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When you have a lot of seemingly important things you need to accomplish, it may be hard to figure out how to take care of everything; deadlines and last minute requests often compete with long-term plans.

But effective prioritization can help you get the right things done and keep you from wasting time on things that don't matter.

One way to prioritize is to categorize your tasks to into four "buckets" based on the importance and urgency of each task.

Important tasks are those that contribute towards your personal or professional goals, while urgent ones are those that demand immediate attention and are often related to someone else's goals.

The "important and urgent" bucket contains crises and pressing problems that need to be addressed immediately.

These could be unforeseen emergencies, or things you just left until the last minute.

Deal with or delegate these immediately as they enter this section.

The second bucket of important but not urgent items are the things that are essential to your personal or professional goals.

Because these things are so critical to your goals but don't attract attention the way urgent items do, make sure to schedule time to concentrate on things that fall into this bucket.

Avoid putting these items off until they become urgent.

The third section is the most dangerous: things that are urgent, but not important.

It can be easy to mistake a task's urgency for importance, like when someone interrupts your work to ask a question.

Saying "no" politely to a last-minute request that distracts you from your goals will keep you focused.

The fourth section, neither important nor urgent, are simple distractions.

They might trick you into feeling productive, but avoid spending time on these tasks as much as possible.

If you're really not sure how important something is, ask someone else.

Your boss may have a better big-picture sense of what's essential, and what can be put on hold.

Even if what you're working on isn't for someone else, it can still help to get an outside opinion, so don't be afraid to ask for help.

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