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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

Prioritization of Task: 7 Methods to Become a Pro

Prioritization of Task: 7 Methods to Become a Pro

Prioritization of tasks has been one of the biggest challenges for business owners, corporate executives, and employees. However, with a lot of tasks on your to-do list, you only need to master some time-tested techniques to become a pro at prioritizing tasks.

Figuring out your priorities can eliminate stress, enhance your focus, and improve your productivity in your work.

While it may look simple to figure out which tasks need your urgent attention, prioritization of tasks goes beyond a simple exercise. If your tasks are piling up, these seven methods can empower you to become better at prioritizing things.

1. Capture Your Priorities on a Master List

You cannot be effective at prioritizing the tasks that you only keep in your head. The best way to start is by creating a MASTER LIST. You can create it in doc or use a project management tool that you can easily access or update.

Your Master List will enable you to figure out what tasks you need to complete in a month, week, or day. It also helps you figure out the priorities that align with your long-term goals.

According to Brian Tracy,

“Your monthly Master list is an extract of your Master List. Your Weekly Project List pulls from your Monthly To-Do List; while your Most Important List pulls from your weekly To-Do List”.[1]

One notable benefit of this prioritization technique is that you get to focus on completing bigger and difficult tasks instead of smaller ones. Pulling your MIT from your bigger list gives you a sense of focusing on something meaningful-not just the most urgent.

2. Use Eisenhower Matrix to Differentiate the Urgent From the Important Tasks

While your Master List enables you to figure out how to prioritize every task, you might still be confused about what you need to do now or later. There are techniques you can leverage to do this.

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We have the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle. According to this technique, “20% of your efforts tend to produce 80% of the result”. Therefore, identify those tasks that generate the results on your lists.

The limitation of the Pareto principle, however, is that it only relies on experience. If you are working on a new task, or you are uncertain about which task to prioritize, Eisenhower Matrix is a more effective technique.

Urgent tasks are tasks that require your immediate attention, such as your texts, phone calls, emails, and project reviews. Important tasks, on the other hand, are those activities that impact your long-term goals, values, and mission.

How do you figure out urgent tasks from important tasks?

  • Complete tasks that are urgent and important immediately.
  • Figure out when you will do the tasks that are important but not urgent and schedule them.
  • Delegate or outsource the urgent but not important task to someone competent.
  • Eliminate tasks from your list that are neither urgent nor important immediately.

One of the most challenging aspects here is getting tasks that are urgent but not important off your list. That’s why I recommend finding someone capable.

Delegation entails finding the most capable person for the task and explaining its requirements. It also incorporates giving the person sufficient time and guidance to get the tasks off your list and mind completely.

3. Leverage the Ivy Lee Technique to Rank Your Daily Tasks Based on Their True Priority

Have you ever found yourself ending up with an overwhelming list of tasks that are both urgent and important?

Here’s the solution!

Find a means of digging deeper to know the true importance of those tasks.

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Ivy Lee, a productivity consultant, developed one of the most effective approaches to do this over 100 years ago. The Ivy Lee technique guides you on how to prioritize your day by adhering to some set of rules:

Here are the rules:[2]

  • Highlight the six most significant tasks you need to do the next day at the end of each day.
  • Rank those six activities in order of their real significance.
  • Focus on the first task first thing the next day. Work until you have completed the task before taking out the next item.
  • Apply the same strategy to take out the next task. Move uncompleted items to a fresh list for the next day.
  • Repeat this procedure each day.

This strategy of single-tasking enables you to stay focused and prioritize your tasks properly.

4. Use the ABCDE Technique to Separate Tasks With Similar Priorities

While using the Ivy Lee technique can help you to prioritize your daily activities, one question that you still need to ask is this:

How do I determine the true priority of a task?

You may sometimes come in contact with tasks that feel they share the same level of significance. If you are busy with difficult or more demanding tasks, the Pareto principle, as well as the Eisenhower Matrix, may not completely cut it.

That is why Brian Tracy recommended the ABCDE technique for the effective prioritization of tasks. This method establishes two or more levels for each task instead of maintaining them on the same level of significance.

How does the ABCDE method work?[3]

  • Go through your list and label every item from A to E, with A being the most significant.
  • For every task, assign a number that shows the order you will complete it.
  • Repeat this process until you have assigned letters and numbers to all tasks.

The real priority of each task becomes more obvious as you create multiple layers of prioritization for each task.

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5. “Eat The Frog” to Establish a Productive Tone for Your Day

Now that you have prioritized your task, it is time to devise the best strategy to attack your day. The effective prioritization of tasks also requires effective strategizing.

