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How to Prioritize Work: 7 Practical Methods for When "Everything is Important"

The sunk cost fallacy

Humans are especially susceptible to the “sunk cost fallacy”—a psychological effect where we feel compelled to continue doing something just because we’ve already put time and effort into it.

But the reality is that no matter what you spend your time doing, you can never get that time back. And any time spent continuing to work towards the wrong priority is just wasted time.

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How to Prioritize Work: 7 Practical Methods for When "Everything is Important"

How to Prioritize Work: 7 Practical Methods for When "Everything is Important"

https://blog.rescuetime.com/how-to-prioritize/

blog.rescuetime.com

8

Key Ideas

Learning how to prioritize...

...means getting more out of the limited time you have each day. It’s one of the cornerstones of productivity and once you know how to properly prioritize, it can help with everything from your time management to work life balance.

Master lists

Capture everything on a Master List and then break it down by monthly, weekly, and daily goals.

  1. Start by making a master list—a document, app, or piece of paper where every current and future task will be stored. 
  2. Once you have all your tasks together, break them down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals.
  3. When setting your priorities, try not to get too “task oriented” - you want to make sure you’re prioritizing the more effective work.

Eisenhower Matrix

The matrix is a simple four-quadrant box that answers that helps you separate “urgent” tasks from “important” ones:

  • Urgent and Important: Do these tasks as soon as possible
  • Important, but not urgent: Decide when you’ll do these and schedule it
  • Urgent, but not important: Delegate these tasks to someone else
  • Neither urgent nor important: Drop these from your schedule as soon as possible.

The Ivy Lee Method

Rank your work by its true priority with the Ivy Lee Method:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the 6 most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow. 
  2. Prioritize those 6 items  n order of their true importance.
  3. When you arrive tomorrow, concentrate only on the first task. Work until the first task is finished before moving on to the next one.
  4. Approach the rest of your list in the same fashion. At the end of the day, move any unfinished items to a new list of six tasks for the following day.
  5. Repeat this process every working day.

The ABCDE method

Instead of keeping all tasks on a single level of priority, this method offers two or more levels for each task:

  • Go through your list and give every task a letter from A to E (A being the highest priority)
  • For every task that has an A, give it a number which dictates the order you’ll do it in
  • Repeat until all tasks have letters and numbers.

Set the tone of the day by “Eating the frog”

Once you’ve prioritized your most important work, it’s time to actually choose how to attack the day.

How you start the day sets the tone for the rest of it. And often, getting a large, hairy, yet important task out of the way first thing gives you momentum, inspiration, and energy to keep moving. 

Warren Buffett’s 2-list strategy

Cut out “good enough” goals with Warren Buffett’s 2-list strategy.
  1. Write down your top 25 goals: life goals, career goals, education goals, or anything else you want to spend your time on.
  2. Circle your top 5 goals on that list.
  3. Finally, any goal you didn’t circle goes on an “avoid at all cost” list. These are the tasks that are seemingly important enough to deserve your attention. But that aren’t moving you towards your long-term priorities.

The sunk cost fallacy

Humans are especially susceptible to the “sunk cost fallacy”—a psychological effect where we feel compelled to continue doing something just because we’ve already put time and effort into it.

But the reality is that no matter what you spend your time doing, you can never get that time back. And any time spent continuing to work towards the wrong priority is just wasted time.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Personal Operations Category
  • Task management. This one is most commonly taught and includes systems like Getting Things Done.
  • Knowledge management. This is embodied in systems like productivity educa...
What's on your plate

Prioritizing tasks at work involves getting all your tasks and commitments in one place.  Take a piece of paper and make a list of everything you need to get done. Questions to help you:

  • Do you have commitments to others like your boss, partner, kids, or clients?
  • Do you have anything you need to submit? 
  • Do you have any financial tasks that need to get done? 
  • Do you have any planning that needs to get done? 
  • Do you have any administrative tasks? Legal, insurance, staffing, or training?
  • Do you have any professional development tasks that need to get done? Training, areas to research, skills to develop, books to read or study, or classes to take?
Brainstorm your goals

Find your goals. Without them, it is impossible to prioritize your tasks. Try to set 90-day goals, which is long enough to make meaningful progress. Questions to prompt goals:

  • What’s the one thing you could do that makes everything else easier or unnecessary?
  • If you were giving advice to someone else in your position, what 1-3 things would you tell them to focus on?
  • What do you want to have accomplished over the next five years?

