How to Prioritize Your Tasks and Improve Your Workflow
Let’s be real here — with how busy life gets nowadays and how many distractions are around us, staying on task and meeting expectations is more challenging than ever. Before you know it, your deadlines are turning red one by one, and you’re scrambling to get back on track before the overwhelm sets in.
Time management is one thing, but when people are consistently chasing you down for deliverables even though you’re crossing things off your to-do list, what you may have is a task prioritization problem. It’s true, in some cases, suboptimal task prioritization can lead to workflow and productivity roadblocks.
Learning how to prioritize tasks more efficiently can boost your productivity and reduce your stress overall. If you’d like to learn how to improve your daily workflow, check out the guide below!
Before Anything Else: Get Your Bearings
One thing you should do before you even try to prioritize your tasks is to get your bearings. The best way to do this is by listing all your pending tasks. Get a pen and some paper, or open the Notes app on your phone, tablet, or computer. When you’re ready, start making a list of all your tasks, big or small.
Start with all the tasks you need to get done in one day. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, list out tasks for a few days to, at most, a week. Don’t worry too much about the number or order of tasks — that comes later.
Once you have all your tasks listed, you can choose one of the methods below.
Method #1: Urgent vs Important
A helpful thing you can do to prioritize your tasks is to determine which ones are urgent and which ones are important.
You may be wondering, “But wait, aren’t those the same thing?” Well, not exactly!
Urgent tasks are those that require immediate attention and have set deadlines. Failure to complete tasks on this timeline may lead to serious consequences. For example, missing an important deadline for your schoolwork can lead to a lower or failing grade. Finishing your tasks late can get you in trouble with your boss or delay the rest of your team because they were waiting for your submission.
Important tasks, on the other hand, are tasks or activities that contribute to your personal or professional goals when completed. These tasks often do not have deadlines. If they do, the deadlines are far away enough to make them not-so-urgent.
Take your task list and start prioritizing them accordingly. You may even want to look at the Eisenhower Matrix, which takes the urgent/important idea and helps you to break your tasks down further into more categories.
Once you know which tasks are urgent, work on the ones that have the closest deadlines first. You may also want to check for dependencies — some tasks may seem important but not urgent, but if your team will be waiting on you to complete them before they can get their work done, these tasks become higher in priority.
Method #2: Assess Task Value
Another thing you can do is look at your list and assign a value to each of the tasks on the list. You can assign one of the four values below:
- Critical - time-sensitive and high in value
- High priority - high in value but has less or no time sensitivity
- Medium priority - time-sensitive but not as high in value
- Low priority - low value and no time sensitivity
It’s worth noting that critical tasks are much like the urgent tasks in method #1. For example, between time-sensitive client work and your less time-sensitive personal task, client work is more critical. The same applies to solving a crisis vs. proceeding with your tasks as planned — the crisis is more critical.
Once you have assigned the appropriate value to each task, you can then create an ordered list and effectively prioritize as needed. You may want to then tackle tasks according to deadlines. This method is much like the Eisenhower Matrix, though in list form rather than a table.
- Order Tasks by Effort - In the event of an urgency/criticality tie, you can assess how much effort each task needs. Choose the task that requires more work first if you prefer this method. Alternatively, you can do smaller tasks, such as answering e-mails or making phone calls to build momentum into the larger tasks.
- Use Tools Available to You - There are many tools available to help you manage your tasks and time. You can also visit websites like ProductivitySpot to see more tips and tricks for optimizing your workflow and day-to-day experience.
- Keep a Brain Dump or Task Dump - If you have overflow tasks or unfinished tasks at the end of the day, add them to a “task dump” or “brain dump” list. Refer to this list when starting each day to see whether you can accomplish any of them during your workday.
- Be Realistic - There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious when you make your plan for the day. However, it’s a good idea to be realistic. Making a huge list may make you feel more productive and might even help to motivate you, but you can also end up creating more stress for yourself. Limit your tasks to what you know you can complete in a day, with one to three more extra if you finish work early. It’s also a good idea to be flexible and roll with the punches if need be.
- Delegate - Sometimes, you just need to pass tasks off — no one is superhuman, after all.
- Set Boundaries - If you find that you have too much on your plate already, you may want to say no to additional tasks, assignments, and commitments (if possible, of course).
Task prioritization plays a big role in productivity and performance. Not only that, a well-prioritized task list can help you reduce your stress, improve your performance at work, and improve your work-life balance. Just remember that you are only human, and you only have so many hours in a day. Don’t overwhelm yourself with tasks that you won’t really be able to accomplish!