Prioritization 101: How to Decide which Tasks to Tackle First

Whether you are a professional working for a large corporation, a college student, or a freelancer, you have plenty of work to do. Trying to balance everything can be overwhelming.

You need to remember tasks, when each needs to be done, where you need to be and when you need to be there. Just keeping track of it all is chaotic, not to mention the panic you feel when you remember how much needs completing in the next 24 hours.

So, how are you supposed to manage your life without going insane?

1) Prioritization

You need an organized approach. This will help you coordinate everything so that you can stay on top of it without getting overwhelmed. The right process will help you feel confident that things will get done on time and make you more productive.

2) Choose a Platform

Everyone has their preference of organizational platform, whether it’s paper or digital. It’s important to choose a platform that you are comfortable using since you will be working with it regularly. This is ultimately what will keep your projects and tasks together. It makes them easy to access and coordinate since they are all in a central location.

Some common paper forms are a day planner, whiteboard, or wall calendar. The most widely used digital forms are apps and online systems like Trello, or if you are up to it, you can create a bot that is specific to your needs. You may need to experiment with each platform to figure out what works best for you.

3) Make a List

Come up with a list of every project you need to complete, whether you think it is essential or not. Within each project, you should make a list of individual tasks. Each task functions as a sub-project or step that contributes to the project. Each job should be something that can be performed independently as its unit of work, but still play a part in the big picture. For example, if you need to write an article, the project might be named “Write [article title]” and the tasks for completing the project could be:

  • Research article topic
  • Create an outline
  • Write copy
  • Edit and revise

Breaking down the project into smaller parts makes it easier to put into perspective and set a realistic timeline.

4) Estimate Time

Assess each project and make a realistic guess of how long you think it will take to complete. Then, allocate the project time to each task within the assignment. For the “Write [article title]” project, you might guess that it will take four hours. You could divide the time in the following way:

  • Research article topic = 30 minutes
  • Create an outline = 30 minutes
  • Write copy = 2.5 hours
  • Edit and revise = 30 minutes

When you know approximately how long each task within a project will take to finish, it will help you maintain a workflow. Going along with the above example, you may not have four uninterrupted hours to sit down and complete an entire project.

But, you might have an hour that you could use to research the article topic and create an outline. When you have the chance to come back to the project, it will be easier for you to collect your thoughts and dive back in where you left off.

Creating a time estimate shouldn’t limit the amount of time you spend on tasks. If you allotted 30 minutes to a task, it doesn’t mean you should stop and move on once you’ve worked on it for a given period. Instead, the time estimates should help you put your timeline into perspective so you can stay organized.

5) Establish Deadlines

Each project needs to have a set deadline. If there is not a hard due date that you need to stick with, then make one for yourself. You should also set separate deadlines for individual tasks that are consistent with the project as a whole. Let’s say the “Write [article title]” project needs to be completed by January 10. The tasks leading to this deadline could be:

  • Research article topic: January 5
  • Create an outline: January 5
  • Write copy: January 8
  • Edit and revise: January 9

Make sure the deadlines you set are reasonable. Sometimes you depend on other people or know that things could go wrong. If that’s the case, take it into account and leave a little room for error.

Some deadlines may be more flexible than others, and some may need to be outright changed. If there are too many tasks due on the same day, take a step back and look at which ones are more important. Re-assign the deadlines for less-important functions if you need to. Don’t beat yourself up if you are slightly behind on a task. Just re-calibrate and set a new deadline that will still be consistent with the project due date.

6) Arrange a Task Timeline

Put your tasks (not just entire projects) in order based on the deadline. Depending on the platform you choose, this can be done using various methods. The most common are lists and calendars. In list form, keep the nearest date at the top of the list and the later dates toward the bottom. In calendar form, just put each task on the date it is due.

Within the timeline, look at the importance of each task. If there are 3 task deadlines on the same day, put the most urgent or important work at the top of the list. If you are a little behind and didn’t get to a task or two one day, make sure they are at the top of the list for the next day.

7) Look Ahead

Once you organize your projects and tasks on a timeline, it’s up to you to continually look ahead. This will help you monitor deadlines and avoid procrastination and anxiety. If you fail to keep track of upcoming dates, it can cause stress and panic when you realize there is a deadline you will not meet.

Written By
Human Resources Today