Do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day?
You’ve spent the day working with clients and putting out fires, but haven’t been able to cross anything off your list that you actually needed to accomplish. Due dates are quickly approaching – so what do you do?
Don’t worry, we’ve been there, and we’re here to help. Below, we will take you through what prioritizing tasks involves, the process, and how to make time management a priority for your team.
What does it mean to prioritize tasks?
We all live busy lives. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide what the most important work is, and when to do it. So, what’s the solution? Well, you need to prioritize your tasks. This means deciding what order tasks should be completed based on importance and immediacy, allowing you to get things done in the most effective way possible.
Prioritizing your daily tasks will help you organize your time efficiently and boost your productivity. It helps you learn how to complete important tasks first, meet deadlines and have the time to finish larger tasks. The act of prioritization also allows for process improvement, and means that you strategize to make sure you – and your team – are making the best possible use of the time available.
Why is prioritizing important?
Let’s look at a normal workday. It’s early in the morning, and your task list looks like this:
- Respond to emails
- Explore new initiatives or ask someone to start working on them
- Send proposals and answer clarification questions on others
- Meet your manager for coffee
- Review invoices
The morning goes well, though you’ve got a few emails still left in the inbox, and you go for lunch. While there, your partner calls and tells you the dog needs to be taken to the vet. You head back to work, and are greeted with a critical issue from a high-value client. After handling them, you have an urgent meeting with the operations team, which you wrap up quickly to meet your manager.
Over coffee, they tell you they’re having issues with recruitment – it’s taking too long, and that’s led to other issues that need a short term solution. You finally get back to your desk, and start looking over the invoices, only to spot some discrepancies. Unfortunately, the people you’d need to speak to have finished for the day.
Sound familiar? Let’s return to that task list. You’ve successfully responded to (some) emails, started on the new initiatives, and sent off some proposals. Unfortunately, your list of tasks now includes handling the high-value client, looking into recruitment issues, coming up with short term fixes, and following up on invoices. You’ve also got to make time to take your dog to the vet. Even with no procrastination on your part, it’s longer than it was to begin with!
So what does this mean? Quite simply: tasks can come from anywhere, and you need to be prepared. Having a clear system of prioritization can help reduce how overwhelming this can be. While many work tasks seem huge at first glance, we can usually break them down into lots of small tasks to make for quick, motivating wins.
If you don’t prioritize, you won’t achieve the things that are the most important. Work will pile up, which will ultimately increase your stress and risk of burning out. Spending a few minutes each day prioritizing will allow you to achieve goals and make you more productive. It can also lessen your administrative burden.
The biggest mistakes people make when approaching their daily activity
If you work anywhere where you manage tasks independently, you are at least doing some form of prioritization. If not done correctly, this can lead to poor project performance, which will ultimately lead to wasted investment.
So, what are the biggest and most common mistakes that we make in our daily activities? Let’s take a look.
- Start the day by reading emails: It’s something a lot of us do, but it immediately deprioritizes your most urgent tasks while giving you less time to work on them.
- Always choosing the quickest tasks first: While this can make us feel more productive, it leaves the most important tasks unfinished by the end of the day.
- Writing a complete to-do list: This is overcompensating. Writing down everything you could or should do is overwhelming and can be difficult to manage.
If you look at your to-do list, there will likely be many tasks you can’t do. For example, you may have to update your clients on a new product, but you can’t do this until you know the production and delivery dates. You can’t do it now – but you also can’t forget about it.. You must have the ability to easily defer tasks you aren’t ready for yet.
Take a look at your to-do list right now. It’s likely got a lot of tasks, making it seem daunting. So, what should you do? Let’s go through the process of prioritizing tasks.
How to prioritize your tasks
The process for prioritizing tasks as an individual
Let’s start simple: get a piece of paper and write down what you need to get done. Then, defer all the items that you can’t do anything about today. Once you’ve got the shortened list in hand, follow these steps:
- Number the remaining items based on priority – not size. Sometimes the smallest tasks can be the most important.
- Review them. If it doesn’t need to be done today, put a date on it.
- Consider what you can delegate. Delegation is one of your most powerful tools. If you are concerned that the output might not meet expectations, you should flag the task for later investigation (See the ROAD exercise below).
- Start working on them in order – highest priority to lowest.
Just remember: while you have your tasks in order of importance now, things will inevitably appear throughout your day. These tasks should be evaluated and either delegated, deferred or slotted into your priority list. And, when you start the next day, you can build on your existing list rather than starting from scratch.
While we started off simply, with a pen and paper, there are better ways to do this, and we’ll take a look at them later. For now, let’s look at some top tips to get you started.
Tips for prioritizing tasks
- There are a lot of prioritization techniques, but we’re fans of the 4Ds of time management – do, defer, delegate, delete.
- If you don’t complete your to-do list, don’t worry. Prioritizing well can help, but it can’t fix the ever-changing nature of your workday. Don’t risk burning out.
- Use the existing list and your master list to get a jump start on tomorrow. You have a record of everything you got done, what you still had left, plus a list of deferred tasks.
- Don’t check your email when you get to work. Get out your priority list and get at least one urgent thing done before you open Pandora’s box.
- Learn how to improve the process. Running a business is difficult and there are many tools and methodologies out there on how to prioritize work. But to be truly effective, they need to support key features to become embedded in your routine. We’ll take you through this below.
How to improve task management and save time for you and your team
You may have heard of the Eisenhower matrix as an approach to task prioritization. While it can be helpful, it only works for a single moment in time. It doesn’t provide you with a framework to improve how your team operates, improving your productivity over time. To achieve this, you must use the ROAD technique. Let’s take a look at how ROAD works.
