The Art of Task Prioritization at Work: Making Sure Deadlines Are Met

Task Prioritization

As a project manager, your goal is to ensure the project is delivered on schedule and within budget. To achieve this, you need to have a grasp on what tasks need to be completed. But, oftentimes you might find yourself in scenarios where the tasks just continue to pile up and everything is “super important”. Does this situation sound familiar? Yes, the tasks just load up and it's a scramble to complete assignments.

To get a grip on such cases, a manager needs to know the “art of task prioritization.” What is task prioritization? How to prioritize tasks?

In this blog, we explain what task prioritization is, why you need to master it, and how to go about doing it in a project-driven workplace.

What is Task Prioritization?

Task Prioritization

Task prioritization is the process of identifying and organizing “to-do” items in order of importance. In a project, there are multiple things that are “competing” for your attention. Through task prioritization, you can identify what is time sensitive and therefore needs to be done first. Lastly, this process helps you ensure you are working on jobs that are in line with your short and long-term goals.

Why is Task Prioritization Important?

Effective task management is crucial to having a productive day at work. It also provides clarity on whom to assign crucial tasks to based on skill set and experience. Ineffective task management can lead to productivity losses, projects missing deadlines, costs rising, and disengaged employees.

Efficient project prioritization also improves your return on investment (ROI) as you’ll be focusing your time on tasks that matter. As per McKinsey, active prioritization leads to performance improvement; companies have outperformed their competition by 40% just by being strategic and serious about prioritization.

Task Prioritization

Large, multi-dimensional projects require clarity and direction. Task prioritization can help make that happen. It’s also a key skill to have as a project leader, even if you are aided by the best project management software. After all, it’s you who is entering information in the software, after all.

Fortunately, task prioritization can be learned and mastered. And, we’re here to help you do that. Below are a few steps that will help you identify jobs that are not only time-sensitive but are worth investing your best efforts in.

Steps to Setting Priorities

The following project prioritization process can be applied to almost any project or company size. It can be used to tackle big projects or just daily routines. The more times you complete this prioritization process, it will become like second-hand nature. The result — you will be a more effective manager, leader, or team member.

1. Know Your Long-Term and Short-Term Goals

Working without a goal is akin to cooking something but with no defined steps or ingredients. You don’t know what dish you’ll end up with, and whether you can even call it a success. With a defined goal, you know what you are working towards. It also sets standards that you can measure your success against. Did you meet your goal or were you completely off track?

Goals can be short or long-term. Try to use the SMART goal-setting framework. The framework will help you create goals that are measurable, time-bound, and realistic. This free goal-setting template from HubSpot can help you get started.

Once the goals are framed, keep them within sight, so you don’t lose track of where you’re headed.

2. List Out All the Tasks

Task Prioritization

The next step is to get a hold of ALL the tasks or jobs that have to be completed. You can think of this as a taskmaster list. Just write down every single thing that needs to be accomplished, without concerning yourself with whether it’s important, relevant, or how many there are.

Include all the necessary stakeholders in making this task list, so nothing is amiss. A task management tool like eRS can make it easier to create and share task lists with all members.

3. Group tasks based on Urgency, Level of Difficulty, and Importance.

Now, we are getting into the nitty-gritty of the process. Grouping tasks based on importance, difficulty, and urgency sounds easy, but it can get overwhelming pretty quickly. We suggest using some guidelines or time management matrixes to help you allocate efficiently.

The Eisenhower Matrix, named after former US President Dwight Eisenhower, is one such tool that can help you segment tasks. The matrix has four corners that will help you sort through your to-do list.

Task Prioritization
  • First Quadrant - Put your most urgent and important jobs here. Ones that need to be tackled today, or at the latest by tomorrow. Examples: A client deadline that’s tomorrow or emergency surgery.
  • Second Quadrant - Important tasks but ones where you have some longer or more flexible deadlines. These are essential issues that could be worked on later. Example: running maintenance checks on equipment or attending sales networking conferences. It’s helpful to think of these more as tasks related to long-term goals.
  • Third Quadrant - These are urgent situations with tasks that must be completed now, however, they could be assigned to a subordinate or a different subject matter expert. One thing to highlight here is that these tasks don’t require your specific skill set.
  • Fourth Quadrant - Over here you’d put tasks that are left over from the previous quadrants. These tasks might be getting in your way of achieving your goals, so you could consider “permanently deleting” them.

Another tool that can be used to prioritize tasks is the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. According to this, you want to focus on completing 20% of tasks that will result in 80% of the impact you generate for a day.

The MoScoW technique is yet another powerful and popular way of grouping task lists. In this method, there are again four groups: MUST have, SHOULD have, COULD have, and WON’T have. The definition for each segment is explained below.

  • MUST (Mandatory) — This category consists of must-have initiatives, which represent the non-negotiable parts of a project.
  • SHOULD (High priority) — This group is made of should-have initiatives. These jobs are important, but not vital. If they are not completed, the impact on the project will be minor.
  • COULD (Preferred but not necessary) — The “Could” features items that are more of a nice-to-have, but not necessary to the project. The team could still operate without doing these tasks.
  • WILL NOT HAVE (Can be postponed for future) — This final category will have jobs that aren’t time-bound (at least for now) and can be circled back to in the future.

With the Moscow technique, you can prioritize based on a deadline or budget. For example, for a manufacturing team, the constraint might be budget. Therefore, they can evaluate their lists based on “must-have features” versus “would be nice to have.”

resource management and allocation

4. Separate Tasks Again Using ABCDE Method

Once you have assigned tasks into different segments using the prioritization method of your choice, you need to go a step further. Use the ABCDE methodology by Brian Tracy to rank out the items within each group. For example, if you have identified five jobs in the “Must” group, you’d now order them out so you know which to tackle first. You would list the five tasks as A-1, A-2, A-3, A-4, and A-5.

  • Task A: These are the most important and can result in negative consequences if they aren’t completed.
  • Task B: These tasks have fewer risks and adverse consequences.
  • Task C: Tasks with no consequences.
  • Task D: Ones that can be delegated.
  • Task E: You should eliminate and take these off your list.
Task Prioritization

By doing this you’re also breaking down the tasks into manageable bites.

5. Remain Flexible

You think you’re ready to add tasks to the calendar and get the ball rolling, but something new can always creep up. A new client request or the realization that your email marketing software requires an upgrade.

With project and task prioritization, you need to remain agile and open to changes. When a new requirement comes in, do a quick assessment based on urgency and impact. If the job falls into a MUST-DO category, time management software can help you assign it to those employees who have a matching skill set and are available. Lastly, always remember, the prioritization list is meant to evolve and change with your business. Re-order your priorities and get back on track.

Task Prioritization Better and Smarter with eRS

Ready to supercharge the efficiency and productivity of your business? eRS can help you prioritize better and smarter. Use our software to build task lists, prioritize them, and then assign them to the right resource. The centralized database makes it easy to communicate any changes to the priorities as well.

Start your 14-day free trial today.

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