If your job success is measured by your output, you’ll be aware of the buzzword ‘productivity.’ High productivity is a concept that sounds simple on the surface; surely, all you need to do is find focus, get through your to-do list, and respond to the most urgent tasks first, right?
Yet, in practice, being highly productive is no mean feat, especially in today’s distracting and busy working world. There are many benefits to increasing productivity, and doing so can be easy with one simple habit: task prioritization.
Without much further ado, let’s find out how task prioritization can increase your productivity.
- What is Task Prioritization?
- How to Prioritize Your Tasks
- Different Task Prioritization Methods
- What are the Benefits of Task Prioritization?
- What Tools Can be Used to Support Prioritization?
What is Task Prioritization?
The concept of task prioritization is simple. Imagine you have ten tasks you want to complete but aren’t sure which one to start on first. Task prioritization will help you understand which tasks to work on first and which to delegate and which to remove from your to-do list entirely. There are many ways to approach this, but let’s start with the basics.
How to Prioritize Your Tasks
Make a List of Tasks
It’s impossible to prioritize if you don’t have a clear view of what’s on your plate. Many workers tend to jump straight into the first task they see rather than taking the time to consider the detail of what needs to be done and by when.
So, the first step is to gather all your to-dos into one list. Include everything you know you need to do, from checking in with a supplier for an update to writing a project brief. As you work through this list, additional tasks you hadn’t thought of before will likely occur to you!
Understand Their Deadlines and Time Constraints
Once you have your completed list, it’s time to add detail. Next to each task, add its deadline, how long you estimate it will take to complete and how critical it is to the business or project. This will help you understand what takes priority — usually, business-critical tasks with impending deadlines should sit at the top of that list.
You can break down some larger tasks into smaller tasks; feel free to list these all out under the larger task and assign different deadlines and priorities to each.
Communicate with Your Team
If you’re unsure about the deadline for a task or don’t know what takes priority between two competing tasks, check with your team or your manager.
Select Your Method
There are dozens of ways to approach organizing and prioritizing your workload. The one that works best for you will depend on your style of working and the job you do, so read on to discover the right technique for you.
Choose a Task Prioritization Method
Eat the Frog
Perhaps the best-named method on this list, Eat the Frog is named for a quote from Mark Twain: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.”
In practice, eating the frog means kicking off your day with the most imposing tasks on your list before moving on to lower priority tasks. We recommend beginning with any tasks related to your OKRs or those with the tightest deadlines and highest criticality. Once the weight of these stressful tasks has been lifted, you can focus on less critical tasks.
Eisenhower Decision Matrix
Named for former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, this method prioritizes your workload by sorting your tasks into four neat boxes, or quadrants, based on their level of urgency and importance. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix makes it easy to understand what should be done first so you can make quick decisions about your priorities.
To implement this method, go through the list you wrote earlier and decide whether each task is urgent and important. This will reveal what you must do first (tasks that are urgent and important), those you need to set time aside for later (important but not urgent), those you can delegate to someone else (urgent but not important), and those you can remove from your list altogether (neither urgent nor important). Place all your tasks into this task prioritization matrix, and you’ll have a clear view of where to start.
Possibly the quickest way to prioritize tasks, the ABCDE technique requires you to assign a letter to each task on your list based on its level of importance. Then, you work through your tasks based on this ranking. For example, A tasks are urgent and vital, whereas E tasks are neither and can be removed from the list.
If you struggle with keeping focus and tend to context switch, chunking could be for you. This technique focuses on grouping all related tasks together so that you work through them in one uninterrupted block of time.
For example, if you’re working on a proposal that requires you not only to write the proposal, but run reports, calculate costs, and consider resources, you could benefit from blocking out time to work on these tasks in succession.
What are the Benefits of Task Prioritization?
Higher Levels of Productivity
Firstly, task prioritization is a habit that will massively improve your productivity. There are many reasons why you or another employee may be unproductive, from low motivation to distraction.
A common reason why people are unproductive is that they have no structure within their working day. This is because all tasks are often treated as both urgent and business-critical, which is simply not true and prevents employees from managing their workload effectively.
Task prioritization sets out to change that by helping you break your list down into manageable chunks. Quickly understanding what needs to be done right away, what can wait until later in the day, and what can be delegated allows you to tackle your tasks in a controlled and considered manner, boosting productivity.
Plus, whether you work from home or in an office (or a mixture of both), having a clear plan to execute each day helps reduce the negative impact of distractions. Pinging Slack channels and ad hoc conversations with colleagues can quickly pull you off course. If you have a prioritized task list, it’s so much easier to jump right back in and move on to the task you’ve identified as needing to be done next.
More Efficient Work
Higher productivity doesn’t necessarily equal higher efficiency. Without a prioritized list, you can easily spend a whole day working on tasks relating to a non-priority project while more urgent to-dos lay by the wayside. A prioritized task list is fantastic for helping you stay on top of your workload and ensure you’re keeping on track to hit your deadlines.
More Time to Spend on the Critical Tasks
Part of the process of prioritization is understanding when your deadlines are and arranging your priorities accordingly. Without such a list, it can be easy to end up spending a whole day working on a non-priority report before realizing at 5 pm that you’ve neglected to prepare a presentation for that critical 9 am meeting with a client the following day.
Had you had a clearer view of your top priorities sooner, you likely would have given yourself more time to work on the presentation and pushed that other task to the bottom of the priority pile.
Lower Anxiety and Stress
If implemented correctly, task prioritization should help reduce work-related stress. While we can’t promise it’ll help with a demanding boss or challenging project, feeling more in control of your workload can go a long way to improving your overall work performance and reducing burnout.
More Free Time
Task prioritization can help you achieve a healthy work-life balance by reducing the amount of time you spend working. Without a prioritized to-do list, it can be easy to start working on the first task that lands on your desk, regardless of whether it’s urgent or not, or to steam through your endless to-do list by picking tasks at random.
This is ineffective and can see you working longer hours than necessary. A prioritized task list will help you understand what tasks can be completed tomorrow or the following week. Not treating every task as urgent will help you free up your day and hopefully give you some time back if you are prone to working extra hours.
What Tools Can be Used to Support Prioritization?
Now that you’ve got your prioritized task list, it’s time to put that into practice. There are countless time prioritization tools available to help you work more efficiently and keep on top of your new to-do list.
If you’re in a role that requires you to attend lots of meetings, you’ll know getting any real work done can be challenging. Setting time aside in your diary for essential and urgent tasks can be a life-saver; just make sure to set your diary to busy and be firm in declining any meetings that get dropped in.
Plus, you can schedule your tasks into your calendar. Seeing your tasks laid out visually can help you be realistic about what’s achievable each day and allow you to plan your time accordingly. This method is called time blocking. Read our article on time blocking and timeboxing, which works in conjunction with chunking.
Digital To-Do Lists
From apps that connect with your calendar to those that prioritize mindfulness, there are hundreds of digital to-do lists to choose from. While there’s nothing wrong with writing your to-dos in a notebook, a digital list can help you plan out future tasks, set reminders, and even integrate with your project management tools.
Forecast is the all-in-one project management tool that gives you everything you need to keep on top of your projects, resourcing, and finances in one place. Quickly see what you have been resourced on each day, or get project updates in one glance on your dashboard. With everything you need to make quick decisions about your projects in one place, Forecast is here to help you prioritize.
With Forecast, you can help your team work smarter and achieve higher levels of productivity. To streamline your workload, sign up for a free 14-day trial of Forecast below.