Step by Step Guide on How to Prioritize Tasks [+Examples]

Prioritizing is a methodology that determines the level of urgency and importance of a specific task, event, or thing. Tasks of high priority are ranked and completed before unimportant tasks. Learning how to prioritize tasks helps you to manage your time efficiently.

The Meetingnotes Team
March 7, 2024

Those who consider everything they do have equal importance, understanding how to prioritize tasks can help you get the most out of a workday. Being busy all the time doesn't automatically translate to progress. Implementing prioritization strategies ensures each task you do brings value by arranging the functions from the most important to the least.

In this article, we define what exactly prioritizing is and offer a step-by-step guide on how to prioritize tasks.


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What Exactly is Prioritizing?

Prioritizing is a methodology that determines the level of urgency and importance of a specific task, event, or thing. Tasks of high priority are ranked and completed before unimportant tasks. Learning how to prioritize tasks helps you to manage your time efficiently.

With prioritization, you soon discover some of the tasks that felt urgent don't really require attention, at least not immediately. Implementing prioritization strategies is critical, especially to project managers since it directly affects the success of a project.

Project management solutions are helpful tools that collect, prioritize, and organize tasks. You could also implement essential task management tools that sync tasks with your personal calendar. But regardless of the solution, learning how to prioritize skills on your own is highly recommended.


Why is Prioritizing Important?

Becoming a master of prioritizing can change your life, especially by reducing the stress associated with fear of missing to deliver the task within the given deadline. Additionally, by managing time better, you become more productive, which helps you find the right balance between work and personal life.  

Productivity is mainly driven by energy and prioritization. Poor prioritization of tasks consumes energy because you spend all of it on something that doesn't add value. Essentially, not knowing how to prioritize tasks means you will constantly have trouble delivering tasks on time, leading to stress. Without prioritization, you will never reach your maximum productivity potential.  

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How to Prioritize Tasks at Work

Now that you understand why prioritizing is essential, especially in terms of productivity, it's time to learn how to prioritize tasks for your project. Fortunately, there are prioritization methods that you can use to help you prioritize your tasks easily.  

Put Together A List of All Your Tasks

The first step is to create a master task list of everything you are supposed to do in one day. But in most cases, task requests often come from different sources through multiple channels. One of the standard methodologies used to achieve this is David Allen's Get Things Done.

To make the master list, you can also use technology solutions to collect all your task request and generates a report. At this point, you don't have to worry about the order of the tasks; you just need all your tasks in one list.  

Organize your list by order of importance/urgency

The next step is to confirm the urgency or importance of each task. If an essential task is not delivered within a specific time, it will have far-reaching consequences since it is critical to your project. On the other hand, urgent tasks have to be delivered within the same day because their deadline is on the same day.

The best way to organize your tasks in order of urgency or importance is by weighing them against each other. With the list from step one, rank each task's priority on a scale of 0 to 10 and also do the same to rank urgent tasks. Add the two scores together, and the task with the highest score gets top priority while the rest are in descending order.    

Assess the value of completing each task

Even after organizing the tasks by urgency and importance, you can still end up with a huge list. To sort the list even further, you need to assess the value of completing each task. You can achieve this by implementing the Ivy Lee Method, which involves following five simple rules;

  1. Before clocking out of work, write down a few valuable tasks to be completed the following day. Ensure the tasks don't exceed six.
  2. Further prioritize the six tasks in order of their actual value.
  3. When you clock in the following day, concentrate on the task with the highest value until it's done. Ensure you finish the task before moving to the next one.
  4. Work on the rest of the tasks in a similar fashion. At the end of the workday, push any incomplete tasks into a new list of six tasks for tomorrow.
  5. Repeat these steps every time you are at work.      

Reorganize Your list based on deadlines

Prioritization does not explicitly focus on tasks. It also involves the management of time. Once you have sorted the list in terms of value, you need to focus on tasks with the shortest deadlines. Getting the most important and urgent task out of the way gives you the energy, momentum, and inspiration to push through the rest of the tasks.  

You need to create deadlines, especially if the request doesn't specify any. The best way to develop deadlines is by using time multipliers. These are strategies that help you accumulate more time for the future. Thinking about how you use your time today can help free up hours in the future.      

Order your tasks by effort level

Once you have sorted the tasks based on the deadline, you can reorganize the list again based on the effort required on a single task. The tasks requiring more effort should have higher priority than those requiring less. This method is known as eating the frog, and it involves tackling the hardest, most crucial task at the start of your workday.

