Although training on productivity, work-life balancing, and time management is what many talk and write about, task prioritization remains a challenge for a majority of people – regardless of their age or seniority level. Thus, McKinsey has revealed that only 9% out of 1,500 executives are completely satisfied with how they distribute time during the day, while around ⅓ are totally dissatisfied.
There are many time-killing “dark holes” one can face – from constant interruptions from colleagues to the never-ending alignment and coordination meetings. And it’s not always at our hands to eliminate these fully, unfortunately. A task prioritization may become your savvy and spare forces for as much as possible. Below we discuss some simple tips that may help.
How to prioritize work effectively
Measure your time in actionable phases
When you write a tasks list, make sure it consists of assignments to cross out in one move. After, think of your day as a sum of separate working intervals, limited in duration, say:
- 9 a.m – 11 a.m
- 11 a.m – 1 p.m
- 1 p.m – 3 p.m
- 3 p.m – 5 p.m
- 6 p.m – 7 p.m.
Extend or narrow time intervals, depending on the rhythm of your work or the average labor intensity of specific actions, but don’t make them too ambiguous or floating. You can now fill in every interval with particular To-Dos. If some go beyond these – schedule their completion for another phase. At first, it may seem that there’s nothing much about this method, but after a while, you’ll notice that the day is more structured, and you keep up with affairs without a habitual rush.
Chart the whole idea
While you are in the swing of things, it may be difficult to trace back or refer to the roots of tasks. Some become a force of habit after a while, so to prevent pointless duties, make sure you move from the general to the specific. This will also help you to incorporate new or extra tasks into the workflow.
“Place individual tasks within the global goal structure”, source
Cut a global goal into sets of activities, and plan monthly and/or weekly sprints accordingly. Use notebooks or online mind map makers to build the overall development plan and set connections between its parts. For example, the objective to grow a business may include the following grouped actions:
- discovering new promising niches
- adjusting product assortment
- establishing coordination between Marketing and Sales
- optimizing procurement
- getting fundings.
Each of the 5 will lead to bundles of more specific tasks, and so on.
Use task prioritization matrix
The workflow never ends, so a good idea on how to prioritize tasks and stay productive is to measure duties’ urgency and importance. Some of the new ones are critical, while others may not be as top-priority as are declared. So, to avoid jumble and use time effectively, try a prioritization matrix.
“Before starting the task, measure its importance and urgency”, source
Start with the two upper quadrants, and delegate or eliminate the two remaining ones.
Review tasks’ status and tidy up To-Do’s timely
If you postpone or ignore scheduled affairs, your appointment book will turn rapidly into a disorganized set of notes. As such, you will inevitably fall into procrastination and fatigue.
Establish a habit to assign 10-15 minutes a day for updating tasks’ statuses and get rid of completed or no longer relevant ones. You can use online whiteboards – to sync with your team and keep performance records in a single workspace.
Know your productive hours
People are different – some are effective in the mornings, while others are more energetic in the afternoons. Both alternatives may be a strong suit if one knows how to use them. Say, if you perform better in a.m hours, pack these with work that requires concentration and through outlooks:
- research and analysis
- reports’ compelling and reviews
- proceeding statistics
- writing a piece of code, etc.
And leave meetings, approvals, and joint works for middays.
Use time multipliers
This is an approach when you do certain actions in the present that will lead to an overall time-saving effect in the future. A time multiplier is much about choosing the right tools to perform tasks and avoid unnecessary routines, where possible.
The logic is simple: once you’ve received a new assignment, think if you can eliminate or delegate it. If both alternatives are unachievable, consider automation. A prevailing amount of routine tasks can be handed off to computers, the only matter is to choose proper software and invest some time in developing algorithms. But as soon as you come up with far more spare time – you’ll understand that multipliers are worth the effort.
Avoid interruptions during the workflow
Staying focused is a sore spot for all who work in teams. The overall mental workload and time to perform tasks increase after even short interruptions – not to say sudden calls or meetings. Sometimes, it takes up to 25 minutes to get back to where you’ve stopped and refresh all details in memory.
There are several way outs you can try:
- split the task into small yet undivided “episodes”, and only start responding to a new inquiry when the episode has been completed
- check the “Inbox” a limited number of times, say, in the morning and closer to the end of a workday
- get rid of bureaucracy and encourage personal responsibility for decisions.
Be realistic regarding jobs duration
To prioritize the workday effectively, you need to be truthful with yourself about how long it will take to complete each task. If you spend up to 30 minutes responding to morning emails, book this exact amount of time in your schedule – no more, no less. Otherwise, you’ll fall out of a timetable and stop planning the day eventually.
It has long been studied that multitasking doesn’t assist in performing more jobs and actually damages the workflow. Noone can switch between several activities at once without losses in attention, hence, in productivity. Moreover, multitasking lowers IQ and even damages the brain. To stop bouncing back and forth between assignments, try these tips:
- once started a task, take no notice to smartphone screen
- set time for external distractions (e.g. checking social media or collective chat rooms’ messages)
- learn how to say “No”
- make sure your workspace is comfortable and well-equipped.
Establishing prioritization habits isn’t easy yet doable. Start with small – pick up a notebook, schedule today’s affairs, and try to stick to a plan. By the end of the day, you’ll be surprised to notice how much calmer the routine has been accomplished.