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How to Prioritize Your (Many) Tasks

What does it mean to you to be productive?

Sometimes, being productive means getting a lot done — other times it can look like staying as busy as you can.

In recognizing this, it’s helpful for us to take a moment a differentiate between procrastinating and prioritizing your tasks. Because these are definitely two different things.

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Procrastinating by definition means to “delay or postpone something”. Procrastinating can look like:

  • Avoiding a task or a responsibility
  • Making excuses to not complete a task or responsibility
  • Continuously pushing back the start date of a task
  • Minimizing, denying or ignoring the importance of a task or responsibility

What a lot of these actions have in common is a general attempt to not complete a task.

Procrastinating is sometimes viewed as laziness and being unproductive, as when you are not engaging in any activity. On the opposite end, you could be “keeping yourself busy” with other tasks, as an active way to avoid doing something.

Personally, I’m a master at the latter: sometimes I will avoid taking a difficult call or completing a complex task by doing . . . housework. Washing dishes, finishing the laundry, you name it, and I’ll get that done first.

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

The active avoidance could be seen as “productive”, but in a sense, I am still finding ways to avoid doing the work that also needs to be done (and the work I’m avoiding is often times more important).

That’s where prioritizing comes in: when you are prioritizing, you are “organizing and giving precedence to certain tasks you need to complete”. When you are prioritizing your tasks, you are differentiating which tasks are urgent and important.

We talk a lot about urgency and importance in this blog — when we consider something urgent, we see that task as time-sensitive and a higher priority because there is only a certain amount of time that we have to do it.

When a task is important, it has great value. An important task needs to be prioritized because of its higher value and meaningfulness.

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Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

As mentioned in our previous blog, often times your tasks will fall into one of the following four categories, with the appropriate action item attached:

1. Urgent & Important — DO

For tasks that are time-sensitive and valuable, they need your attention first. Completing these tasks will not only ease your stress, but help you feel accomplished and motivated to move forward with other tasks.

Similarly for tasks that are urgent and important, they may need more of your time and energy to complete. You’ll want to get started on these tasks and prioritize them first.

2. Not Urgent & Important — PLAN

If you have a task that is important to you, but you have time to do it, schedule or plan a different time when you can accomplish it. Decide when is a good time to start working on it and schedule a time to complete it.

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Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

3. Urgent & Not Important — DELEGATE

If a task is time-sensitive but doesn’t have great value, it could be a good idea to delegate it. Is there someone (or something) else who can help fulfill this task? Who can you ask to hop in and take care of this task?

4. Not Urgent & Not Important — ELIMINATE 

You’ll find that when prioritizing your tasks, you will eventually have something show up that is neither time-sensitive or valuable. Get familiar with what’s not urgent and not important and remove it from your task list altogether. This practice will surely save you both time and energy.

Here is a graph from agilesphere that can help you visualize how to prioritize your tasks:

The difference between urgent and important tasks

Need an example of how this can work? Here is one:

Here are four tasks Logan has on their plate:

  • Make sure their kids have lunch planned for tomorrow
  • Create and distribute their work agenda for today’s staff meeting
  • Complete a survey following an online shopping purchase
  • Start planning family vacation for later this year

Logan needs to break down the urgency and importance of each task:

Making sure the kids have lunch for tomorrow is important, but not urgent. Logan can technically delegate this task by putting in an order for a pizza at the beginning of the day tomorrow (or asking their kiddos to do this!).

 

Today’s staff meeting indicates that this task is urgent. Similarly, it’s an important task to Logan’s job. This task should be prioritized and completed first.

 

Completing a survey isn’t urgent to Logan, this is something that if they have some spare time, can be done later. This is also not an important task for Logan. This can be taken off the task list entirely today.

 

Family vacation is super important to Logan, but they have time to complete this task later. Logan can plan to start coordinating vacation next week.

Trying prioritizing that task list of yours instead of procrastinating, and with time and practice, identifying what important to you will come naturally.

What do you believe is the difference between procrastinating and prioritizing? 

 

Comments

  1. The Overthinkist says

    This is a great way of breaking to-do lists down! I’ve heard something similar to this in my previous job, but I like how this shows you what to do, plan, delegate, and eliminate. Thanks for this!

    • Michelle says

      Thank you so much! It can really help to have some examples and details of how to do this!

  2. Pamela James says

    This a simpler process to tackling “things-to-do” lists I’m creating every week. Thank you for your insight 🙂

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