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The urgency bias
The urgency bias

We usually give priority to unimportant tasks when there is a sense of urgency around them.

We’re actually psychologically wired to put aside important tasks in favor of ta...

Why it’s hard to ignore urgent tasks

A few explanations as to why it’s so hard to reject urgent tasks:

  • The completion bias. Our brains crave the reward we get from checking off small to-dos from our list.
  • Tunnel vision: When we get overwhelmed by the things we have to do, we choose to act on those most available to us; these are usually emails, calls, meetings, and other low-friction tasks.
Urgency puts us into reactive mode

The problem is that we’re continually bombarded with urgent work: emails, meetings, calls, and instead of being in control of our time and attention, we respond and act on someone else’s priorities.

3 more ideas

There are no productivity hacks
There are no productivity hacks

Habits and work systems can produce the best return on your time.

Getting more work done is about knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to get it done in order to maxi...

Unimportant tasks are really just distractions

Urgent but unimportant tasks = distractions.

Urgent tasks put us into constant “reply mode.” Important work is related to planned tasks that move us closer to our goals.

Interruptions break your flow

Anytime you are pulled away from your tasks, it takes time to readjust to them when you jump back in (sometimes it can take up to 25 minutes).

Interruptions (notifications, loud noises, social media, checking email etc.) harm your concentration.

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Ruthless prioritization

It means deciding not to do things you'd really like to do. It also means deciding what's the most important task even when everything on your list feels crucial.

But if you can prioritize...

Consolidate All of Your Tasks Into a Single Source

To-dos arrive from a variety of sources. Your boss sends you an email, you get a Slack message from IT, a bill arrives in the mail, or a coworker asks for a favor in the hallway.

In order to prioritize your task list efficiently, you need a master to-do list that contains all of the tasks you need to prioritize and complete from all of those sources.

Analyze Your Task List

Go through your list, review each task, and decide what you want to do with it. You have 4 options:

  • Do: complete the task now
  • Defer: complete it later
  • Delegate: assign it to someone else
  • Delete: remove it from your list

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Make planning a habit
Make planning a habit

Some mornings we feel motivated to create a to-do list, but that is often the exception. We need to get things done, even when we feel disengaged.

Start by setting the alarm for you...

Align your to-do list with goals
  1. Break down your big goals into daily tasks. You can't add "Get in shape" to your daily to-do list, but you can add "spend 30 minutes on my bike."
  2. Consider your week as a whole. You likely have multiple goals. Some goals benefit from daily activity, while working towards others a few times a week can create momentum.
  3. Add your have-to-do tasks last. We often fill our to-do lists with have-to-do tasks that crowd the whole day. Adding it last forces you to fit your have-to-do tasks around your goal tasks.
Have one daily priority

Many of us start our mornings with dozens of things we need to get done, but later realize that we haven't crossed any of them off our lists. We did get stuff done, but none of the things we planned.

A balm against hectic days that pass without progress is to choose a single activity to prioritize and protect in your calendar. If you struggle to select your top priority, ask yourself, when you look back on your day, what do you want the highlight to be? That's your priority.

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1. Time-Blocking

Time-blocking consists of assigning individual tasks to manageable time slots.

Instead of writing out short tasks alongside hours-long tasks on your list for the day and hoping you ha...

2. If/then Lists

To set reasonable goals make a list for high-energy days and another for when you are reluctant to work. Both lists should follow an “if/then” model.

The first lists should have the more involved tasks, while the second list should feature more mindless tasks like cleaning out your inbox, organizing your desk, or even napping.

3. Eisenhower Matrix
An Eisenhower Matrix breaks a to-do list into the four categories below:
  1. Has items that are both urgent and important, is to be tackled immediately.
  2. Items that are important but not urgent, can be scheduled for a later time.
  3. Tasks deemed urgent but not important can be delegated to others if possible
  4. Tasks that are neither urgent nor important should be crossed off the list altogether.

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