A great teacher once told me that greatness comes from understanding what you should do, but more than that, it comes from understanding what you should NOT do. The time all of us have on hand is limited and we have to be careful in our choices.

One of the simple tools to do this is the MoSCoW prioritization technique coupled with the notion of time-boxes. This is commonly employed in the industry – specifically recommended in the DSDM (Dynamic Systems Development Methodology (www.dsdm.org).

At the core, it is very simple. You classify items of work into MUST (Mandatory), SHOULD (Highly Desirable), COULD (Nice to have) and WONT (Not needed at this time). It is useful to think of each day, week, month and year in terms of a “time-box”. It gives us a realization of what you need to accomplish in that time period.

Once you know that, you can apply the MoSCoW classification and follow a simple rule. ALWAYS work on the MUST items first, followed by SHOULD and only then the COULD’s. This way, you increase the chances of completing all the MUST items in the required time.
This is a wonderful technique at work, but it can also be employed to determine what we want to do in our personal lives.

Many of us (at least those that are more “organized” than others) are used to making To-Do lists. There are two things we need to add to these lists to make them more useful.
1. A ranking or priority order in which we propose to complete them
2. A time limit when we aim to complete them

There is one fatal flaw that we need to defeat while working on the to-do list – the tendency to work on the simplest item first. It is extremely tempting to start with the easy things first. It helps us achieve quick wins and gives us a sense of accomplishment.
However, it lulls into us into complacency by making us believe we are making a lot of progress, even if we are not. Worse, it is likely to put the more important things we want to do at risk by pushing them back to later in the time-box.
Think about the following situations.

1. How many of you start the work day in the office or home by looking at email? Is that the most important thing for you to do? Why not start the day with the main job – whatever it is?

2. How many start off the day at home reading the newspaper? Is that the most important thing for you? How about substituting with something more important – like getting some physical exercise for example?

3. When you are answering an exam, are you tempted to do the easy questions first? How about answering the difficult ones when your mind is fresh and you are still not under time pressure?
Success is driven by how well you use time. Don’t spend it on the little trivia that don’t matter. If you get into the habit of always putting the important things first, you will find yourself achieving much more. It sounds like common sense – only that it is not commonly observed.