll want to incorporate other organizational tools. I call this second method the ABC Method, and I use it for all types of weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual tasks, goals, and strategic priorities.

Begin by building a list of everything you need to get done. Then sort them into these four categories:

Category A: These priorities are vital to survival—if I don’t accomplish these, our organization may fail and I may fail as a leader. Pay attention to these first, set aside time in your calendar, and decide how you are going to go about accomplishing them. I never have more than three or four items on this list.

Category B: These goals aren’t vital to survival but are still very important. I usually have quite a few things on the B list, perhaps eight or 10, so I’ll number them in order of priority.

Category C: These tasks are not vital to survival and have some importance. I really want to get them done, and I’ll number these to prioritize them as well.

Category D: These are the tasks, goals, or priorities that are left. Either you don’t know how important they are, or you realize they are just unimportant noise. I have to tell you, I simply ignore this list until I know the task’s importance because, until then, I can’t afford the time to pay attention to it. This is the enemy of my ability to organize around my priorities.

Using both the Ivy Lee Method and the ABC Method, you’ll find you aren’t simply a victim of life, reacting to everything around you. You’ve instead done something intentional to move yourself toward a better future. Even if you don’t succeed, you shouldn’t blame yourself or feel shame. Instead, ask the simple question, “Why didn’t I succeed?” Think about what got in the way, whether the task turned out to not be a priority, or perhaps your strategy was flawed, and take what you’ve learned into execution.

Practical Steps to Execute

Executing on your priorities is all about focus. You have to remain energized and committed to those critical things that will matter the most and build your schedule, relationships, and communications around those two or three things.

One way I suggest maintaining that focus is to ask yourself, “What are the benefits when I accomplish this?” Go deep into that conversation—what exactly will you get from accomplishing a particular task or goal? What are the benefits? Continue building energy and focus by asking what you’re going to have to learn to achieve your goal, who you’ll need help from, what obstacles you’ll run into, how you’re going to measure your success, what milestones you’re going to create, and how you’re going to celebrate once you’ve achieved them.

To maintain that focus, you also have to learn how to shut down the extra tasks or noise that others or you yourself create. For me, keeping an appointment in my calendar to review weekly and monthly goals helps avoid trailing off on tangential interests. For others, a time log can also be helpful. To use that method, create a time log with four columns:

  1. Urgent and Important: What things did I accomplish this week that were urgent—or, due in 24-48 hours to avoid letting someone down—and important—or, something you’re doing today that has a lasting impact.
  2. Important but Not Urgent: These are tasks that have a long-term impact, but that you can get away with not doing today. However, if you continue to procrastinate day after day, you won’t end up where you want to be.
  3. Urgent but Not Important: These things need to get done, but they don’t have a lasting impact. In other words, in three years you won’t care whether you did them, but you do care today.
  4. Not Urgent or Important: These are the distractions, the things that derailed you from your priorities. Be honest with yourself but remember getting off-task doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s actually more a symptom of stress and burnout—you’ve lost the energy, strength, and capacity to manage and execute around your priorities.

Use these four methods to successfully organize and execute around your priorities, continue feeding your mind with a focus on growing this and the skill of self-control, and you will build your self-management abilities every day.

As David Allen said in his book Getting Things Done, “We have many options, but we only have one next step.”

Learn more about self-management at and in Part One of this series on self-management.

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