How you start establishes the tone for the rest of your day. And taking out the biggest, and of course, important task first provides you with the energy, inspiration, and stamina to keep pushing through the day.

A lot of productivity coaches recommend working on your Most Important Tasks (MIT) as soon as possible.

Here’s how Mark Twain puts it:

“If you have a live frog to eat, it makes no sense to look at it for a very long time!”[4]

Frogs are those tasks that are most challenging and important. When devising the means of prioritizing your day, it is advisable to place some of your frogs on top of your MIT list. This approach helps you take out difficult tasks and also keeps you motivated all through the day.[5]

6. Deploy Warren Buffet’s 2-List Method to Extract the “Good Enough” Goals

Your efficiency will not produce meaningful results if you are pursuing the wrong goals. That is the reason why you have to evaluate your goals as well as priorities to ensure they are in line with your life missions.

Warren Buffett provided us with a 3-steps Productivity method that he employed in improving the productivity of his employee. This method is called the 2-List Technique.[6]

Here’s how it works.

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Highlight your top 25 goals. It could be your career goals, business goals, education goals, life goals, or anything you want to commit your time to. The next step is to circle out five most important goals from the list (if you have written your top 25 goals, you can circle your top 5 goals out before you read on).

Then, move any goal that you did not circle out to the ‘avoid by all means’ list. Only focus on the significant tasks and in line with your long-term priorities.

7. Boost Your 24 Hours With Time Multiplier

Prioritization of tasks is also about time. Performing the right tasks can create more time for you in the future or take a toll on your time. The best means of becoming more aware of how your choices impact your future obligations is to use time multipliers in maximizing your time.

Rory Vaden recommended that you figure out things you can do today that can impact your tomorrow positively. In other words, think about the best means of maximizing your time today to free up some hours tomorrow.[7]

Bonus: Do the Most Important Tasks in Your Peak Productive Period

The prioritization of tasks does not always have to be planned. You can improve your productivity by aligning your task and time priorities.

Fluctuations in energy and focus are bound to happen. We refer to this high and lows as the productivity curve. It means you are more productive at some specific period. You only need to figure out those times and plan your top priorities around that time.

The best approach to be productive all through the day is to discern your peak productive moments.

Conclusion

It takes time to become better when it comes to prioritization of tasks. But with the right system, you can know which tasks to focus on, discover their true importance, and take them out when you are most productive.

More Tips to Become Better at Prioritization of Tasks

Featured photo credit: Roman Bozhko via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on February 23, 2021

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

How To Increase Focus At Work: 12 Brain Hacks

Knowledge was what once separated the rich and successful from the rest of the pack. The internet combined with the iPhone leveled the playing field. Then came along social media and put people in touch from all corners of the world. Now, Clubhouse is rewriting all the rules again. While our knowledge grows exponentially, sadly, our focus doesn’t. We must learn—as Warren Buffet does—to “say no to almost everything”. The key to success isn’t how to learn more, but how to increase focus.

The working-from-home model (WFH) wasn’t something many companies embraced just a short time ago. Today, Covid-19 has made WFH ubiquitous. With it, all sorts of challenges have arisen and companies and individuals alike are still adjusting to the new normal.

Pre-Covid, people had to deal with distractions at the office from walk-ins, colleagues asking for assistance, office gossip, and the likes. Today’s environment, for many people, is completely different. Isolated at home, a lack of focus can’t be blamed on your micromanaging boss, obnoxious coworkers, or persistent customers. At home, your focus is entirely in your hands now. So, what can you do about it?

Here are 12 different ways you can increase your focus.

1. Exercise

Get your day started right by getting the blood flowing. In Japanese, companies used to have their employees start their mornings with some light exercise. Stretching, yoga, or easy calisthenics are all that’s needed. Exercise does so much good for our bodies and mind.

According to the Harvard Medical School, exercise “reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”[1]

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2. Monotask

Multitasking was a cute catchphrase that sounded as if you were able to get more done in less time. Science says that’s dead wrong. By jumping from one task to another, our brain needs time to restart.

According to psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, author of CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Handling Your Fast-Paced Life,

“multitasking is shifting focus from one task to another in rapid succession. It gives the illusion that we’re simultaneously tasking, but we’re really not. It’s like playing tennis with three balls.”

Therefore, to increase focus, simply monotask. By limiting your mind to a single topic, you create a laser-like ability to cut through it.

3. Chunking

While we might not be able to multitask, we can do two activities simultaneously if they use different parts of our brain. That’s why we can drive and listen to podcasts at the same time and keep control of our cars—driving has become internalized. Watching TV while doing your exercise routine is another prime example.

