Tips for Getting Better at PrioritizationAUTHOR: Indiana Lee
People often assume that “busywork” or the act of being busy means they are being productive, but this isn’t necessarily true. Just because you are working on something doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to be working on at that moment.
Instead, knowing what things to work on and when is how you can be most productive. Thus, prioritization is the key to productivity.
Traditionally, prioritization often involved simply going down your list of tasks for the day and marking them with a letter, number, or even color to classify each one from least to most important. And the most important tasks would then get accomplished first.
However, this method is outdated and is often no longer effective with the more chaotic lives and careers we lead. Today, the workplace (and other areas of our lives) is fast-paced, and things could change at any moment, which means something that once seemed like a priority might no longer be the most important task at any given moment.
So, to adapt, modern prioritization must instead be guided by the context of the situation. In other words, you must change your priorities to adapt to each new situation you find yourself in.
But how is this done exactly? It’s part learning to be flexible, part having good time management skills, and part learning to identify what a priority is in the first place.
Identifying What Tasks Are a Priority
So how do you decide what tasks are a priority when everything seems important?
According to Josh Kaufman, a bestselling business author, your Most Important Tasks (MITs) are the critical tasks that will create the most significant results. As much as it may seem, not everything on your to-do list is critically important. So to be the most productive, you should first identify the tasks on your list that will produce the most significant results.
However, remember that what seems like a critical task in the morning might not end up being the most critical task later in the day if something changes. This is where time management comes into play.
If time were not an issue, you might be able to simply go down your tasks for the day from most important to least important. But, unfortunately, you will likely have other things pop up during the day that throw a wrench in your schedule and your initial list of priorities. So you also need to be able to adapt and manage your time well so you can rearrange your focus and your priorities at any particular time.
Additionally, prioritization isn’t just about prioritizing tasks based on your day, but it’s also about setting priorities for your future. If you only focus on priorities one day at a time, you can easily forget to do things that are necessary to help you achieve long-term goals.
For example, short-term priorities might be things like working on a specific project, sending an email, etc. But long-term priorities might be something like learning a new skill so you can improve your chances of getting a promotion.
Many people want to improve their careers and grow within their company, but this will never happen if you don’t start including the things you need to do to make that happen as a priority in your everyday list of things to do. So make sure to include both short-term and long-term priorities when managing your daily list of things to do.
Techniques for Improving Task Prioritization
Effective prioritization is about creating a schedule, evaluating urgency, allocating time, and being flexible. So, let’s take a look at some useful techniques for improving your prioritization process.
Map out your priorities
First, it’s essential to have some sort of visual tool to help you get an overview of all your priorities. And you can do this in whatever way suits you best. This could be a simple list of your priorities, a table that breaks things down into different sections, a chart, etc. Whatever kind of visuals work best for you is fine; it’s all just about making sure you have something to look at and refer to.
Classify priorities based on importance and urgency
Once you have your priorities laid out, you should sort them by importance and urgency — and yes, these are two different things.
Your urgent tasks are the ones that must get done right away. These are the things that require your immediate attention. However, just because a task is urgent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an important task.
For example, you might need to make an urgent call to quickly remind someone to do something, but that something might not necessarily be as important as a work project you are working on. Still, it’s urgent and requires immediate attention because the call won’t be effective if you were to make it later in the day.
Your important tasks are things that contribute to your goals, but they might not be urgent. A task that contributes to your long-term goal of getting a promotion, for instance, is important, but it isn’t necessarily urgent compared to other daily priorities. Whereas sending a work email might not be that important, but it could be urgent.
So, it’s not only helpful to identify priorities but to classify them based on importance and urgency as well.
Set deadlines for your priorities
The third step in being better at prioritization is setting timelines or deadlines for your priorities. You’ve got them mapped out, and you’ve classified them as urgent/not urgent and important/not important, but now you need to know exactly when they all need to get finished.
Deadlines are especially important for long-term goal priorities. If you don’t ever set a deadline for them, you might never work them into your schedule alongside your urgent priorities.
So go through everything and set a time and a day for when it needs to get done, and from there, you can make a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule with everything planned out.
Again, you can leave room for things changing and priorities popping up in the moment, but having a schedule of everything laid out ahead of time will save you so much time and allow you to be more productive and efficient.
Automate and optimize with digital tools
Try as you might — even with the best task priority schedule mapped out — you still might find you are struggling to get everything done. As they say, so much to do, so little time. But the answer to this problem is automation.
With the right digital tools, you can get certain tasks done more efficiently in less time. For example, if you are a content creator, certain tools or software can help you create content more quickly, without losing quality. And the same goes for many other job fields and tasks.
If you automate your processes by upgrading to better tools, you can work through your list of priorities faster, which will then allow you to get more done each day.
Remember, the key to good prioritization is being adaptable. Anyone can make a list of priorities and schedule them out, but not everyone is good at being flexible and adapting when things pop up at the last minute that disrupt their day. If you can learn to better adapt and manage your time, however, you can significantly improve your productivity and become a master of prioritization.