How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization

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How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization

September 27, 2021

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization

It is known that the problem isn’t lack of time but wrongly defined priorities. Setting clear priorities will help you achieve more efficient time management and meet every deadline. And figuring out how you intend to prioritize your commitments, deadlines, and projects can be a step towards productivity improvement and, ultimately, life satisfaction. 

Prioritizing means “organizing (things) so that the most important thing gets done or taken care of first”

Prioritization – definition (How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization)

Prioritization is a process involving grouping tasks or activities and organizing them well. It includes ranking them by various factors like criticality or time sensitivity and figuring out how much time and effort each one takes.

The process of prioritization helps you determine what you need to focus on to improve your efficiency and achieve maximum benefit.

Advantages of prioritizing: 

  1. helps complete everything that needs to be done; 
  2. allows you to focus on important and urgent tasks by identifying and isolating ones with lower priority; 
  3. helps to manage workload; 
  4. maximizes your efforts both in professional and private life.

What to do before prioritizing?

1. Create a list of your tasks

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization: Create a to-do list 

The long list of plans, deadlines and to-dos can seem overwhelming at first. Don’t get discouraged and – for now – don’t worry about managing tasks; just collect them in one place.

Creating a to-do list is an important step. It will give you a complete picture of everything you want or need to do first. This way, it will be much easier to keep the tasks in the order in the long run. Thus: 

  • write down existing and new tasks or plans, including those that are only ideas at the moment; 
  • divide the big ones into smaller tasks; 
  • include additional information on them, such as duration, validity, and date of execution; 
  • start prioritizing your tasks.

The first step in managing your work is to create a comprehensive list of all your tasks and plans 

2. Analyze and shorten the to-do list

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization : Analyze and shorten the to-do list 

Now it’s time to go through the list, analyze each task, and decide what you want to do with it. How to shorten the list: 

  • Do (perform): Go ahead and pick up any task that will take a short moment to complete. This is a quick way to narrow your list down to more difficult tasks with a higher priority. 
  • Postpone: if you don’t want to forget the tasks you are omitting, move them to a separate list of things to do “another time” – once your schedule will be less packed
  • Delegate: it is a way to shorten your to-do list quickly. Assign tasks to others and create a reminder to track their progress or add the tasks to a shared project. Removing them from your to-do list will reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed that is connected to a too long to-do list. 
  • Delete: Determine what you don’t really need to do. Things worth removing are tasks that have always been on your list that you have never undertaken or things of little value compared to the effort it takes to complete them.

Prioritization: identify the most important tasks

5 questions to answer in order to identify the most important tasks:

  1. What achievements will make me have more energy and make me feel proud of myself?
  2. Which tasks can have the most permanent effects, and how important can they be in ten years?
  3. What tasks are in line with my inner values? 
  4. Which are entirely under my control and not dependent on other people or circumstances? 
  5. What tasks and efforts best match the pace of my life and my current possibilities? 

Urgency versus importance 

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization: Urgency versus importance 

Here are three additional criteria you can use to prioritize:

  • Urgency – some assignments have strict deadlines that need to be met. Make a note of the appointments on your list and ensure you have enough time to complete the tasks. 
  • Importance – think about the potential impact of your tasks and outcomes in advance. The most important ones are those that will directly impact your life. 
  • Effort – some tasks take longer, other ones shorter time. Get quick and easy tasks done on the fly to keep your to-do list from getting out of hand. Be vigilant: make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the larger and more significant things. 

Organize your tasks according to these criteria, and then prioritize by: high urgency, high importance, and low effort. Finally, drop some priorities or reconsider those that are not urgent, of little significance, and require a lot of effort.

5 methods for effective prioritization 

There are various tools available to advise you on how to manage your priorities. What you use to weigh your choices may differ depending on the situation. It would help if you considered your deadlines, the nature of your duties, your individual work style, and what time of the day corresponds to your highest ability to concentrate. Let’s take a look at a few of the methods. 

1. Eisenhower matrix

The Eisenhower matrix divides tasks into four categories based on whether they are important, urgent or neither. It is an excellent tool for prioritizing tasks, making quick decisions, and maintaining good organization.

It is also called the “Important-Urgent Matrix” because these two criteria together form four groups of functions.

4 kinds of tasks according to Eisenhower:

  • Unimportant, but urgent – i.e. the so-called fires to be put out; 
  • Important and urgent are absolute priorities, and you need to get started first;
  • Unimportant and non-urgent – Eisenhower was utterly uninterested in them;
  • Important but not urgent – you have to start doing those, but not immediately because they have distant deadlines. 

The Eisenhower method was popularized by Steven Covey in his famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He divided the priorities into four quadrants and placed them in a different order.

Eisenhower matrix popularized by Covey:

  • QUADRANT 1: Important + Urgent,
  • QUADRANT 2: Important + Not urgent,
  • QUADRANT 3: Not important + Urgent,
  • QUADRANT 4: Not important + Not urgent.

The author of this version recommended spending most of time in quadrants 1 and 2 (and as little as possible in quadrant 4). This version is widely used today. 

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization: 1. Eisenhower matrix

2. ABCDE method 

The ABCDE method orders the list of tasks according to their priority. It is a quick way to prioritize work and time management. This method can be compared to grading tasks on a scale items:

  • “A” – most important,
  • “B” – have only minor consequences;
  • “C” – with no consequences;
  • “D” – to delegate;
  • “E” – to eliminate (if possible).

