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How to prioritise tasks and make an effective to-do list
Perhaps you’ve got a million things on your plate and feel like you never actually get anything done. Or maybe your to-do list is a mile long but you never quite know which project to tackle first. Sound familiar?
Mastering time management strategies is something that even the most seasoned career professionals grapple with, so you’re not alone. We’ve put together a list of actionable tips you can use to make life easier and get a better handle on your workload.
1. Collate all your tasks
First thing’s first. Compile a complete picture of everything you currently have on your to-do list. Many people find that creating an initial list of things to do is a relief in itself because it makes a seemingly insurmountable pile of tasks seem much more finite.
At this stage you don’t have to worry too much about prioritising or setting deadlines, it’s more about putting all your to-dos in one place. There are lots of time management tools and apps out there, like Trello, that can help or you can stick with good old pen and paper, or use an Excel spreadsheet.
2. Set hard deadlines wherever you can
It’s likely that not every task on your list will have a set deadline, but to help you prioritise, start by assigning realistic deadlines to tasks wherever you can. Non-negotiable due dates are great for time management because they usually can’t be moved in favour of other tasks that pop up, and you don’t have to make guesses about when something should be finished. Once you’ve recorded all your hard deadlines, you’ll have a good foundation to work with when prioritising other tasks that are in more of a ‘grey area’.
3. Assess value and effort
Take a look at your upcoming work and identify which tasks carry the most importance to you and your company. Generally speaking, you’ll want to focus on finishing client work before tackling internal business tasks, for example. Likewise, the more links in a workflow, such as staff or steps involved to complete a task, the higher its importance will usually be. If other people are relying on you to finish something before starting their own work, you’ll most likely want to prioritise that task before focusing on other tasks.
Also consider the effort needed to complete work. Depending on your most effective work habits, you can either prioritise making a start on larger tasks while working on small tasks in the interim, or you can tick off a few smaller jobs before getting into the meatier work. It’s all about finding the right balance to suit your working style.
4. Learn to know the difference between urgent and important
If you work in a role where many people rely on you get things done, it can be difficult to juggle conflicting interests, especially when everyone is painting a picture of extreme urgency. While you don’t want to start ignoring requests or missing deadlines, it’s reasonable to do your own audit of what’s genuinely important and what can wait. Work that needs to be done to avoid negative consequences (such as disappointed clients or lost sales) should always come first.
5. Be flexible and know when to say no or ask for help
Unexpected new tasks can and do pop up. Remember that your to-do list is likely to stay a work in progress in the sense that you’ll need to shift things around as your priorities change. And if you notice your plate becoming too full again, it’s okay to cut unimportant tasks from your list or ask for help from colleagues with more time on their hands.