This gives you the energy, momentum, and inspiration to push through the rest of the tasks. If you feel more productive by accomplishing any task early, you should do the opposite. Work on tasks that require little effort making your way to those that require more effort. The most important thing is to get a task done early in the day to boost your morale.  

Consider prioritizing by the ROI of completing the task

Each task requires you to invest time, energy, and other resources to achieve them. By calculating the investment return on each task, you can prioritize your task list to reflect the ROI factor. Tasks that consume less energy and time but offer high returns to the project should be placed higher on the list.

In some cases, the task could be urgent but not essential to your project, meaning ROI will be very low. If you are the task prioritization project manager, you should consider delegating such tasks to someone else or choosing another time to complete the task.  

When delegating a task, you need to find the right person and give them precise details about the job. You should also give the person proper training and enough time to complete the task by implementing the 30x rule. Multiply the time it takes to train for the task by 30.

Know When to Drop Certain Tasks

When going through the prioritization process, you must remain flexible. The harsh reality is that no one knows what tomorrow will bring. Prioritizing and planning tasks is just making a calculated guess.

Regardless of what you do with your time, you can never get it back, which is why you should avoid falling for the sunk cost fallacy. This is a psychological effect where an individual feels bound to finish something just because they have put time and effort into it.

If the task request gets updated and the deliverables or expectations change, it's difficult not to get disappointed. The best time to drop a task is if it's neither urgent nor important.

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Tips for Effectively Prioritizing Your Tasks

Pick a Task Prioritization Method

There are multiple methodologies you can use to prioritize your tasks and when selecting your method, ensure it will be effective. The following are some of the standard task prioritization methods you can pick.

Eisenhower Matrix Method: President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed this method of prioritization. It helps you optimize how you use time and how you can get the best out of the time you have. The technique divides your tasks into four categories:

  • Important and urgent - these tasks should be done immediately
  • Important but not urgent – decide when you will do the task and schedule it
  • Not important but urgent – you can delegate such tasks to others
  • Neither important nor urgent – remove such tasks from your schedule  

ABC Prioritization Method: The method implements the first three letters of the alphabet to help you prioritize your tasks. It's pretty simple; you put the letters A, B, or C together with a number next to each task. The numbers range between one and ten, with the latter being the least important. Here is what the letters mean:

  • A – Important and urgent
  • B – Important but not urgent
  • C – Neither important nor urgent  

Moscow Method: The term is an acronym that is common among project managers, but it can be applied to daily priorities. The letter "o" is there for aesthetic purposes because the actual acronym should be MSCW.

  • M – Must have This
  • S – Should have this if possible
  • C – Could have this if it does not affect anything else
  • W – Would like to in the future but don't have the time currently

Action Priority Matrix: It is also known as the Effort vs. Impact method and is similar to the Eisenhower matrix because they are both based on quadrants. The action priority matrix helps you to focus on managing time and where to concentrate your efforts. It effectively determines how much you get depending on your effort.    

  • High impact, low effort – start with tasks that require little effort but have high returns.
  • High impact, high effort – these tasks are worth the time and should be done second.
  • Low impact, low effort – you get low returns with low impact and effort; they should be the third option.
  • Low impact, high effort – avoid such tasks since they are a waste of time

Create Time on Your Schedule for Certain Tasks

This mainly applies to tasks that are important but not urgent. In most cases, you keep pushing the task behind since it's not time-sensitive, and the deadline will catch up sooner than you think. You can create boundaries that block emails, calls, and meetings for a specific time until you complete a particular task.

It is vital that you let your co-workers know why you are setting boundaries and that you will be available later. The best time to focus on your work would be in the morning, meaning you will be available to others during the afternoon. This allows you to concentrate and accomplish tasks that are critical to the project.  

Do Your Most Important Work First

To help you determine your most important tasks, you can use the Most Important Tasks (MITs) method. The strategy is highly effective if an individual finds it hard to complete daily tasks even after learning how to prioritize tasks.

Implementing this method is quite simple. Select three task requests that you want to finish before the workday ends. These will be your most important tasks, and you should complete them first. If there is still more time, you can take up other tasks.  

By completing your most important work first, you feel accomplished, and you can consider the day to be successful even if you only did a few tasks. The method is completely different from the eat the frog methodology, which focuses on performing the least wanted task first.

Be Realistic

While prioritization looks to make you more productive, setting unrealistic expectations will instead lead to failure. Tasks can take longer than anticipated due to interruptions like meetings and phone calls.  

Understanding how to prioritize tasks will help you focus on the number of tasks you can actually complete in a day without having to pressure yourself. Part of the prioritization process is realizing your task limit for a day.

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