Task Prioritization 101: Everything you need to know

A person prioritizing tasks and using their smartphone.

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Do you get to work every day and find yourself instantly having to tackle a huge to-do list? If so, this post on task prioritization is for you.

Typically, you’ll want to organize the tasks by the most urgent first, then work your way down the list. However, you may still find that you’re struggling to get everything done during the day. 

If that sounds like you, then you’ll need some help prioritizing tasks. When you can tackle them in the right order, you’ll be able to really get a handle on your work, and not feel as though you’re rushing to complete it all the time.

Here’s what you need to know about task prioritization, and how you can improve your workflow

The Importance of Task Prioritization

Can’t you just go down your to-do list one task at a time and get things done? You might be asking yourself that question right now.

You can certainly work that way, but it’s not the most efficient way. If you want to get more done during the workday, you’ll want to prioritize those tasks in a manner that’s best for your business. 

When you prioritize your tasks, you’ll be able to meet deadlines quicker, as you’ll be working on the most critical tasks first.

In addition, you’ll be able to better utilize the time you do have, as well as the resources you have on hand. As such, you’ll better manage your team’s workload as a whole. 

Start by Identifying Your Tasks

Before you can start prioritizing those tasks, you need to understand what they are. To do that, you’ll need to make a master task list. 

The problem with your tasks is that they’re coming from all kinds of places. These include your boss, various communication channels, emails, colleagues, and more. As they’re all spread out, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on or what you need to take care of. 

That’s where a master task list comes in. A master list of every task that you need to manage can help you stay up to date.

“When you have that list all in one place, then it’s much easier to see exactly what’s expected of you and how much you have on your plate,” says Neil Pierce, a task manager at Assignment Help and Ox Essays. “When something new comes in, you should note it down right away on the master list.”

Where to Keep Your Master List of Tasks

Where should you make that master list? It can be anywhere that you have easy access to. It could be in a notes app on your phone, in a document on your PC, in a notebook, or in a task backlog in your project management tool.

As long as you have all the tasks together, you can start managing them properly. 

a tablet showing the TimeForge task management screen with option to rate tasks

For example, TimeForge offers a task management module that basically works like a big checklist with due dates and built-in reminders. Managers can assign tasks to employees and stay up-to-date on the progress of all the items on the list. Items can be things like cleaning out the refrigerator, mopping the kitchen, or changing out filters.

Pretty much anything that matters to your business can be included in your task prioritization efforts.

Using the 4D Approach

Now that you have all your tasks in one place, you’ll need to prioritize them. To do that, you should sort them into categories, which makes it easier.

This is where the 4D system comes in. With this system, you’ll sort the tasks into one of four categories:

  • Do: Do the task right away.
  • Defer: Defer the task to a later time when you can manage it. 
  • Delegate: Delegate the task to someone else who can better handle it. 
  • Delete: Delete the task from your list. 

This helps you get a grip on the task list right away. You’ll see that several of them can be handled right away. Will it take a minute or two to get done? Then you should do it right now. That includes things like sending an email or asking a colleague a question. 

There may be someone else on the team better suited to the task at hand. If you look at the task and can think of someone who has the right skills or info to get the task done, it can be delegated to them. Remove the task from your to-do list and add it to theirs. 

You may find that not everything on the list actually has to be done. There are some tasks that will sit on the list forever, and they won’t actually provide much value if you do handle them. Most likely, these can be deleted to trim down the list further. 

At this point, you’ll just be left with the deferred tasks. These are the ones that you can’t do right away, but can’t be delegated. As such, you’ll want to prioritize these tasks so you can get ahead. 

How to Prioritize Tasks

So, how do you prioritize the tasks you have left? There are several ways of doing so.

Consider the following methods of task prioritization:

The Eisenhower Matrix

This method was conceptualized by Dwight Eisenhower and made popular by Steven Covey in The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. There are four quadrants in the matrix:

Urgent and importantNot urgent but important
Urgent but not importantNot urgent and not important

As you can see, the top row is everything that’s important, while the bottom row is everything that isn’t important. Each of your tasks will fit somewhere in this matrix. 

Anything that’s urgent and important should be done right now, taking highest priority. Anything that’s important but not urgent will need to be done in a timely manner, as they’re the tasks that will take up much of your time. 

Urgent but not important tasks are the ones you should try to delegate to your team, and tasks that are neither urgent nor important can be eliminated altogether. 

The MoSCoW Method

This method prioritizes work based on outcomes. It’s one that’s most often used when managing projects, as you’re up against budget and time constraints. It was developed by Dai Clegg and uses four ‘buckets’ that you should put each task in.

The buckets are:

  • Must have: Outcomes that must happen or the project fails. 
  • Should have: Outcomes that aren’t as critical but are still important. 
  • Could have: Outcomes that you can deliver when budget or time allows.
  • Won’t have: Outcomes that won’t be delivered with your project. 

This is a popular method for prioritizing tasks.

Relative Priorities

Finally, you may have a few different tasks with similar priorities. If you have a lot of tasks in the same category, how do you know which one you should do first?

In cases like these, you can use relative priorities.

“This method weighs the importance of a task as compared to other tasks on your list,” says Adrian Colman, a writer at Essay Services and Revieweal. “Then, you’ll order the tasks based on their importance.”

How do you know which tasks are more important? You can go by deadline and dependencies. You can also give higher priorities to tasks that need to be done before you can tackle a different task. 

Getting Through Your Task List

You created a task list, decided on what you needed to handle yourself, and prioritized the items. Now, how do you get through those tasks quickly and efficiently?

There are a few different ways that you can ensure you get everything done. 

Most Important Tasks Method

When you come into work in the morning, take a look at your task list and decide which three tasks you want to get done that day. These will then be the Most Important Tasks. These take priority, so you should do these first. 

You should only tackle other work on your list if you complete the three important tasks first. This is a bonus, so you should only be focusing on the important tasks until you complete them. Even if you just get them done, the day has been a success. 

Eat the Frog

There’s a popular Mark Twain saying, that if you have to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. That way, it’s the most unpleasant thing you have to do all day. 

If you have a task that you’re dreading or will be difficult, it’s better to face it head-on and get it done first. That way, you can ensure that you get it done without putting it off, and letting that dread build up.

Then, all the other work you have to do that day feels much easier in comparison. 

The Pareto Principle

This is also known as the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few. (Not to be confused with the 80/20 tip credit rule.)

When applied to task prioritization, it means that 80% of your daily outcomes will come from 20% of your effort.

If you can identify the 20% of your tasks that will make your day most successful, then you can focus on them first and get them done first. When you do this, it’s much easier to identify what needs to be done first every day. 

Now you can see just how you can prioritize your work, and ensure that you’re tackling your to-do list in the most efficient manner possible. Consolidate the list in one place, identify which items can be crossed off right away, and use the methods described in this post to tackle what’s left.

Once you get the system down, it makes your work day much easier!

For additional help with task prioritization and management, check out these posts:

Jenny Han is a writer on effective work habits and task management at EssayRoo and Lia Help. Jenny is always open to sharing her personal experience at Online Assignment Help and enjoys giving advice to beginner writers to help them uncover all the peculiarities of content that sells.

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