6 Steps to Prioritize Tasks and Plan your Work

6 Steps to Prioritize Tasks and Plan your Work

How to Prioritize Work?? / Tips to Prioritize Work / Ways to Prioritize work when everything seems to be important / How to Plan and structure at the workplace??

One of the common workplace problems is how to prioritize and plan your work.

Mastering the skill to prioritize your work can seem pretty baffling when everything seems equally important. To manage your workload and ensure you are following your deadlines, it is important to find a prioritization method that works for you.

Why is Prioritizing Important?

With a big list of tasks to do, constant emails and higher expectations, choosing what requires your attention immediately can become overwhelming. However, mastering the skill to prioritize can change your life. Proper planning and prioritization reduces stress, assists you to focus, can improve productivity and time management and also improve work- life balance as you create better prospects for your workday. 

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Common reasons for poor prioritization 

Other work shows up:  You start your day at work as planned, but an email notification pops out of nowhere. As a human tendency, you stop your current work and start concentrating on the email as it would just take 15 minutes. One thing leads to another and before you realize, it’s lunchtime and you have given more relevance to spontaneous work and ignore the planned one.

Procrastination: Every one of us has a small window of time throughout the day that one can use to finish the smaller tasks (which do not require a lot of effort and time). But we tend not to take advantage of the available time and postpone/procrastinate the work which results in accumulated work and the list of incomplete work keeps piling up. 

Distractions:  Nothing kills time more than the internet and the smartphone today. The constant phone beeps and the social media notifications waste a lot of time which could have been utilized in some other productive work. YouTube videos, Instagram stories, Facebook Newsfeed etc. can gobble up hours of your time without your knowledge.

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To help you manage your workload and meet deadlines, here are 6 steps to help prioritize projects/work.

  1.  List down all your tasks: Develop a habit to list down all the activities (tasks) you could possibly consider getting done in a day. Do not worry about the order of work or the number of items on your list upfront.
  1. Identify urgent vs. important: After listing down the tasks,review the tasks which require your immediate attention. Consider the work, which if not completed by the end of the day or in the next few hours, will have a serious negative impact (e.g. missed client deadline, missed publication or release deadlines etc.). Check to see if there are any high-priority dependencies that rely on you finishing up a piece of work now.
  1. Assess value: Next step is to consider your critical work and find out what contributes the highest value to your business and organization. As a general practice, you would want to recognize exactly which type of tasks has top priority over the others.

    For instance, keeping the focus on the client’s projects above internal work. Another way to evaluate value is to observe how many people are impacted by your work. Commonly, the more people involved or impacted, the higher the stakes.
  1. Sequence tasks by estimated effort: Estimate the task in hand with regards to the effort and time required to finish it.As suggested by productivity experts, the lengthier tasks should be finished first but it all depends on different individuals. Some feel that they cannot focus on the lengthier projects until and unless they finish the shorter tasks first.
  1. Be flexible and adaptable: It’s always advised to have a flexible approach; things can change anytime and all your planned activities can go for a toss. Know that your priorities will change and often when you least expect them to. But in such a situation try to be focused on the tasks you are committed to complete.

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  1. Know when to cut: It is difficult for an individual to get to everything on the list. After prioritizing your tasks and look at your estimates, you can remove the less priority tasks from your list. Try to focus on the tasks that need to be finished anyhow on a particular day. Then take a deep breath, dive in and be ready for anything.

Prioritization methods

  • The Hierarchy of Purpose: To assist an individual to make decisions on sequencing the priority on work, Harvard Business Review has a method called The Hierarchy of Purpose. In this framework, any act of prioritizing should consider the purpose of the business. Question yourself: 
    • What is the goal and aspiration of the organization and how is that goal best pursued?
    • What is the strategic vision supporting this goal? 

      Once you have this primary idea in mind, it turns out to be easier to determine which task is in line with the business’ key objectives. 
  • The Eisenhower Matrix: Eisenhower Matrix guides an individual on how to prioritize one’s tasks based on urgency and importance, using a table with four quadrants: 
    • Urgent and important: The “Do First sector” – Items that need to be done today or tomorrow.
    • Less urgent but important: The “Schedule sector” – Items you need to schedule in your calendar.
    • Urgent but less important: The “Delegate sector” – Tasks that you can assign to others and monitor.
    • Less urgent and less important: The “Don’t do sector”- Items you should erase from your to-do list.

      For prioritizing, write down your own Eisenhower Matrix table and categorize each item on your to-do list. This assists an individual to immediately identify what needs your attention right away and what can be eliminated from your to-do list altogether. 

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No matter how well you prioritize, there is only so much you can attain on a particular day and some diversions are impossible to keep away. It is essential to be realistic in setting goals and prioritizing work. Otherwise, one will create wrong expectations of those around you, which makes you feel that you are falling behind always.

Not to forget, the idea of prioritization is to spend time working on the vital tasks, those things that will make a difference in the long run and move you in the right direction. When prioritization is handled well, you feel less reactive and more focused.

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