Do you feel overwhelmed with the number of tasks you need to complete at work? Do you often struggle to figure out where to start and get sidetracked by less important tasks? If so, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with task prioritization, but it’s a crucial skill to master if you want to be more successful in your job.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss how to prioritize tasks at work effectively, so you can work more efficiently, stay focused on what’s important, and ultimately achieve your goals. So, let’s dive into prioritizing tasks and boosting your productivity.
To decide on what task to work on, you need a rough understanding of what the completion of a task is worth. You can estimate this in several ways:
- Monetary value
- Contribution to your long-term goals
Let’s discuss each of these things in more detail.
When prioritizing tasks at work, one useful criterion to consider is the monetary value of each task. This means estimating the market value of a task and evaluating whether it matches or exceeds our target income.
Estimating the monetary value of a task can be challenging, but a few approaches can help. One way is to research how much others pay for similar work. For example, if you’re a freelance writer, you could research the going rate for blog posts or articles of a similar length and complexity to the ones you’re working on. This can give you a rough estimate of the market value of your work.
Another way to estimate the monetary value of a task is to consider what you would be willing to pay someone else to perform that task. For example, if you’re a business owner and you need to create a new marketing campaign, you might ask yourself how much you would be willing to pay a marketing consultant to do the work for you.
Once you’ve estimated the monetary value of a task, you can evaluate whether it’s worth investing your time in. Tasks that match or exceed your target income should take priority over tasks that don’t, as they have the potential to generate the most revenue for your business or career.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all valuable tasks have a fair market value. For example, tasks that improve your skills or build relationships with clients may not have an immediate monetary return, but they can still be highly valuable in the long run.
Furthermore, focusing solely on the monetary value of a task can lead to a narrow view of success. Therefore, when prioritizing tasks, it’s essential to consider other factors, such as personal growth, job satisfaction, and work-life balance.
Contribution to your long-term goals
Our long-term goals can include personal goals, such as career advancement or financial stability, as well as professional goals, such as growing our business or increasing customer satisfaction.
One way to determine the contribution of a task to our long-term goals is to ask ourselves how important it is to achieve those goals. For example, if your long-term goal is to become a manager in your company, tasks that increase your leadership skills, such as taking a management course, would be highly valuable.
Another consideration when evaluating a task’s contribution to our long-term goals is to assess the potential impact of completing the task. Some tasks may significantly impact our long-term goals, such as launching a new product or service, while others may have a lower impact.
It’s also essential to evaluate the alignment of each task with our values and beliefs. If a task goes against our values or aligns differently with our vision, it may not be worth pursuing, even if it contributes to our long-term goals.
And it’s important to remember that our long-term goals can change over time. Therefore, it’s essential to periodically re-evaluate our goals and adjust our task prioritization accordingly.
The tasks that bring us joy are often the ones we are most productive and efficient in completing. We tend to be more motivated and engaged when we enjoy our work.
So try to incorporate tasks that bring you joy into your workday. This can help break up the monotony of routine tasks and provide a sense of fulfillment in your work.
Of course, it’s not always possible to only work on tasks that bring us joy. However, by being aware of the tasks we enjoy, we can balance them with our other duties and make our workday more enjoyable.
Some tasks may take longer or require more resources than others, and evaluating whether the effort is worth the reward is important. When considering the effort needed for a task, it’s crucial to consider not just the time it takes to complete the job but also the mental and emotional energy it requires.
Some tasks may be physically easy but mentally taxing, such as reviewing a lengthy legal contract or conducting detailed data analysis. Other tasks may be physically demanding, such as moving heavy boxes or performing manual labor.
One way to evaluate the effort required for a task is to break it down into smaller, more manageable steps. This can help you estimate how much time and energy each step will require and prioritize accordingly. It can also help you identify areas where you might need additional support or resources to complete the task effectively.
Another strategy for managing effort is to build in breaks or rewards for completing complex tasks. For example, you can take a short walk or grab a coffee after completing a particularly challenging task or schedule some downtime at the end of a long workday.