While chunking doesn’t qualify as something that will increase focus, what it does is free up time that we can use for other tasks. Good time management means having the ability to do more. When we have so much on our plate, getting through it all can be daunting. But by chunking activities, we kill two birds with one stone.

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4. Music

You might not think music can increase our focus, but you’d be wrong. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, done in 2007, states that music, specifically classical music, can help your brain absorb and interpret new information more easily.[2] If you’re looking for an easy way on how to increase focus, Mozart or Beethoven have got you covered.

5. Nature

David Strayer is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah who specializes in attention. He’s also an avid backpacker, and he talks about something called the “3-day effect.” He demonstrated with a group of Outward Bound participants that after three days of a wilderness backpacking adventure, they performed 50 percent better on creative problem-solving tasks.[3]

According to him, “on the third day, my senses recalibrate – I smell things and hear things I didn’t hear before.” So, if you’ve been cramped up in your house during the lockdowns, a trip to the Great Outdoors might be just what the doctor ordered.

6. Mingle

The effects the lockdowns have had on our mental health have been severe. Isolating people isn’t good for us. We’re social animals. We need to get out and mingle. While we often view chit-chat as a mindless, time-wasting activity, it does have its benefits. Talking to different people exposes our minds to new and fresh ideas as well as alleviate stress. The less stress we have, the more we can focus.

7. Sleep

The simplest and easiest way to increase focus is having good old-fashioned sleep. Too many of us have gotten accustomed to cutting hours off our sleep to be able to watch another episode of Game of Thrones or get to the next level in the Spiderman: Miles Morales on the PlayStation 5.

None of us can operate at optimum levels for long periods of time without a good night’s rest. Short term, we might be able to get away with it, but over time the effects add up. In essence, by denying yourself sleep, you are denying your body the rest it needs to realign itself.

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8. Diet

The food we eat is the fuel for our bodies. A Ferrari can only perform its best with quality gasoline. The same can be said for our bodies, yet it seems too many people don’t connect the two.

While the vegetarian diet is certainly healthy, I prefer to take a more balanced approach. Fish, meat, and pork all provide us with amino acids essential for health. I compliment my proteins with a variety of vegetables and carbohydrates. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. Ever since I focused on creating a more balanced diet, I have not lost a day of work.

9. Cooking Timers

It sounds rather silly until you’ve tried it, but force yourself to work on one task for a solid 30 minutes—no interruptions of any kind. You’ll be amazed at how hard it is for us to do that. We have gotten so used to jumping from one browser tab to another. We happily bounce around on the internet whenever we see something that catches our eye. It’s amazing how much time we flutter away without knowing it. A cooking timer is your commitment to give a single task your undivided attention.

10. Switch Things Up

While I have spoken about focus, monotasking, and timers, we have to understand that there are times when we just get stuck. It’s at moments like that we need a change of scenery. It’s no use beating a dead horse.

There are days when our creative juices just aren’t flowing. At times like this, it’s better to just get your mind completely off what you’re doing. Clear your mind by doing something completely different. That breather will give your mind time to reboot itself. Playing a video game, reading a book, or doing something completely different from what you usually do can work. It’s amazing how, by simply switching things up, we can increase our focus.

11. Go for a Walk

Something as simple as going for a walk can be just what the doctor ordered. In fact, under the current circumstances of work-from-home, it’s something we all need to do more of.

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There were days when my wife didn’t go outside for days on end. She’d start going stir crazy. Going for a walk—away from technology—and breathing in the fresh air can make a world of difference to someone stuck at home.

12. Deadlines

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. Put simply, we adjust our work to the time available for its completion.

Say you’re told to finish a project by next Tuesday. Most people will get it done by next Tuesday. Unlike school where we have the eager beavers, as adults, we have so much on our plate so we put off things that do not need our immediate attention. So, if you want to increase focus, simply bring in the time frame.

Don’t allow yourself to put things off and instead, attack them head-on. Combined with the other techniques and strategies outlined in this article, you’ll be able to rip right through things.

Conclusion

Focus, not knowledge, is the key to success in today’s world. Unfortunately, so many things are competing for our focus and attention. Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and the new kid on the block—Clubhouse—are all vying for your attention, not to mention our friends, family, and colleagues.

It’s a battle for your mind, and you are in the driver’s seat. Armed with these 12 brain hacks, you’ll be able to win more wars than you lose.

More Tips on How to Increase Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Chase Clark via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Exercising to relax
[2] Stanford Medicine: Study shows different brains have similar responses to music
[3] National Geographic: This Is Your Brain on Nature

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