Is there anything more satisfying than checking something off of your to-do list? Sometimes it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re tackling a large or complicated project. Figuring out where to start is often the first step to getting a task done, and that means prioritization. Prioritizing means being brutally honest with yourself about the task in front of you, your capabilities, and your existing workload.
Often, prioritizing means deciding what’s really important, even when everything on your list feels absolutely crucial. Learning how to manage priorities and line them up so you can focus on one step at a time is an incredibly useful time-management skill that will help you–and your employees–become more productive.
Here at iProv, we believe in finding a mix of techniques that works for you and your company culture, but to help you get started, check out our favorite tips and techniques for prioritizing tasks and time management.
Consolidate Your To-Do List
The first step in learning how to manage priorities is to make sure you have a comprehensive list of everything that must be done. Your to-dos can come from a variety of sources–emails, Slack messages, invoices in the mail, or in face-to-face conversations and meetings. To prioritize your tasks efficiently, you need to create a master list the contains all of the tasks that require prioritizing.
Before you get started on prioritizing, decide where your master to-do list will live. You can use a to-do list app, your email inbox, a legal pad or notebook, even notes to yourself in Slack. It doesn’t matter where you keep your list as long as it is easy for you to keep track of and it keeps all of your tasks in one place.
Decide How To Set Priorities
Once you have your master list of tasks created, it’s time to start prioritizing. You’ll have to decide how you want to organize your tasks–by due date, by project, by difficulty level, etc. It may take trying a few different systems to find what works best for you. Sometimes a combination may work best. You may sort by dues date, and then within that week, sort by difficulty level so you can start with the easiest tasks and build momentum to tackle the more difficult ones.
Analyze Your To-Do List
As you’re organizing, it’s helpful to narrow down your list as much as possible. There are four main categories that each task on your list should fall under–Do, Defer, Delegate, or Delete.
Some tasks you can complete immediately. Go ahead and knock out any of your tasks that would take two minutes or less to complete. Send that email, ask that question, reply to that Slack, look up that reference, etc. It’s a fast way to narrow down your list, declutter, and help you define and focus on the higher-priority tasks. Plus you get to visually check (or cross!) them off your list, which is endlessly satisfying and motivating.
Anything that cannot be completed immediately will be deferred until later and remains on the task list to be prioritized.
Delegation is another great tool for cutting back your task list. Anything that can be/should be completed by others should be assigned to them. If you’re currently waiting on others for pieces of the task, make sure that the accountability rests with them and get it off your own list. You can achieve this by creating a reminder on your calendar to follow up or by adding it to a shared project. Getting it off your task list will relieve the pressure of having to see it sit there day after day.
If you use Asana, Monday, or other project management software, assign the task to the person responsible and add a deadline to ensure that it’s completed. It can feel demanding to add a deadline to a task, but it sets clear parameters and expectations, which makes for a much less stressful work environment in the long run.
Sometimes we hold on to our to-dos just because they’ve been sitting on our list as long as we can remember. But “Clean out desk drawers,” or “Scan files to digitize,” are clearly not important enough for you to have completed them thus far, so instead of feeling guilty, just delete them. Delete the tasks you never got around to, that no longer apply, or that provide very little value compared to the effort you’d have to put in to achieve them.
If it’s truly important to you to keep the task, move it to a separate “Someday” task list so it’s not cluttering up your high-priority list. That way, when you have a weird Wednesday afternoon with nothing to do, you can break out the Someday list and feel accomplished.
Once you’ve completed this analysis, you’ll be left with all of your deferred tasks. These are the ones that you’ll need to prioritize into your final (finally!) list.
Use a Task Prioritization Matrix
There are many prioritization matrices, and they all have their benefits. At iProv, we love the VSTA prioritization method which involves the use of a Covey-style matrix.
Anything that is due soon (or that’s overdue) is considered urgent. Deciding what’s truly important and what’s more of a “wouldn’t it be nice” task is subjective–just try to be as honest with yourself as possible as you make your decisions.
We find that this matrix is particularly helpful when you’re completely overwhelmed by your task list. It can really help you visualize and sort through what’s important and what can wait.
Once you’ve sorted your tasks into these categories, try to get through the “urgent and important” tasks first to avoid missing deadlines. When those are complete you can focus on our favorite quadrant–“not urgent and important.” These are the tasks that allow you to work on the business instead of just in it. These are tasks like improving processes, investing in continued learning, and team-building–they’re easy to put off, but when they’re completed they provide so much value.
Anything that’s “not urgent and not important” is likely busy work and can be deleted. If you see a lot of these popping up, ask yourself why. Is there a process that could be streamlined or a job position that could be altered so time isn’t being wasted on unnecessary work?
If you have questions about how to manage priorities in your practice, contact iProv at 501-214-7985. We provide one-time strategy and alignment meetings as well as long-term marketing services meant to give you more time to focus prioritizing your priorities.