It’s also important to be mindful of your own limits and work style when evaluating the effort required for a task. Some people may be able to work for long stretches without a break, while others may need more frequent breaks to stay focused and motivated. By understanding your own work style and energy levels, you can better prioritize tasks and allocate your resources effectively.
When learning how to prioritize tasks at work, another useful criterion to consider is urgency. Some tasks must be completed by a specific time or date, while others have softer deadlines.
When evaluating urgency, consider the consequences of not completing a task by its deadline. Will it result in missed opportunities, financial loss, or damage to relationships or reputation? Or is it simply a matter of inconvenience or delay?
One way to manage urgency is to create a clear timeline or schedule for completing tasks. This can help you prioritize tasks with hard deadlines and ensure you have enough time to complete them without rushing or sacrificing quality.
Another strategy is communicating with others involved in the task or project to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding deadlines and expectations. This can help you avoid last-minute surprises or delays and ensure everyone works together effectively.
These are tasks that are required of us by our job roles, personal relationships, or obligations to our communities or society. As an example, you may have responsibilities to your employer to complete specific tasks as part of your job duties. You may also have commitments to your family or friends, such as caring for a sick loved one or helping out with a family event. Additionally, you may have responsibilities to your community, such as volunteering or participating in civic activities.
When evaluating responsibilities, it’s essential to consider the impact of not fulfilling them. Failing to meet a responsibility can have consequences such as lost trust, damaged relationships, or negative outcomes for the wider community.
On the other hand, meeting responsibilities can lead to positive outcomes such as strengthened relationships, increased respect, and a sense of pride in contributing to the common good.
One way to manage responsibilities is to prioritize them based on their importance and urgency. This involves assessing the impact of not fulfilling each responsibility and prioritizing those with the greatest consequences.
For example, a responsibility to care for a sick loved one may be more urgent and important than a responsibility to attend a social event.
It’s worth remembering that while responsibilities may not always be the most enjoyable or financially rewarding tasks, they are a vital part of our lives and can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
By prioritizing responsibilities alongside other factors, such as contribution to long-term goals, monetary value, the effort required, and urgency, we can ensure that we’re living up to our obligations and creating positive outcomes for ourselves and those around us.
What are popular tools to prioritize tasks at work?
The Eisenhower Matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix is a classic tool to see priorities. It works like this: You sort tasks based on the two criteria of urgency and importance. By combining them, you get a 2×2-Matrix with four fields and associated recommendations of how to deal with them:
- Important and urgent: do yourself
- Important and not urgent: Schedule to do later
- Urgent but not important: delegate to competent employees
- Not urgent and not important: do not act on this
The Eisenhower Matrix can help to regain an overview in situations where you have a large backlog of unprocessed tasks. However, it has limitations. For example: if you have good time management and organization, you should ideally have very few urgent tasks coming up. So, you end up with just the criterion of importance.
Another drawback is that you would decide on what to do yourself based solely on the importance of a task, not on your ability to perform it or the amount of effort needed. In many cases, it can be very reasonable to delegate important tasks to a specialist.
Finally, it is a matter of fact that very important tasks are rarely urgent, and many urgent tasks are not of high importance, which reduces the system’s applicability. Nevertheless, it can help you achieve an initial orientation and differentiation when evaluating urgency.
Action Priority Matrix
If you build up a matrix with the two dimensions impact (how high is the value of performing this task) and effort (how much does the task cost in time and energy), you get a 2×2 grid with these fields and recommendations on how to prioritize workload:
- High impact and low effort: Can be considered quick wins and are likely to be valuable to be addressed quickly.
- High impact and high effort: This is important to be worked on, but only a limited number can be performed on a single day. They also might be broken down into smaller chunks as they could actually be projects and not mere tasks.
- Low impact and low effort: These are fill-in tasks that can well be performed during idle time before a meeting or in order to have a quick run of completing and striking off topics.
- Low impact and high effort: these are thankless tasks. Try to avoid them unless you absolutely must do them. Also, consider automating, delegating, or even deleting these tasks.
