You’ve probably already heard John Green’s quote that says “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities” and you should adopt an adaptation of it when trying to decide what tasks are more important in your workload: some importances are bigger than others.
Even when you’re feeling overwhelmed – so much to do and no idea where to start – and every little task seems like top priority, try remembering there will always be something with a higher priority, you just have to thoroughly analyse it.
To make your life a little simpler and help you find your way out of this task maze you’re feeling trapped in, here are a few ideas to make the task of prioritising your workload a bit lighter.
Tips for prioritising your workload:
Before you’re able to start prioritising, you have to define your starting point – after all, it’s easier to find your way if you know where you are. Then, try and focus more on immediate executable tasks than long-term prioritisation – planning the future is important, of course, but when you’re feeling lost, it’ll only adds preoccupation to your plate.
Here’s a few ideas on how you can proceed to start prioritising your workload (and finding your way out of the maze):
I’ve already told on a couple of my posts here, I’m a list person (and that Evernote is my list making app of choice, if you’re looking for one). Making lists does in fact make prioritising tasks easier so I’d strongly recommend you add it to your daily routine: first thing in the morning, write down everything that comes to your mind when you think of urgent things that need to be done that day.
Once you’ve written all those tasks down, go ahead and break down the list into urgent vs. non urgent tasks (color coding is also a good idea, if you’re a visual person like myself). Yes, I know I said you should right down everything that needs to be done that day, but, even though everything may look urgent, think harder about it and separate your workload for that day into these two “piles”.
Pros and cons – measure the value:
Certain tasks will offer you more benefits than others upon their completion (for example, if you work in contact with customers, you may determine that tasks with direct impact to customers are of a higher priority than those with internal impact only).
One very effective way of analysing a task’s value is thinking about the impacts of not getting it done in time: how would that affect you, your colleagues and your customers? The higher the impact, the higher the priority.
Create a schedule – and stick to it:
Remember when you made a list? You can go a bit further and make a larger list with your tasks that need to be done on the near future. After doing so, add all their deadlines to a planner or calendar so you can see everything together and plan yourself ahead.
Don’t work with project due dates only – break down the larger projects into mini – and more attainable – goals. By doing so, you’ll be a lot more capable of busting through projects and keeping yourself on track (not leaving things to be done on the last minute).
It’s no good setting yourself a calendar if it’s not a habit for you to check it. Enjoy the infinite sea of apps and look for the best alternative to help you plan – and remember your plans. Set alerts to remind you what’s coming up.
Setting alerts is also very good to keep you on track with your due dates and deadlines – establish checkpoints for bigger projects so you’ll know how much time you have left to do everything that needs to be done.
Automate and optimize your time:
If you’re in charge of any repetitive task that could easily be automated to help you optimize your time – like generating weekly reports – look into alternatives to get these tasks out of your way and save your time and energy.
If you’re constantly responding to e-mails with the same questions, create templates to use whenever necessary and save them as drafts on your e-mail account or even on a doc on your desktop. Cutting and pasting these answers to commonly asked questions can make you save a lot of time.
Do the smaller – less time and effort consuming – tasks first and cross them off your list. Give yourself more time and space to work on the more complex tasks.
Keep your feet on the ground:
Be honest and realistic with yourself when determining the amount of urgent tasks you have for the day: setting yourself unattainable goals – and overestimating your own capacity to deliver – are bound to get you disappointed at the end of the day.
Analyse your day and set yourself an attainable goal for the day, don’t try to bite more than you can chew, it’ll only give you problems down the road.
When properly prioritising your workload you have to keep your mind flexible and remember: priorities are not set in stone.
As the circumstances change, so may your priorities and that won’t be the end of the world. Absorb new incoming tasks by adding them to your list and determine whether they’re more or less urgent that you already have to do for the day – reorder the priorities and get the most valuable tasks done first.
Let tasks go – learn to delegate:
I know how hard it is to let go of something – if you’re every bit as perfectionist as myself, you’ll struggle with that to. It’s harder to delegate when you don’t see anyone as apt as you to get the task done but sometimes it’s not only necessary, it’s essential. If you’re dealing with a specially important and delicate matter, it’s easy to get caught up in the details and end up spending way too much time on it.
By getting yourself all caught up in this one priority, you may see yourself having to bump other priorities down the importance scale or, even better, taking them off your list and assigning someone else to do them. Learn when it’s time to let go so you can properly focus on those very important matters only you can deal with.
This is another reason why having a detailed schedule of your workload planned out by day and week can be a life saver – if you have a clear idea of what needs to be done and when it needs to be done, you – and your boss – can easily see what’s on your plate. Your boss can help you determine what’s most important – and needs to stay on your immediate to-do list – and what can be pushed back or delegated to someone else.
I know letting go can seem very hard, but it’s easier – and a lot more effective – to share your workload and make your deadlines to just try and handle everything yourself and end up failing.
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This template shows you in an organised and simplified manner what everyone is currently doing, what they have to do, and what is already done. It also highlights what are the priorities, what’s on time, what’s late and what’s potentially creating bottlenecks.