Prioritize Tasks: How to Guide with Methods, Samples, Tools

When talking to our customers, the constant concern that keeps rising is how to prioritize tasks. Normally people ask questions like: How many tasks should I have for one week? How do I decide which tasks to tackle first? Which tasks should I delegate?

I work for a weekly planning tool called Weekdone and we've helped clients to be more productive and progress oriented from SMEs to fortune 500 companies. No matter how big or successful the company, prioritizing still remains one of the most important elements of success.

In this article, I will provide you with answers to the questions above. Furthermore, I will introduce the best practices on how to prioritize tasks.

Planning your week
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Why do you need to prioritize your tasks?

Before we get into solutions and methods, I will briefly explain why prioritizing is so crucial to our day-to-day success. In case you are not prioritizing, you will be doing tasks that are actually not that important. Therefore, not getting the results you wanted.

In addition, not deciding can sometimes paralyze you and lead to doing nothing and feeling frustrated. According to HBR Guide, we need to be bold in our decision-making when we prioritize tasks early on, otherwise, it will lead to uncertainty in the future.

Secondly, prioritizing can be a key component for getting a raise or a promotion. Simply put, we can get more when we demonstrate that we've added more value. To add more value, we have to focus on what brings the most value. Therefore prioritize our weekly tasks and time.

The Worth-Your-Time Test

Now, let's start with identifying your priorities.

First thing you can do when you prioritize tasks or requests is to do The Worth-Your-Time Test. It is very quick and easy.

If you are faced with a task or someone comes to you with a request, ask yourself:

    1. Am I the right person?
    1. Is this the right time?
  1. Do I have enough information?

If the task fails the test – if the answer to any of these questions is “no” – then don't do it. Pass it to someone else (the right person), schedule it for another time (the right time), or wait until you have the information you need so you can better prioritize tasks in the future (either you or someone else needs to get it).

That was pretty easy, right? I love these 3 questions, I use it myself and it is perfect for making quick decisions. Nevertheless, if you are interested in a more conclusive prioritizing technique, I would recommend the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Matrix is a 4-square grid. The top 2 boxes are respectively labeled Urgent and Not Urgent at the top. The top row is labeled Important to the left, and the bottom row is labeled Not Important.'

Prioritize Tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix
Prioritize Tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower matrix expedites time management when used daily. You list all the tasks for your day in one or another of the boxes. As you list them in the box, do so by priority. When finished, address the Urgent/Important Tasks immediately and dismiss the Not Urgent/Not Important tasks.

If possible, delegate the items in the Urgent/Not Important box or leave them for the future, when there are no more important tasks. The Non Urgent/Important tasks should be assigned a completion date, but they should never take priority over Urgent/Important tasks.

The Eisenhower Matrix and Weekdone

When using Weekdone for your weekly planning, as much as possible, try to enter the Urgent/Important plans first and focus on those. The second in importance is the Non Urgent /Important tasks, so each week also have a few of those.

Prioritizing tasks by quadrants

Quadrant #1: Urgent and Important

Divide items into those that you could not foresee and those you have left to the last minute.

Plan to handle the unexpected or reschedule some other item.

Debrief when complete to determine how you will respond next time.

Quadrant #2: Urgent but Not Important

Items listed here stop you from getting your work done. Delegate them or reschedule them.

Just say “NO!” or coach people to solve their own problems.

Quadrant #3: Not Urgent but Important

Complete the items in Quadrant #3 to achieve your goals.

Allow enough time to do these things right, or they will become Urgent.

Quadrant #4: Not Urgent and Not Important

These items are distractions. Ignore them or drop them. Or, decline the request. Not everything that can be done must be done – or even planned. Simplify and declutter your todo list by throwing these straight into the dustbin.

The key benefit to the Matrix is its elegance. It lends itself so easily to accessibility and function. The template is easy enough to draw and photocopy. In addition to the matrix, you could implement these top 10 easy to implement steps for a more productive week.

Now that you have your to-do list or weekly plans prioritized. It's a perfect time to show you how you can organize or communicate your priorities to others. For that, I recommend the RAG Rating System

Prioritize Work With the RAG Rating System

The RAG system is a popular project management method of rating for issues or status reports, based on Red, Amber (yellow), and Green colors used in a traffic light rating system.

Traffic lights provide great variable insight using just 3 status types
RAG Rating Methodology

When status reporting how well a milestone, project, program or portfolio is performing or being delivered. Project managers often use a RAG rating to indicate how on track or at risk is the project, its deliverables or tasks. Green typically indicates normal levels of production; amber indicates that production has slowed (or attention is otherwise warranted); red indicates that production has stopped or the line is down.

how to prioritize tasks using RAG scale
Weekdone RAG scale

Using the RAG rating scale, there are no written rules, you can assign your own meaning to each of the colors. When sharing your tasks with others, just make sure they know the meaning behind your RAG Rating System.

Some example use cases could include:

    • highlighting bigger and more important tasks, to distinguish them from smaller ones (I use this one, because for me different tasks just take more time and effort than others)
    • marking items which are on hold
    • highlighting issues which need assistance or help from your team-mates
  • showing which items you are currently working on

In case you are using Weekdone, you can flag, prioritize and group items in your weekly status report with an icon in front of each item. Just click on the star to loop through the options.

I hope these methods helped you to prioritize tasks and therefore lead you to a better future. If you are looking for a weekly planning and goal-setting tool, I definitely recommend to try out Weekdone (free trial). It uses all the best practices in order to make you, your team or company more productive and progress oriented. In addition, each week you will get an automated status report how well you or your coworkers are doing.

How to Write a Status Report - PPP methodology (Plans, Progress, Problems) with Weekdone