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Published on June 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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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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    Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

    The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

    But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

    However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

    This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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    Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

    We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

    Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

    Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

    The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

    When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

    When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

    How to Make Decision Effectively

    Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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    1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

    You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

    Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

    Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

    2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

    You don’t have to choose all the time.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

    Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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    3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

    You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

    The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

    Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

    Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

    So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

    More Tips About Decision Making

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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