Who has time to do everything on their to-do list in a day, seriously? Have you ever struggled with how to prioritize tasks in the workplace when there are so many tasks that need to be organised? Add on top of this your personal tasks and it’s a recipe for becoming easily overwhelmed!
In this post, we will discuss what prioritization is, some common prioritization methods, and take a look at how to prioritize your work so you can feel confident that you’ll get your tasks done on time and achieve your goals.
- What is prioritization?
- What is the Eisenhower Method?
- How to Prioritize Work
- Quick Prioritization Tips for Work Productivity
- Realistic expectations and productive prioritization
What is prioritization?
Prioritization, put very simply, is the act of ranking or arranging items in order of importance or urgency. How you prioritize your work can directly affect how much you get done in a day/week/month, and failing to prioritize effectively can leave you feeling like you’re not in control.
Prioritizing each day is one of the best ways you can control how much gets done and what kind of output you’re able to deliver. But you ask, “How do I go about prioritizing tasks?”, well it’s actually quite simple, but it will take some practice before feeling completely comfortable with this method of thinking. But first, the Eisenhower method…
What is the Eisenhower Method?
The Eisenhower Method is a simple way of prioritizing tasks based on whether they are urgent or important. This method can be used at work and in your personal life to help you get more done each day so that nothing feels like an overwhelming task!
The image below shows the basic concept of the Eisenhower Method/Matrix and where you would put each task when prioritizing them.
The Eisenhower Method is also known as the Eisenhower Matrix or Eisenhower Box and utilizing this method you can effectively delegate, allocate, and eliminate tasks based on their relative priority or necessity.
How to Prioritize Work
When considering how to prioritize tasks in the workplace it’s important to consider what matters now, what can be done later, what can be done by someone else, and what can be removed entirely.
Our recommended prioritization method uses the Eisenhower matrix to ruthlessly allocate, delegate, and eliminate tasks each day/week/month.
With this method and the below steps, you can be confident to tackle your day!
1. Write down a list of all your tasks into a single list.
This step is important because it helps you to get everything out of your head and onto paper, your computer, or your favourite To-do app. Make sure the list includes all tasks for today and upcoming, whether they be work or personal. You will then go through this list in a moment to perform some necessary prioritization!
For most people, it is best practice to list out all tasks for today as well as all upcoming tasks for the week and potentially the month depending on how busy you are. The more tasks you list out the better you will feel when you get to prioritize them, and you may find quite a few tasks are not necessary.
2. Use the Eisenhower Method to Analyze your list and allocate each task to a box
Use the Eisenhower matrix to determine the priority of each task. This simple four-quadrant grid can help you get a quick overview of how urgent or important your tasks are and then allow you to allocate them accordingly.
Before going through your list, take a moment to write out 4 columns titled, To Do, To Schedule, To Delegate, and To Eliminate. If you choose to use an app I can highly recommend Todoist as it enables the use of a Kanban-style board which makes it super easy to see everything as well as allocate between columns easily.
Next, simply take each item on your list one by one and consider whether it is Urgent (U), Important (I), Not Urgent (NU), or Not Important (NI).
As you go through each item, add it to the respective column.
Urgent & Important = To Do – These tasks need to be done today or in the immediate future.
Important & Not Urgent = To Schedule – These tasks need to be scheduled for the coming days and weeks.
Not Important & Urgent = To Delegate – Get someone to help do these tasks. If personal, perhaps your partner can help, if work-related, get assistance for these tasks on freelance platforms like Fiverr, Upwork etc.
Not Important & Not Urgent = To Eliminate – These tasks are those that you don’t really need to do at all, some might be nice-to-haves. What you can do, is leave tasks on your “To Eliminate” list and check back in on them each month to see if there are any that are relevant anymore, if not, get rid of them.
3. Rank your “Do” tasks in order of priority
Your “To Do” tasks are those that are Urgent AND Important, so they should be completed as soon as is reasonably possible. But how do you go about ranking them?
Well, one simple method is to ask yourself this question: “What if I didn’t complete this task today?” If the answer is, “It would bother me all day and I’d feel terrible” then that task is numero uno, priority 1, Top of the list!
Work your way back from here with each task and rank them according to the level of need to complete. Your daily “To Do” list should ideally only be comprised of between 3-5 main tasks that are accomplishable throughout your day. You want to set yourself up for success, making these tasks achievable means when you do complete them you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.
4. Schedule your “To Schedule” Tasks
Once you have completed your “To Do” list for the day it’s time to move onto your “To Schedule” list. Look at these tasks and allocate a deadline for each.
You may wish to break down larger tasks into subtasks with specific deadlines. This will help you accomplish those tasks that seem overwhelming to start as when you can find 10 minutes here or there to complete one of the subtasks you’re making progress toward your main task.
Using a task management tool such as Todoist makes this process simple as you can specify the deadline for each task and break down larger tasks into subtasks with ease.
You may also want to block out time in your calendar to improve work productivity. For example, you might dedicate time for “focus work” and reserve other times for interruptions such as meetings or phone calls.
Remember to make your deadlines realistic: if a task will take an hour but has been allocated 30 minutes it’s likely not going to get done! Be honest with yourself about how much time a task will take and always overestimate so you have wiggle room if you need it.
Quick Prioritization Tips for Work Productivity
Using the steps above you a great foundation for how to prioritize tasks in the workplace, but what about some quick tips that can help speed up this process? Here you go:
- All tasks in one place – All your tasks, whether personal or work-related should go in one list. If you work from home or for yourself this is even more important! By putting all your tasks in one place you won’t feel like you’re letting either side down and you can accomplish a balance between home and work, ensuring everything that needs to get done is completed on time.
- Clearly define your deadlines – Set yourself up for success by clearly defining your deadlines. How long do you think a task will take? How much time should you set aside each day to complete tasks on your “To Do” list? By answering these questions it makes the process of prioritizing work tasks easier as you have clear guidelines in place to make better judgements about which task to tackle first and what needs to be done by when.
- Remove all distractions and focus – You will find it hard to prioritize let alone complete tasks in the workplace when you are constantly being interrupted by your phone, social media alerts or even other people? Turn off all notifications and tune into what is needed to be done right now. This will improve work productivity tremendously as you’ll see more results from less time spent working!
- Think longer-term – You need to have a goal in mind to effectively prioritize tasks at work. How does completing this task now help you achieve that goal? What is the end result if you accomplish it today, tomorrow or within a certain time frame? How will your life be different once you have completed this task versus not having done so at all? Keep your goal in mind when prioritizing your tasks and eliminate those tasks that don’t help you achieve your goal.
Realistic expectations and productive prioritization
Even if you are a prioritization master, you’re still human and bound by the law of time. Each day, you can only complete a certain number of tasks, and the number you complete will vary based on the length of the task. The most important thing to remember is that sometimes you won’t get things done as you hoped and that’s okay. When this happens you need to re-group and re-prioritize so that you can get those tasks done tomorrow, or over the coming days.
Don’t forget, prioritizing tasks in the workplace is all about ensuring you allocate and spend time on those tasks that are important, those tasks that move you toward your goal. When you do this effectively you’ll know because your goal seems achievable and you can refer back to your completed tasks for assurance that you’re on the right track and getting things done.
Eliminate that which is not necessary, allocate that which needs to be done over the coming days and weeks, and get started start today!