Prioritisation – The art of Maximising Efficiency

Prioritisation - the art of maximising EfficiencySometimes it is hard to make sense of your To-Do list. All of the tasks on it are important, and you are not sure which of these important tasks is the most important. The solution can be summed up in one word, prioritisation.

Before starting work on the tasks you have to prioritise them in order of importance. But I hear you asking how do I know which are important and which aren’t?

Evaluate Your Tasks

How do you decide what’s most important? It’s tougher than most people realise. An important task can be defined as those tasks which if not completed will have an impact on you reaching or achieving your goals.

For each item, ask yourself:

  • How will this task benefit you?
  • Will this task get you closer to your goals or Objectives?
  • Will completing this task help you build relationships?
  • Who will you let down if you to get the task done?
  • How much money will it make you directly or indirectly?

By asking these questions of yourself, you will quickly reveal which tasks should be at or near the top of your list and which can be saved for later. The clearer the benefits of the task the higher it should be on your To-Do list.

Start by putting the most important things at the top and start working your way down. If you don’t get to complete the tasks at the bottom of the list, that is OK, as they are the least important tasks, and you can tackle them tomorrow.

The Basics of Prioritisation

There’s a simple way to prioritise realistically and effectively. Ask yourself, ‘If I only get one thing done today and the rest of the day is a total washout, which one thing should it be?’ Once you choose the one task, move on to the next. If you only get two things done today, what should they be? Continue in this way until your list is nicely prioritised.

An easier but less precise way to prioritise a list is to create categories. Your categories might be something like:

  • Must get done today or it’s all over!
  • Really should get done today
  • Ought to be done today
  • Would help if done today
  • Doesn’t need to be done today

The wording is up to you. You may also choose to create 3 levels with Level One being most urgent. This way of ranking is easier and more flexible; after all, you’ll get more than one thing done today.

When you get to the end of the day and there are still a few low-priority tasks to complete, let them go but decide exactly when you’ll do them. Choose a day to add them to.

To-Do List or Done List?

Most of us create To-Do lists. A To-Do list is simply your prioritised list of today’s tasks. As you complete each one, you cross them off. Another method is to create a ‘done’ list. Instead of focusing on the things you still have to do today, focus on what you’ve finished. Write down each task as you finish it. This has the powerful psychological effect of showing you everything you’ve gotten done.

Be Flexible

You can use a standard daily to-do list with tasks that need to be done each day, but keep it flexible. Your priorities may change from day to day, and even within a day. Your daily priority list gives you a great roadmap to follow so that you don’t feel overwhelmed and don’t have to think (you just do them), but don’t be afraid to change course if it seems appropriate to do so. You can apply the same methods outlined here for prioritising weekly, monthly, yearly and long-term tasks and goals as well.

Till Next Time

The Time Doctor – Mike Gardner

Mike Gardner aka ‘The Time Doctor’ and is highly regarded as one of the UK’s leading Time Management and productivity specialists. As well as being regularly featured in both online and off-line media outlets around the world, he is the author of the best selling time management book, Business Owners: Your Family Misses You. He regularly speaks on topics that are congruent with his mission of helping small business owners, entrepreneurs and independent professionals to be incredibly productive, whilst still balancing their business and family commitments in a way that enables them to feel fulfilled and guilt-free. He is an avid Aston Villa fan, a Dad to Neil & Emma, a hubby to Wendy and in his role as an Officer with the reserve forces, he has completed operational tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

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13 thoughts on “Prioritisation – The art of Maximising Efficiency

  1. A part of my business life is entirely “incoming” so I have less control than I’d like over my day. My greatest challenge is getting to the end of particularly hectic days when I can’t make much progress on my list for that day … But the prioritizing you recommend certainly helps if at least the most critical things get done. Thanks for a well-structured process!

  2. I finally found 2 ways to keep myself more organized. One is a white board divided into categories under which sticky notes are placed in order of priority. The other is an iPhone app called “Yelling Mother” so that I can items to the list on the run.

  3. Excellent ideas and remembering to use that priorization list is one of the best I’ve used to keep myself from being overwhelmed.

    Thanks for the great reminders!

  4. Great tips, Mike. When we learn to choose our priorities carefully, we can get so much more done and eliminate much of our frustration in life.

  5. Awesome Post! I love the detail you put into your writing. I often miss the little things like how to know what is important in prioritizing. I do the one thing each day that I know that if I didn’t I would not be happy about it. I am going to give this some serious thought. Thank you Mike.

  6. Terrific article, Mike! I track everything on a week-at-a-glance calendar (definitely a “back-in-the-day” approach, I know), but I like that I can have my daily lists and cross off the items to see, as you suggest, what I did accomplish. That which I didn’t, I simply post to another day on the calendar.

  7. Thanks for sharing all the great info. I like to “to do” list and the “done” is another alternative :) Being flexible is also important. Things happen sometimes…. I appreciate all your methods!

  8. I got the list making down pat, its the following through that is the problem…I’m the queen of procrastination

  9. A very helpful and timely article, Mike!

    In the good old days before I retired, and when I had to work for a living, I was a great fan of those sticky yellow Post-its. I would write down my key tasks on separate notes and keep them close so that I didn’t lose sight of my priorities. It felt good to be able to toss one in the waste paper bin, and if a task became more urgent, I would move the yellow Post-it into a more prominent position.

    Every year, before going on my annual holiday, I would focus on having a Post-it free desk!