Must, Should, Want Method
The Must-Should-Want method was introduced by Jay Shirley. It is very simple and encourages you to define exactly three daily top priorities every morning:
- I must… – this is a high-priority task that provides an immediate impact and/or can not be deferred
- I should… – this is something related to your long-term goals. Something that brings you closer to your vision.
- I want… – this is something you genuinely want to do. Either in self-development or self-indulgence and just for fun.
You then make sure that these three things are achieved during the day. The review is done in the morning to have a night’s distance between working and prioritizing. This way, you can see clearer.
While it does not give you guidance on how to choose between the three categories, it definitely helps to make progress on your long-term goals every single day and supports your health and satisfaction by including tasks you really want to do.
It is not a holistic system to prioritize all your tasks and responsibilities but helps to keep a balance in your work and life by giving duty, development, and pleasure equal weight.
The 1-3-5 Rule
I first read about the 1-3-5 rule in a post by Alex Cavoulacos, co-founder of themuse.com. It’s plain simple and hands you a rule of thumb about how much you can achieve in a single day:
- 1 big thing
- 3 medium tasks
- 5 little tasks
She even says you should leave one medium and two little slots unfilled when you plan your day if the nature of your job has many very short-term requirements in store. At first, it sounds quite harsh to narrow your to-do list down so much, but on the other hand, a day only has so many hours, and unexpected topics might come up as well.
And consider it this way: If you could achieve one big thing every day, that would be something, right? The benefit of this method to set priorities is: It forces you to choose, and it ensures that you have some big (and probably important) topics and some small quick wins on your agenda. However, real guidance on what to choose is missing. Use the general criteria outlined above for this.
1-3 MITs (Most Important Tasks)
In From Zen to Done, Leo Babauta goes even a step further: “At the beginning of each day, review your list, and write down 1-3 MITs (most important tasks) that you’d like to accomplish for the day. That’s your whole planning system. You don’t need any more than that.” In this view, it is most important to prioritize all and do it radically. The advice is to follow your gut feeling and your heart in choosing and then stick to your priorities.
Eat the Frog
This technique is based on a quote attributed to Mark Twain: Twain famously said that if the first thing you do in the morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the rest of the day knowing the worst is behind you. Based on this, you just perform the worst task first. This can be something you really do not like or have procrastinated on for a long time.
As soon as you are done with your “frog of the day,” you get back to work on all the other stuff. There is an extension of this rule: If you have two frogs to eat, eat the uglier first. I wonder how many frogs one can eat in a single day and would probably rather combine it with a method that also ensures I work on things I genuinely like and that are important to me.
Eat the frog is a great principle to get started in the morning. You get a sense of achievement right away. Afterward, you can continue with another method of prioritizing tasks.
The ABCDE Method
The ABDCE method is an extended scale for prioritizing by importance. It focuses on how to prioritize tasks to avoid the negative consequences of not doing a task. A, B, and C stand for different levels of importance of things you should do yourself. From A as being a high priority to C as being things that would be nice to do.
In this case, the level of importance is derived not from the value of the task if it is performed but from the level of negative consequences if it is not performed. “A” means serious negative consequences, and “C” no consequences, with “B” somewhere in between.
The letters D and E stand for Delegate and Eliminate. Meaning that regardless of the importance of a task, you should always ask yourself whether it would be possible to assign it to somebody else or ditch it completely.
Find your way, how to prioritize tasks
We hope you enjoyed our post, “How To Prioritize Tasks At Work And Be More Successful.” I do not believe in one-size-fits-all solutions. The tools, principles, and methods above are all helpful ways to organize your priorities and decide on which of your tasks should be addressed first.
See them as building blocks for your own system. Depending on how much structure you need to be efficient, either derive a set of general guidelines from the systems or build your own framework to evaluate and prioritize your tasks.
Also, don’t forget to check out our 43me app. It’s the easiest way to organize your tasks, stay in control, and get more done today. It utilizes the 43 Folders system to maximize your productivity with less stress. Try it for free today.