Categorizing your team’s tasks using ROAD
The ROAD method still requires you to generate a priority list for the tasks that need to get accomplished for the day. This list should be created based on priority level with the most time-sensitive and top priority tasks listed first.
After you and your team create your task list, you should look at the types listed. Some tasks will start and finish when it’s completed. Others are a step in a larger process. Now you should:
- Go through each and mark them as either ‘R’ for regular (meaning you do them often), or ‘O’ for one-off (for instance, an action from a meeting).
- Go through and mark them again as either ‘D’ for delegate (which means that someone else could do them) or ‘A’ for action (which means only you can do them).
Now your list has all the tasks marked as either ‘RA’, ‘DR’, ‘OA’, or ‘DO’. It is a straightforward way of task management that integrates task management seamlessly into your workflow. It also allows you to improve your day-to-day operations. Let’s take a look at how each sits on this graphic.
DR – The repeatable tasks
Tasks that are labeled ‘DR’ are repeatable tasks – for instance, updating social media or processing expenses. They can be delegated or potentially automated. Automation would not only permanently strike it from your to-do list, but reduce the chances of human error too.
Whether you choose to automate or have a specialist execute it, make sure you have the process mapped out accurately so it can be done correctly.
DO – One-off tasks that can be delegated
These tasks only need to be done once. Sometimes the amount of time required to complete these tasks will tempt you just to do them yourself. However, effective project management means you can’t do it all.
If you’re a manager, this is where you’ll reclaim precious time in your day. These single tasks should be easy to explain. However, be careful of sending an email and forgetting about it – having a way of seeing when the task has been completed is vital.
AR – A repeatable task that only you can do
These are also tasks that can’t be delegated or automated. These need to be followed closely, because they tie in directly to your job function and what you were hired to do. If they aren’t tied to your job function, you should evaluate why these are being done and why you are responsible for them.
AO – A one-off task that only you can do
These tasks should be high value and have a high priority level. They are either related to business growth or cost reduction. If you review these tasks and find out that they are low value, take a closer look. Ask yourself if you need to alter your prioritization method or something else needs to change in how you or your team is operating.
The best aspect of categorizing your daily tasks using ROAD is that it can be done quickly. Project managers should consider completing it as a team workshop where you can discuss and compare notes. Once it’s finished, you and your team can improve how your department operates. It also allows you the opportunity to create your ROAD map to increase productivity across your team.
What tools can you use to manage your to-do list?
Prioritization can be overwhelming, especially if you’re still relying on pen and paper (or post-it notes on every inch of your workspace!). Instead, consider using technology to help.
What features do you need when prioritizing your tasks?
1. Due date: Look at your tasks and decide when they need to be done. This is a basic feature everyone needs!
2. Templates: These are especially important for repeatable tasks. They will save you time by being able to copy from a template or schedule a repeating task.
3. Importance: You want enough time in your day to get the most urgent things accomplished. You can use your own system, but a simple 1-4 numbering system can be the most effective.
4. Assign an owner: If you are managing a team, you’ll need to be able to assign tasks. That way, nothing will slip through the cracks.
5. Dependency: Sometimes, tasks depend on other ones being completed. A good tool should have ways to include this.
6. Reminders: No matter how well organized you are, you’re likely to forget something. Having automatic reminders is a great way to ensure you stay on top of everything.
7. Defer: As we said, some things will need to be done the following day. Deferring tasks is one of the most frequent things you need to do. You must be able to handle it easily without forgetting about it.
8. Reporting: Managing your tasks is important, but you also need to be able to manage your team. By reporting on your task management, you can see exactly where your team needs support.
Common tools used to manage and prioritize team tasks
Okay, we may be a little biased. However, beSlick is an excellent tool to manage and prioritize your team’s tasks. We come with all the features you need to make the most out of your task management. We have:
- Multi-device access
- Reassigning and quick deferring of activity
It’s quick, easy, and always on hand. But, it tends to walk off being lost in the chaos of an office desk or work bag. It also can’t manage a team.
3. Outlook To Do
While Outlook can be great at a lot of things, it isn’t the best task management tool. It can’t handle dependencies and team task reporting is limited. Outlook To-Do also can’t manage repeatable task activity.
4. Google Tasks
This has more features than Outlook To Do but isn’t as user-friendly. You also can’t create task templates – making it tricky for teams with lots of repeat tasks.
5. Remember the Milk
This tool is a wonderful personal task manager. It also has a free version. However, “free” means sacrificing important features. With limited features, it makes it impossible to manage a team.
Trello is a common tool that doesn’t make it easy to manage tasks. It excels at visual content, but struggles with anything like dependencies, or complex processes.
This is also a very common tool that can perform team management. However, it is only useful for the most basic task management activity.
Task management is a vital part of any operation and being able to prioritize your tasks effectively will save you valuable time and money. It is also a valuable lesson for a happier life: prioritizing tasks and using your time wisely can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life.
Make sure you are setting priorities, and accept that you can’t do everything in a single day. Do what you can and use the tools we’ve discussed to help you organize and accomplish your to-do list.
We are here for you at beSlick for all of your task management needs. To learn more, talk to one of our team members today or take a look at our pricing to find out what you can do to start effectively prioritizing your life!
Steve Mace has decades of experience in senior management positions at global technology companies, and has seen firsthand what can happen when process goes wrong. A firm believer that for a business to succeed empowerment, autonomy and creativity are vital to company culture.