Prioritizing your tasks for the best productivity, where do I begin?

by Gregory Lambelin on Jul 30, 2015 3:25:21 PM

Where do I begin? How to prioritize your tasks for the best productivity

Are you buried under a mountain of work? Do you feel like you're working hard all day and not really accomplishing anything? Understanding which tasks have priority to complete is an important skill you’ll need to master in order to be optimally productive in your workday.

So, what do you do when you try to tackle your tasks by priority, but it feels like everything is important? Don’t get overwhelmed. Everyone faces this problem. Maybe someone’s on leave, so now their tasks are your tasks on top of all your original work. Or, you just got back from vacation, and have a mountain of work, and don’t know where to start. It can be difficult to skillfully juggle multiple priorities and competing responsibilities, but it’s not impossible.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a breath. Relax. Then, think about what it is that you and your team are trying to accomplish. Focusing on your end goal makes it easy to priorities your tasks, because once you know what you need to accomplish, the how generally falls into place.

Time management pit falls

These time management traps are easy to fall into. Being aware of them can help you avoid them, and be a more productive worker.

  1. Failing to keep a to do list. Keeping a list of things you need to do can be extremely helpful in maintaining focus. Whether it’s for the day, or the entire week, a to do list will keep you on track with accomplishing your prioritized tasks.
  2. Not setting personal goals. Without goals, you have nothing to accomplish. So make sure you’re setting both small and large goals. Your small goals should contribute to the larger goals ahead. So, for example, today I need to finish 25% of this project, so that I can have it completed by the end of the week. That way you’ve achieved all your daily goals, and your week’s goal by Friday. You can end the week feeling great about your accomplishments!
  3. Not prioritizing. Here’s the meat of this post. Prioritizing your tasks is half the battle. If you’re on deadline, maybe you don’t need to answer all your emails right away. Or, maybe you need to accomplish some smaller tasks in order to build the infrastructure for the larger task ahead. Prioritizing will help you understand what needs to be done when, so that you can work efficiently and effectively achieve your goals.
  4. Failing to manage distractions. If you have something important to do, it’s okay to unplug for a bit, just to get it done. Put your phone on silent, ignore the emails coming in, shut your office door. Do what you can to minimize distractions to get your prioritized tasks done.
  5. Procrastination. This is a big no go when trying to manage your time effectively. In the world of Facebook, YouTube and other internet distractions, when you think it’s only been a few minutes, an hour has gone by. That’s an hour wasted that you could’ve been accomplishing your goal. When prioritizing important tasks, work first, then play.
  6. Ineffectively scheduling tasks. Perhaps you’re the kind of person who works most effectively first thing in the morning. If that’s true, make sure you do all the hard, mentally draining work first thing, and save things like email and paperwork for the afternoon. That way you’re still getting things done, but they require less brainpower. If you do that mundane stuff first, and you don’t work effectively in the afternoon, you’ll end your day feeling like you didn’t accomplish anything. Know yourself, and your team to schedule your tasks as effectively as possible.
  7. Some people are good multitaskers, and can juggle several things at once. But, most people can only do one or two demanding tasks at once. Again, know yourself and your abilities. Don’t try to multitask for a job that requires all of your focus. You’ll end up getting nothing done, and will end your day frustrated.


Taking D-wight approach to prioritizing

“I have two kinds of problems: The urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

So, now that you know what not to do, what can you do to help prioritize your task list? Former president Eisenhower was said to use the above quote to organize his workload and priorities. So what does it mean?

Let’s start by making a list of all the projects you need to do. Try to include everything that takes up time during your work day: Answering phone calls and voice mails, email, paperwork, meetings, as well as actual work that needs to be done. Now that you have your list, try to put them into one of these four categories:

  1. Important and urgent – These are your number one priorities.
  2. Important but not urgent – Next on the list
  3. Not important but urgent – These can fall third in line
  4. Not important and not urgent – These tasks can be done last without guilt.

Once you can label all your tasks appropriately, you should be able to easily prioritize.

What else can I do?

You’ve got Eisenhower’s approach in the bag. Is there more you can do to help streamline your day, and maximize your priorities? Of course.

  1. Use a goals and reward system. Remember how we talked about avoiding distractions? Well, if you set not only weekly or monthly, but daily goals, or even hourly goals, and achieve them, reward yourself! Set a timer and get on Facebook for five minutes. Go get a cup of coffee, take a walk around the office. Whatever you need to do to stay motivated to accomplish the next task.
  2. Determine deadlines. Deadlines will help you decide what’s important and urgent. A task with a deadline that’s a month away may be important, but it’s not nearly as urgent with the task that’s due next week. So, set deadlines and go from there.
  3. Use your team! They’re there to help you, just as much as you’re there to help them. Prioritize your tasks, and understand your team’s skill set to effectively accomplish your goals on time.
  4. Learn to say no. This skill can be difficult to master, but if you don’t, all your hard work setting priorities might as well be forgotten. By saying no, you understand, and believe in your priorities. You know you can’t accomplish both their work and your own at the same time. So there’s nothing wrong with saying no. But, it might help to offer suggestions to the teammate asking for help. Provide options for someone else they can go to, or resources they might use to accomplish their goal. That way, you both win.
  5. Be flexible. Once you have your list of important and urgent tasks, learn to go with the flow. Compromise, and make sacrifices when larger tasks come along. Lean on your team to help share the load, and you’re sure to be an effective worker throughout your day.

Now that you have a comprehensive idea of the Eisenhower Principle, and how it can help you achieve your goals, what are you waiting for? Go forth and prioritize! And get lots done while you’re at it.