HOW TO: Prioritise tasks effectively

Synopsis

Relevant To: EU, UK, US
Time to read: 20 minutes
Intended Audience: Everyone
Organising your tasks can be a straight-forward process, but not so much when the pressure is on or the task list is more than you can handle! There are, however, some techniques to help you overcome the inevitable paralysis.

Before you start

  • Get a complete list of your tasks together in a single format – this could be scary but is entirely necessary if you’re going to do this properly.
  • As you go through the steps below, you might consider some of it overkill. If your tasks don’t really warrant some of the detail you’ll be asked to note down, then skip that part. Be warned though, the more you skip the less clarity you’ll have. The less clarity you have, the lower your chances of a successful outcome.

Useful template

We recommend reading this article first, but once you’ve done so, please click the link below for an Excel template you might find useful. You can use the template freely, but we ask you not to redistribute:

Let’s get started

Step 1: Start with strategy

List everything – even today’s tasks should have a strategic purpose…!

Against each task, identify the single primary driver behind it. This could be one of the following:

  • Deliver competitive advantage;
  • Cost saving / financial benefit;
  • Operational efficiency;
  • Legislative / legal;
  • Quality improvements;
  • Risk reduction;
  • Opportunities for growth.

Next, try quantifying the strategic value for each task. This sounds more difficult than it is. Start by looking at the short and long-term impact of what’s being asked for:

  • Estimate the cost, effort and resources needed;
  • Understand the Return On Investment (ROI) and how it’s calculated;
  • Consider the availability of resources (people and budget) and possible impact on other tasks (i.e. dependencies).

Now, identify the desired outcome for each task.

Finally, note down the major risks to completing the task and the potential ‘cost of delay’ should it not be delivered as originally planned. This final metric will help you understand what the effect will be of delaying a task.

Step 2: Important vs Urgent

Everything is ‘top priority’ – identify what to do, plan, delegate or leave!

Introducing: The Eisenhower Matrix

  • Helps you avoid becoming overwhelmed by tasks;
  • Helps you identify which tasks can be delegated to your team with expected completion dates;
  • Short / medium / long-term lists come from this exercise.
Eisenhower Matrix

For each task on your list, identify the ‘urgency’ and ‘importance’. Now act on the ‘DO FIRST’ (important and urgent) category.

Step 3: Review and re-evaluate

Nothing ever stays the same in business, nor should your priorities!

You should regularly review your task list, because even if your circumstances haven’t changed, someone else’s might have. And their change in circumstances could lower the priority of your tasks or even remove them from your list altogether. Likewise, the success or failure of a preceding task could now change your priorities.

You should re-evaluate your task list, because even if your tasks remain the same, the relative priorities might change. If you’re not re-evaluating your tasks due to task-related triggers, then use the following cadence as a guide:

  • Important – Urgent: Daily re-evaluation;
  • Important – Not Urgent: Twice a week;
  • Not Important – Urgent: Twice a week;
  • Not Important – Not Urgent: weekly.

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