How to Prioritize!

(Especially when everything seems to be Priority 1)


Here’s one that almost all of us have faced at one time or another: A mass of work or projects to accomplish, limited time available, and every task and every project pushing to be Priority 1! As the work stacks up and we get farther and farther behind, the overload of considerations associated with each task begins to destroy our sense of objectivity. Our sense of which tasks are truly important and which can take a secondary place in our priorities languishes farther and farther into the background.


What can we do to get ourselves out of this sense of tangled and competing objectives and place them in the proper order? The Liquid Planner ( us six suggestions for disentangling the mass of Priority 1 tasks before us, placing them into something resembling a sense of prioritized order, accomplishing our objectives, and meeting the deadlines that are imposed on us by others – or even by ourselves!


A keen sense of how to prioritize is a leadership trait that is valued in every organization, especially since many of our peers lack the acuity to stand above the fray of competing interests, or to engage a methodical and calculated way of dissecting the relevant issues to construct a work plan that…works.


However, as Liquid Planner points out, this is sometimes easier said than done. With each task before you screaming for attention, and with constant change and the need for re-prioritization seemingly the natural order of things, we begin to see the complexities involved in the prioritization process. Worse still, prioritization seems to become more challenging as the importance of the project is elevated.


So, what is prioritization in the first case? Simply put, and as directly stated by Liquid Planner, “prioritization is the process of determining the level of importance and urgency of a task, thing or event.” Further stated, it is an essential skill required of any person with the responsibility for task completion – a skill that becomes more and more important to master as the level of moving parts and complexities increase. The practitioner must accurately assign and rank a level of importance to each key task (even when they all seem to be important), and its level of urgency. As noted, this is easier said than done, and it requires practice and focus to become good at it. But with time and practice, this important leadership trait will begin to emerge as second nature to you.


Liquid Planner’s six suggested steps to help you manage the prioritization process are as follows:


  1. Construct a complete list of all of the tasks you deem to be important:
    Include everything that can have a significant impact on your objective(s). Do not worry about putting them in any particular order at this point, just get them on paper (or your computer screen).
  2. Identify those elements that are URGENT vs. those that are IMPORTANT:

    This may seem to be a bit challenging at first, but an initial step would be to see which tasks need to be done immediately. This means determining, for instance, which things must be done before the end of the day, or within a matter of hours (or other time determinant) in order to avoid negative consequences, such as missed deadlines, etc. Then, consider the rest of the list and place them in a time-ordered/time-dependent sequence. Then…tentatively (please note that there are four other steps to follow) allocate your time and attention according to your list.

  3. Assign a value to each of the tasks you have listed:
    Simply put, and similar to step 2 above, how critical is each component? Moreover, which components are important to which phase of your project, or the people helping you? Here are some references or definitions that might help:

    1. Critical priorities are those that are time sensitive and of high value. Certainly, those involving near-term deadlines might well be in this category, as well as those that are absolutely essential for task completion.

    2. High-value priorities are those that are not as time-sensitive, but still important to the eventual and successful completion of the overall project. Liquid Planner suggests that these could include tasks requiring thought, planning, and cooperation with others.

    3. Medium priorities might be time-sensitive, but are not necessarily of high value. Examples include meetings, communications that are not time-essential, and organizing activities that can wait a bit.

    4. Low-priority tasks are those that are neither time-sensitive nor of particularly high value (compared to the others). Though low-priority tasks may be needed in the end, these are activities that can wait until time becomes available, or may even be dropped completely if time and resource circumstances so dictate.

  4. Order your tasks by the effort you estimate that you will need for each:
    One way to approach these estimates is to determine which ones will require the most time to complete, as productivity experts support starting with the more time-consuming tasks first. However, this assumes that there are no shorter-duration tasks of higher value, or that must be accomplished as prerequisites before the longer ones can be addressed. This is a determination that you must make, and with which you should feel comfortable.

  5. Be flexible and adaptable:
    Change and uncertainty come with life in general. Patience and the understanding that issues and events evolve day-to-day are positive character traits of people in general, and of leaders in particular. You may not be able to plan precisely for the unexpected, but you can indeed make plans which accept that the unexpected may occur. Developing the skill of staying calm and focused during shifting realities can only contribute to positive outcomes when faced with a new development. There is an old saying in responsible circles that “plans are sometimes of little value, but planning is essential.” This means that though your plans may fall to the wayside due to changed circumstances, your capacity to plan effectively will help you recover in a speedier and more effective manner.

  6. Know when to cut out your lower-priority tasks:
    This is where being realistic and facing facts come in handy. After all of your honest prioritization and estimation efforts, it may become clear that you are simply not going to be able to do it all. At this point you may have to calculate which bits you can live without, dump them, and then double down on the critical or high-priority tasks that are realistically within reach. Ensure that the things you choose to keep are indeed doable; the successful accomplishment of one task will lead to faith that you can manage a second one, then a third, then a fourth… Success breeds self-confidence, which can only be a positive influence in your overall effectiveness and success.

I hope that the above tips from Liquid Planner are of help to you in managing (or leading) a challenging workload, whether it is professional, academic or even personal in nature. However, in the end, there is one vital factor that can make the difference between having your tasks under control or overwhelming you – your own willingness to consider such suggestions, and maybe even supplement them with your own ideas and what you know about yourself.

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