Prioritizing tasks is a great way to keep track of what’s really important to you as a professional. It is the best way to ensure that business-critical activities are completed on time and at the expected level of quality.
But what exactly does work prioritization entail? To get better results in the workplace, set work priority not on a “first in, first out” basis; rather, base it on urgency and level of importance. Tasks should be given ample analysis to figure out whether they should be tackled straight away, put in the back burner, or delegated to someone else.
Here are some great tips to help you prioritize your tasks:
1. Separate the important from the urgent
The terms “urgent” and “important” are often used interchangeably, but there’s a good way to differentiate between them and use it to your advantage. Remember that “urgent” means something that requires immediate action or attention. “Important,” on the other hand, refers to something of great significance or value. In other words, a task that is important does not automatically mean that it should be done immediately; likewise, not all urgent tasks have the same level of importance.
To further illustrate this point, refer to the Eisenhower Matrix, a simple four quadrant diagram that can help you define which tasks should be given priority:
|Important but not urgent||Important and urgent|
|Neither urgent nor important||Urgent but not important|
- First, focus on your Important and urgent tasks; these will likely take up the bulk of your workday, and most of your energy should go to these.
- Next, look at your Important but not urgent box and see how you can set completion schedules to the tasks listed there. Remember that some of these tasks may be moved to your Important and urgent box down the road.
- After that, check your Urgent but not important box and seek to delegate these tasks to someone else.
- Lastly, check your Neither urgent nor important box and try to drop these tasks as soon as possible. Some of these tasks can be ignored or delegated.
2. Rank your daily tasks based on true priority
No two workloads are exactly the same, which is why in some cases, prioritizing tasks using the Eisenhower Matrix may not be fitting. For one, the number of tasks classified as Important and urgent tend to increase quickly, and tackling all of them may prove to be overwhelming. Therefore, it’s a good idea to further classify your Important and urgent tasks to clarify which among your most critical tasks should be accomplished first. A good way to do this is with the Ivy Lee Method, which helps you classify your tasks through four simple rules:
- At the end of each workday, list down the six most important tasks you need to complete the following workday. List no more than six items.
- Work on those six items by their true importance, from most important to least important.
- At the start of your following workday, concentrate only on the first task. Do not move on to the next without finishing the previous one.
- Repeat this process every day.
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3. Set the tone for your workday
It is widely believed that how you start your day will determine how the rest of your day will turn out. This is why it’s a good idea to jump-start your productivity by attacking your most dreaded yet most important task for the day. This method is referred to as “eating the frog,” based on a quote by American writer Mark Twain, who once said, “If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!” So tackle your “frog” right away, and the momentum you generate from that will help keep the rest of your day productive.
“If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!”
— Mark Twain
4. Do your most important work during your most productive hours
Lastly, to maximize your most productive hours during a workday, use your personal productivity curve, which refers to each person’s innate energy and focus peaks and troughs. Everyone has unique habits, environments, and physiologies, which explains why every person tends to have different energy levels throughout the day. By being attuned to your own body, you discover whether you have certain energy and fatigue patterns that you can use to your advantage.
Once you've identified your own productivity curve, you are in a better position to use your peak activity and energy times to accomplish your highest-priority tasks. That way, you can work on your most critical tasks efficiently and immediately, then use your lower energy moments to work on tedious, repetitive tasks that you simply need to get out of the way.
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