How to prioritize work when everything seems to be a priority?

We all know that feeling when urgent matters are followed by even more urgent ones and we get the impression that we are already running out of time. A working day has a set number of hours and it is impossible to manage everything in the ASAP mode. Then, we face a difficult dilemma, namely, what problem to address first. The one with the shortest deadline? Or maybe the one we have been postponing for a few weeks already? How to distinguish features which make some matters more important than other? And, finally – what should be the highest priority at the given moment? We present a number of tips which will help to answer these questions.

Write down all the tasks

You cannot start to plan the work if it is not clear what is to be done exactly. For this reason, the first step of efficient prioritizing is creation of a scrupulous “to-do” list. It does not matter whether you use a normal paper sheet and a calendar or the accomplishments of new technologies, i.e. an application – the most important thing is not to keep stuff in your head. Writing down all the tasks does not take longer than a dozen or so minutes and, thanks to this, it will be easier to arrange the thoughts in order and assess which task should go first.

Assess the importance

Contrary to what you might expect, a deadline is not always the most important criterion while setting priorities. In a tight corner, it is worth to be aware that – as established by experts in productivity and time management ages ago – 20 percent of our efforts generates up to 80 percent of results. Therefore, it is of key importance to distinguish the tasks which are the most significant. How to do this? Questions like these might be helpful: what will bring the most value to the company? Does performance of this task get us any nearer to the place we would like to be in a year? Which actions have the largest impact on the achievement of the purpose of the project and client’s satisfaction? Even the hardest work will not have any appreciable impact if it concerns matters of little importance.


If you are the team leader, consider which tasks might be handed over to your employees. Majority of bosses, especially in small companies, have a tendency to try to kill too many birds with one stone. Such an approach usually leads to ineffective work, in an improper sequence and makes the most important, long-term goals get out of sight. Meanwhile, depending on the type of tasks, even one third of the checklist points may be successfully carried out by someone else. Delegating is not only a source of motivation for the employees, but also a sign that we trust them.

Be flexible

The one and only permanent thing in life is… change. The same applies to priorities. Breakdown at the customer’s, new information, change of circumstances or suffered failure – this is only a handful of situations which may be the cause of changes in the importance hierarchy. This is why it is important to keep the score in mind, regularly verify the priorities and be ready to modify the priority list. It is also worth to be prepared for a situation when we will be forced to abandon some tasks. It may turn out that something that has been sitting in the checklist for weeks is, in fact, not that urgent or important and the best solution is to abandon it entirely.

Setting priorities resembles the selection of injured soldiers on the battlefield and dividing them into those who may be saved with immediate aid and those who will not make it. It cannot be done without cold calculation. However, it is useful to have such a skill because the lack of it is the most frequent reason why fail in carrying out our goals.

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