Setting up Priorities at Work

1. Break Master Lists into Daily To-Dos

The first thing that comes to mind when you decide to take control of your work is to list down all your tasks. Listing all the items will unload your mind, free up some mental space and give you a bigger picture of your workload.

2. Tell Urgent from Important with Priority Matrix

If you are busy all the time, feel exhausted at the end of the day but don’t feel like you’ve accomplished something of real significance, it means that you need to learn to tell urgent things from important.

Q1: Urgent and Important Tasks — Crises

These tasks require our immediate attention, contribute to our long-term goals and usually include fire-fighting, pressing problems and deadlines. Examples: client complaints, emergencies, demands from superiors.

Q2: Not Urgent but Important Tasks — Plans

These include activities that bring you closer to your goals but have no strict deadlines: education and training, relationship building, risk and budget management. These tasks contribute to our goals, fulfillment and success, meaning we should invest more time in this quadrant. Unfortunately, we tend to keep these tasks on the backburner, sabotaging our personal and professional development and satisfaction. Here are the most common reasons for that:

  • We forget our goals and values. Most of us tend to spread ourselves too thin, being constantly busy, feeling chronically stressed and tired. If this is the case, consider spending a few evenings defining your core values and developing your life plan.
  • We waste our willpower. Willpower is a limited resource, and its capacity varies from person to person. Only when we choose long-term gain over short-term pleasures and unimportant tasks, we maximize the profit.

Q3: Urgent and Not Important Tasks — Interruptions

These activities require our immediate attention, sapping our time and energy without contributing to longer-term benefits. Most often, these tasks serve the goals and priorities of others and include requests from other employees, most emails, phone calls, text messages, meetings and reports. Many of us spend the most time on the Q3 tasks, thinking we are working in Q1 because helping others feels important and contributes to the “Nice Person” image.

Q4: Not Urgent and Not Important Tasks — Distractions

Q4 activities aren’t urgent and aren’t important meaning that they don’t help you achieve long-term goals, have no deadlines and mostly include distractions: excessive or irrelevant emails, social media, chat and gossip, procrastination. Reduce or completely avoid spending time and resources on these activities where possible.

3. Weigh Up Your Efforts & Impact with Action Priority Matrix

The Action Matrix works in a similar way to the Priorities Matrix in that it is split up into quadrants. To use this matrix, you need to score your tasks on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of their impact and the effort needed to complete them.

  • Quick Wins (High Impact, Low Effort): the most attractive projects giving you a good return for relatively little effort. Focus on these as much as you can.
  • Major Projects (High Impact, High Effort): require much research and effort but give good returns.
  • Fill-Ins (Low Impact, Low Effort): low-impact tasks that you should either drop or delegate whenever possible.
  • Thankless Tasks (Low Impact, High Effort): avoid these to invest your time and resources into more important tasks.

4. Plan Your Days with Ivy Lee Method

In 1918, Charles M. Schwab, an American steel magnate and one of the richest men in the world, asked Ivy Lee, a renowned PR professional at the time, to come up with an idea of how to improve the efficiency of his team. In his turn, Ivy Lee requested to have a 15 minutes talk with each of Schwab’s executives and taught them the following shockingly simple but powerful approach.

5. Use Warren Buffett’s Prioritization Strategy

Owner of more than 60 companies and billionaire, Warren Buffett knows a thing or two about time management and productivity. His 2-list strategy will please only those, who stick to the following three principles:

  1. You know what you want
  2. You learn the tools that will get you there
  3. You maintain focus and show persistence toward your goals

6. Jump Start Your Days by “Eating the Frog”

If you struggle with procrastination, feel overwhelmed by your to-do list and don’t feel like making any progress on the important things, you may enjoy this productivity system. The concept is simple: plan every day in advance and tackle the hardest and most important thing on your to-do list (the frog) every morning.

7. Score Your Priorities with ICE Model

The ICE Scoring Model was initially developed for choosing the next features for a product but can also be applied for prioritizing tasks and projects. The technique is based on three parameters: Impact, Confidence, and Ease.

  • Impact: how impactful do I expect a task to be for my project?
  • Ease: how much time and effort do I expect this task will require?
  • Confidence: how confident am I about my other two estimations?

8. Build Daily To-Dos with ABCDE Method

ABCDE method is a simple and effective approach for short-term planning. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the number of tasks in your to-do list, sit back, take a deep breath and assign every item in your list one of the following letters:

9. Prioritize Tasks & Ideas with MoSCoW

MoSCoW is one of the easiest methods for prioritizing tasks, ideas and requirements. First announced in 1994 by Dai Clegg, this technique is still widely used in Agile projects and offers you to sort your tasks into the following groups:

  • Must-haves: top-priority items that are critical for the project’s success. Can we move forward with the project if this task is undone? — if NO, it’s a Must-have.
  • Should-haves: secondary items that are important but not critical at the moment. Will we move forward with the project if this task is done a bit later? — if YES, it’s a Should-have.
  • Could-haves: items that are desirable but not crucial for the project’s success. Can we sacrifice this task till the deadline? — if YES, it’s Could-have.
  • Won’t-haves, Would-haves or Wish-to-haves: these are the items with the lowest project impact and priority that you can either eliminate or put on the back burner.

10. Keep Your Zen with an MIT List

If the above techniques sound complicated and you look for a more healthy approach to managing the avalanche of work, you may enjoy a simple approach introduced by Leo Babuta — author of one of the top 25 blogs according to TIME magazine. In his book ‘Zen to Done‘, he suggests reviewing your list of tasks at the beginning of each day and writing down 1–3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) that you would like to complete on that day. And get on with completing them.

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