Smart People Know Their Priorities (How To Choose What To Work On Right Now)

Have you ever worked a full day and then realized that you didn’t get anything significant accomplished?

You probably felt very busy that day – moving from task to task to unrelated task.

Sometimes, I have a sense of ultra-efficiency when I get in that zone of task switching.

It’s totally artificial.

Task switching is also terribly ineffective.

The net result at the end of the day is that you didn’t really finish anything substantial yet you are mentally drained. The sad part is that you’re often not closer to accomplishing your goals.

Multitasking lowers your IQ when you’re performing cognitive tasks, like working! A University of London study shows that multitasking will have a similar effect as smoking marijuana or staying up all night.

If you can find the right thing to work on, the high priority task, then you can chip away at your goals day by day, a minute at a time, without feeling overwhelmed.

One reason why people simulate being busy is because they really don’t know what they are trying to do – they aren’t focused.

They don’t know their goal.

Let’s talk about the preparation you need to do before you can determine your highest priority task.

  • You need to know your goal. You need to have the end in mind when you start.
  • You should know exactly what needs to be done to achieve the goal. Break your goal down into smaller steps. Think about it at a high level, in major phases. You can divide the phases down to even smaller tasks as you go, until you can break your goal down into tasks you can complete in 1 – 3 hours
  • Understand the right order for your tasks. You will probably write down the phases and steps in order – that’s how most people think. Regardless, review your list a couple times to make sure that you have the right order.


Once you have an understanding of what you want to accomplish and spend some time to analyze the steps, you should not have a hard time at all determining what to do.

You can chip away at your goals each day if you work on the right things – the important things that actually make a difference.

Personally, I like to work in the morning, so the night before make sure I know what I need to work on in the morning. That way I don’t have to spend my prime mental energy when I wake up figuring out what to do.

Most of the time you will only have 1 choice on what you should be working on to reach your goal. Sometimes you might have options and that is okay. You should be able to pick one that is a more important, more critical than the rest.

The critical path is worth talking about now.

The Critical Path

The Critical Path is a project management concept that helps you understand the duration of the project based on the project activities and their sequences.

The easiest way to think about the critical path is that any delay for a task on the critical path will cause a delay to the overall project.

There are more complex definitions and concepts related to the critical path, but these are only relevant when you have a larger, more complex project and a team of people working on it.

Have you ever heard someone ask, “Is that task on the critical path?

Critical path tasks and activities have higher priority since they can delay a project.

Now you know that the reason they are asking is to determine whether the overall project will be delayed if there is a delay with that specific task.

If the task isn’t on the critical path, there is some wiggle room to complete the task before delaying the project.

Eventually, if a task is severely delayed then the task can become part of the critical path even if wasn’t initially.

The takeaway is that if a task is on the critical path then it will likely have a higher priority when compared to another task that could be done but is not on the critical path.

If you know your goal and have listed out all the tasks to accomplish your goal, it is much easier to figure out what to work on – your highest priority task.


You will be so much more effective if you know what you need to work on each day. You will work each day to achieve your longer term goals by focusing on the tasks that get you closer to your goal.

When you have a singular focus, you can hone in and ignore the noise, ignore the emails, and other distractions.

Don’t fool yourself into multitasking. It really doesn’t work well yet it simulates efficiency. (Read more about the perils of multitasking here.)

You can get a ridiculous amount done if you:

  1. Write down your goal.
  2. Break the goal down into manageable pieces of work.
  3. Complete each task with a singular focus.
Do you struggle finding the high priority tasks to work on? Or, do you have a different way to figure out what to work on?
Let me know in the comments below.
4 comments… add one
  • ken

    Really useful for me, I find out that I am doing multitasking, which always leads to bad result, I should make a plan and focus on the critical task first. thanks very much.

    • Hey Ken, Thanks for the comment. Multitasking to so hard to avoid…I struggle with it every day.

  • Hey Doug. Great article! I know as soon as I stopped trying to multi-task, and started focusing, that was when I really started to make progress.

    I’ve actually been following the “Critical Task” method for a while now – just didn’t realize it had a name!

    Even though Focusing and following my critical path help so much, and I’m getting good at it – I still falter and work on the “fun stuff”, things I know I shouldn’t be doing at the moment, but do anyways. This article came at just the right time when I’ve been “slipping” so thanks for helping me keep on track!

    • Hey Dave, Thanks for checking out this post. I need to re-read it once a day just to remind me about what the hell I ought to be working on.

      Glad it was helpful!

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