Published Nov 2nd, 2022 by Nicolas Zenker
Prioritization is one of life’s greatest challenges. It is a way to determine what tasks need to be done based on their urgency and importance. When done effectively, it allows you to accomplish crucial tasks, plan for the future, meet tight deadlines, and avoid the effects of burnout. Prioritizing tasks will ultimately help boost your productivity and make you become a more valuable employee or team member.
With technological advances, teams can collaborate, and work progress can be easily visualized using agile or Kanban methodologies in real-time. That’s much better for workplace organization and workflow management than whiteboards or sticky notes. An example of a Kanban board for non-specific tasks is shown below.
How to prioritize tasks has become a significant aspect of how agencies such as those involved in software development, B2B, and SaaS marketing operate. However, even if you’re a freelancer or remote worker, you’ll still find the tips below handy for prioritizing tasks and boosting your productivity.
Creating a master task list is an essential first step for any project as it helps you better understand the time and resources required for each task. A master or priority list is also useful for teamwork as everyone keeps a big-picture project perspective.
With a master task list, you can aggregate bigger tasks in a dump, and then divide these into smaller tasks. An example of a master task list with subtasks in a Gantt is depicted in the screen grab below. You can also download a similar workflow spreadsheet template with customizable tabs from the internet.
Your master task list should always work in line with your business goals. From these goals, you can write down your master task list or key objectives and filter down your key results.
Let’s say you are an agency creating a niche course. The agency’s key objective might be to register 1000 people for the course in the first six months. Your priority tasks might include creating the course content using course software, getting the course live, marketing the course, and setting your course attendees up with a subscription calendar. Your smaller objectives might also include building LinkedIn connections and creating a mailing list.
With this kind of visual representation of the things you need to do, you can create a plan that ensures you accomplish all your tasks and meet the deadline.
After creating a master list dump and smaller sub-tasks, you can now start the process of prioritization. Prioritization is usually based on urgency (deadline) and importance.
Let’s delve into some of the more popular prioritization strategies.
What is your most challenging task of the day or week? Ideally, this is what you should start with. That’s the entire basis of the “eat the frog” method. Behavioral research shows that people who prioritize their toughest tasks and work their way down are more productive than those who do the inverse.
However, this might not always be practical if there are urgent but less complex tasks that you should deal with. That leads to the following methodology of how to prioritize tasks—the Eisenhower matrix.
Let’s say you have a critical report you need to submit by the end of the day. You also have a design project that needs finishing in two weeks and are nearing completion. Your boss requests you to review some product ideas and give them feedback soon. Finally, you just remembered that you should start mailing suppliers for the year’s final quarter.
In this case, you have four tasks which are:
This is the entire principle of the Eisenhower Decision Matrix.
With the Eisenhower Matrix, you can know which tasks to do immediately, delegate, plan for, or eliminate from your program. Note that this methodology may need to be adapted depending on the nature of the work or tasks you are performing and your workflow.
For example, the mailing list might not be an essential task in the meantime, but it will be a few months down the road. You can eliminate it from your current to-do list, defer such a task until a more appropriate time, or you may even delegate it.
The consultant Ivy Lee proposed a unique method nearly 100 years ago that forces the prioritization of tasks and increases productivity.
The method requires you to come up with a list of all your daily tasks and needle it down to the most critical six items on this list. In principle, the method works with any number of tasks. Work on each of these tasks starting with the one with the highest priority. If at the end of the day there are unfinished tasks on your list, you move them to the task list for the next day as the essential tasks to be accomplished.
Similar to the Ivy Lee method, the ABCDE Method uses task ranking to determine priority by assigning letters to each task. The highest priority tasks are denoted with an “A”, with the letter tags moving down in decreasing priority. That’s especially important when you have a long to-do list or a list with several smaller subtasks.
Aside from these prioritization techniques, you can focus on singular tasks at a specific time before taking breaks by using chunking as a productivity method.
A calendar is a critical part of personal and workplace productivity. The most crucial role of a calendar is to fully integrate your visualization strategies across your work and personal life goals. In a nutshell, your calendar will provide a clear visual delineation of your work time and personal time, for instance, holidays and official leave days.
With a calendar tool, you can visualize major and minor tasks, assign an official number of days or hours to each task, and see the project completion time. Therefore, you can anticipate delays, visualize project conflicts, and even keep track of impending deadlines. You can also redistribute tasks based on days when you or your team members are free.
If you’re running a team website with client integrations, you can use an embeddable calendar such as the one from AddEvent shown above to share your workflow with clients. You can embed the calendar easily into your website or landing page, customize it using different templates, and let clients subscribe to your calendar and get notifications.
For freelancers and business teams operating in an agile or remote setting, there’s always work or feedback dependency. In a normal project setting, you, your team, and the client usually have a predefined communication plan and workflow. For example, you’ll know what to do if a milestone is reached or if there is a deliverable to be reviewed by the client or project manager.
However, you might also run into a problem or some unexpected issue that may need you to communicate urgently. Don’t sit on any issue that might come up or which might be of importance to another team member. Instead, communicate as frequently as required, especially during the early phases of a project where everything might not be clearly laid out.
In an agile setting, a project management tool or CMS may help in automating communications with both clients and team members. A project management communication plan is a great place to start delineating communication with team members or customers.
Keep in mind that not all tasks are created equally. As in the Eisenhower Matrix, some tasks may be important and urgent, but you may not accomplish them successfully and on your time alone. In such cases, you should break down and delegate part of the task to a trusted team member or set more time for the task.
Remember, if you overwork yourself, you’ll suffer burnout. That will leave you and your team more vulnerable to missed goals and lackluster project quality.
In knowing how to prioritize tasks and boost your productivity, it’s vital to first start with your overall mission and objectives. A big-picture perspective of what needs to be achieved can help you come up with your main tasks and subsequent smaller tasks.
With these smaller tasks, you can apply techniques such as the Eisenhower Matrix and the Ivy Lee method to sort tasks in order of urgency and importance. You can also integrate productivity tools, such as a calendar or a CRM, to streamline all your workflows.
These methods aren’t just effective for corporate and business teams. You can also apply these techniques in your personal life to increase your productivity, achieve a better work-life balance, and hit those crucial deadlines and milestones.
Baidhurya Mani is the founder of SellCoursesOnline.com. He regularly shares tips, tools, and strategies to help creators and entrepreneurs build a successful online course business.