So, you’ve got a list of stuff to do and a limited amount of time. How do you choose what to focus on first?
The choice can feel overwhelming if your pile gets too high, but even the most skilled planner sometimes cannot avoid the bottleneck of several projects coming in at once. So on top of being a sufficient planner, it pays to also get skilled with the art of prioritizing.
How Do I Prioritize?
Prioritizing is effectively choosing in which order to attack projects and when they’ve all got to be done. Sometimes just going down the list doesn’t work, and in fact can create a bigger backlog. There are a few ways you can decide to look at your to-do list, and only you will know which combination of angles will work best for your projects.
When did the project come in? First come, first served is the most obvious way to prioritize. After all, if things didn’t all pile up, that’s probably the way you would’ve addressed things anyway! This attitude, however, leaves a few things on the table, which can cost you more time in the long run.
When are the deadlines? It may seem obvious, but this is one of the most crucial things to take into account! Some projects need a very quick turnaround, no matter when they come in, whereas some might not be “due” for another week. For example, if you got Project A on Monday and Project B on Tuesday, you may be tempted to address Project A first; however, if project A isn’t due until Friday while Project B is due on Wednesday, it makes more sense to Prioritize project B.
How long will each task take? This is a question you must answer for yourself, as well as taking into account the way your brain works. If one project can be knocked out in an afternoon and the other project takes all day – you can either prioritize the “easier” project if you find yourself energized by getting things done and will be able to fully invest in the longer project once other things are taken care of – OR if you know you must take care of the “longer” project first so you don’t get burned out on it, you can leave the “shorter” projects for afterwards where it won’t take as much mental fortitude. This strategy, of course, must be used in conjunction with the others we’ve already discussed.
Who else needs to work on this project? If you have a certain project that will only take you a few hours and isn’t due until much later than your other tasks, it can seem obvious to put it lower on the To-Do List – however, there are some projects that require a little bit of teamwork. If you have a colleague who must also do work on a project after your bit is complete and since you may not fully know what their To-Do List looks like, it can be courteous to prioritize these projects so that your colleagues have enough time to address their part of the work before the deadline.
These are a few techniques that can be used when deciding how to address a long To-Do List. As I said, these techniques should all be taken into consideration while prioritizing... since only utilizing one technique may overlook an important aspect of your projects.
How To Apply Your Prioritizing Skills:
So, now that you have some tools in your toolbox, how do you put them to use?
It all depends on what works best for you, which can be determined through trial and error, but as a general rule, having some sort of actual "list" is helpful in quantifying exactly how much work you have to do. Organize it first by whichever three "techniques" you find most obvious, then denote the others on the side so you can see everything laid out.
Then, taking all three “techniques” into account, try to reorganize your To-Do List in the proper way you’d like to prioritize.
The key to prioritizing is ensuring that, no matter where a certain project falls on your final To-Do List, it all must get done in a timely manner. No project should just continue to be pushed off in infinitum. Although there may be a project that always seems un-urgent and can continue getting bumped for other “higher-priority” projects, there comes a point where it must be prioritized as well. Setting your own deadlines can help avoid this issue – decide for yourself, even if there is not a firm external deadline, each project has a self-assigned deadline that you must follow.
These strategies will help you ensure that, even when your projects pile up, you won’t get overwhelmed and will have an efficient plan of attack to guarantee everything gets done.
If you need help addressing projects on your To-Do List, consider outsourcing to Assistants4Hire, where we can prioritize and complete projects for you, so you can focus on doing the work that you love.
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Written by Jordan McAndrew