Productive Mondays: The Importance of Prioritization

Welcome to our weekly series, “Productive Mondays.” As you might guess from the title, we’ll post every Monday, and we’ll answer your questions about how to do better and do more in the workplace. If you have a question you’d like us to tackle, place it in the comments below, tweet us @GovLoop, or email [email protected] — and we’ll make sure to address it in a future post.

We live in a culture of need-it-right-now-ness at the workplace. Everything feels urgent, and it feels like everybody expects us to respond to every email, phone call or instant message within five minutes. So in this culture, how can we get all the work done we need to — but be better at prioritizing the truly important tasks and projects?

When we talk about productivity, we talk about lifehacks or email tips, but I truly believe that the thing that can help you get the most done is getting better at prioritization. The constant flow of information from social media, emails, coworkers, and more makes it difficult to decipher what’s important, what to abandon and what to work. Those who can prioritize well get the most done because they’re able to figure out what is the most important thing they need to be working on, and when they need to do it.

So how can you get better at prioritization? Here are four tips.

1. Prioritize your projects with a list twice a day

In the morning, go over your to-do list and highlight the three or four things that must get done. The other tasks need to get done too — but you must ignore them until the highlighted tasks are done. Do this overview at the end of the day as well, to determine what will be your priority tasks for the next day. Another tip? In the morning, do this prioritization assessment before opening your email in the morning. It will help keep you on track before the email tsunami starts.

2. Do. Not. React.

As tasks or requests come in, don’t react them. Where we lose prioritization ability is when we feel like we have to respond to every request as it comes in. Before we know it, we’ve spent the entire day working — but nothing’s gotten done. Instead, as tasks come in, simply take note of them and add them to your to-do list — then in the morning or the afternoon, when you do you prioritization assessment, slot them into your schedule according to their urgency.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate

I’d venture to guess that many of you are Type A folks — you want to do everything right, and you feel that to do everything right, you’ve got to do it yourself. But part of being better at prioritization is figuring out which tasks you truly need to do yourself — and which you can pass on to another member of your team. Deep breath. Let go. You can do it. Passing a task on to somebody else will only free you up to do better work on the truly important projects assigned to you.

4. Try the “Eisenhower Decision Principle”

Still struggling with determining what tasks are really important and need to get done first, or sooner? Try this matrix attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower:

All tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, and then placed in according quadrants in an Eisenhower Matrix (also known as an “Eisenhower Box” or “Eisenhower Decision Matrix”). Tasks are then handled thusly: those in…

  1. Important/Urgent quadrants are done immediately and personally
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrants get an end date and are done personally
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrants are delegated
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrants are dropped

This method is said to have been used by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and is outlined in a quote attributed to him: What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

If you have a question you’d like us to tackle for “Productive Mondays,” place it in the comments below, tweet us @GovLoop, or email [email protected] — and we’ll make sure to address it in a future post.

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Deborah Button

I’m working on tip #3 — feeling free to delegate. It’s difficult to give up the control and learn to be pleased by seeing what someone else brings to the project. Thanks for the tips.