However, sometimes it is challenging to decide what priorities to assign to a task. Brian Tracy, the creator of this method, recommends adopting the criterion of consistency. 

  1. List all the tasks you want (or must) do. 
  2. For each one, add a letter from A to E, where A means the highest priority and E means the lowest. Each letter may appear on the list multiple times. 
  3. Wherever a few of the same letters appear – for example, the three tasks mentioned above described as A – add the numbers that define their execution order. Following the example, choose tasks A1, A2, and A3. 

It is essential to work on tasks A and B first because your success or failure at work depends on them. 

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization: 2. ABCDE method 

3. ABC method 

The ABC method, initially developed by Alan Lakein, seems more straightforward than the one above because it is based on a smaller scale. To use this approach, you should create your to-do list and then go through it and assign a mark to each task. To make it even easier to see, you could color-code them. If you don’t like letters, create a series of symbols that can stand for “A,” “B,” and “C.”

  • “A” Status Items“Must Do”: high priority items | very important items | critical items | immediate or very-near deadlines and/or a high level of importance otherwise (high stakes). 
  • “B” Status Items“Should Do”: medium priority items | can be quite important over time | not as critical as “A” items but still important to spend time engaging in completing/working on them. 
  • “C” Status Items“Nice to Do”: low priority items at the time | few negative consequences if left undone at this moment (low stakes). 
How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization: 3. ABC method 

4. P.O.W.E.R. method

Acronym P.O.W.E.R. consists of the five things to consider when you need to make a decision. The method helps to make a decision when you have an offer to accept or reject (e.g. job offer). Its significant advantage is that it forces you to look at the proposal in a broader perspective. The five areas the method addresses show the problem from different angles. It makes it harder to miss something. 

5 things to consider before accepting an offer:

  • Priorities – does the proposal fit your priorities; is it consistent with your strategy, broader plan, values? Or maybe it conflicts with what you care about? 
  • Opportunities – what opportunities and benefits does this offer give you, what doors will it open for you, what will it teach you, what will you get in return? 
  • Who – who is behind this proposal? Is this a person or an organization you can trust? Or maybe someone or something, family or friends, or perhaps an advertisement is putting pressure on you, encouraging you to do something that does not really suit you 
  • Expectations – what are the expectations? What will your duties and responsibility be? What are you risking or have to give back?
  • Real – what feelings does this proposal evoke in you? What is your spontaneous reaction? 

P.O.W.E.R. does not give you specific answers, there will still be question marks, but it should significantly narrow them down.

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization: 4. P.O.W.E.R. method

5. Action Priority Matrix (APM) 

This method will work in situations where efficiency is the most important. For example, when you are short on time, you can’t do everything and still expect to make the right decision. Using the Action Priority Matrix, you analyze tasks according to two criteria:

  • Effort (work and commitment) required to complete the task. 
  • Benefits that you can achieve when you complete the task. What will you gain? 

Action Priority Matrix (APM) has its own matrix, which means that it gives the best results with the smallest effort. 

  • Quarter I: Quick Wins – ideal tasks – the type everyone wants. With little effort, they give you enormous benefits, so start with them. Unfortunately, usually, there are not as many of them as we would like. 
  • Quarter II: Major Projects – most of the quests will fall into this category. The things that are difficult and time-consuming are most beneficial. 
  • Quarter III: Fill-ins – These are easy to complete, but the benefits are small. These are mostly all the things we deal with because we “need to”, not because we “want to”. 
  • Quarter IV: Thankless tasks – activities that do not give us too many benefits, and at the same time, are complex and time-consuming. Unfortunately, everyone comes across them sometimes, however, we all try to avoid them often by delegating those responsibilities to interns.

This method primarily improves our awareness. Unfortunately, it seems that it still leaves us with the problem of making decisions, but sometimes only a calm assessment of the profit and loss account shows where we are wasting our time and where it is worth investing more. 

How to prioritize your tasks? 5 proven methods for effective prioritization: 5. Action Priority Matrix (APM) 

Bonus: GETTING THINGS DONE 

It is not a typical method for managing priorities, but prioritization is an integral part of it. Getting Things Done (GTD), developed by David Allen, organizes activities by collecting cases and managing to-do lists.

One of the steps in this method involves critical reflection. Reviewing your list of tasks and their frequent revision is the key to “regaining control and focus,” argues Allen. When creating your to-do list, consider the following, which will, in turn, affect the way you organize your tasks and prioritize: 

  • What can I do in my current location? What can you do where you are now? How can you use it to your advantage? 
  • How much time do I have, and when do I need to do something else? The to-do list may change depending on how much free time you have. 
  • How much energy and focus do I have? When do you do your best job? How can you use this to your advantage? 
  • What is the most profitable for me if I do this? Yet another way of thinking about importance, weight, or priorities. 

Summary 

Using only one of the proposed techniques may not give you sufficient answers on how to prioritize tasks. So test your options!s. The picture of your priorities will be clearer as you implement more various techniques.

There are times when you need to change priorities, which becomes another task in itself. Therefore, you can make lists of tasks with priorities for the day. Take a look at your calendar and see how much time you should spend on the items in the list today, and then select the ones with the highest priority. Use estimation techniques to get more realistic times for your tasks.

TimesheetKiller – AI-Based automatic free time tracking software will help you with this. It is essential to be flexible and realistic in your prioritization of tasks. Otherwise, you will create false expectations of yourself and others and constantly feel lagging behind.

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