September 19, 2022

Top 5 Effective Prioritization Strategies

by Mike O'Neill

If you have ever created a to-do list, then congratulations! You’ve taken the first step towards prioritization. 

However, when you’re drowning under a pile of tasks, to-do lists don’t cut it anymore. It’s easy to list things you need to get done, but knowing where to start is difficult. You’ve written down and made notes of what you need to do, but how do you decide which ones should go first? 

Prioritizing is a habit that you have to form. Choosing which tasks are more important than the others doesn’t have to be a stressful decision. It’ll take time to get used to strategies, but once you do, prioritizing will become second nature. By prioritizing your workload, you’re setting yourself up for a productive day. Stop wasting time wondering “which task is next?” and start focusing on one task at a time.

To help you decide which prioritization strategy is right for you, I’ve made a list of my go-to methods. As an executive coach, these strategies are the same ones I recommend to key executives in your shoes. In the end, it’s important to choose the strategy that works for you. Prioritizing isn’t as universal as jotting down a list of what you need to do. Finding a strategy that is complementary to your work style will boost your productivity and focus. At the end of the day, it’s how much you get done through how well you can prioritize. 

Read this article to find out my top five highly-recommended strategies to find out which one works best for you.

Most Important Task

The Most Important Task methodology, also known as the MIT method, breaks down your to-do list into a manageable task load. Instead of staring at your endless to-do list, the MIT method focuses your tasks down to the top three things you need to get done. 

The purpose of the MIT method is in the name. Choose the most important and crucial tasks that need to get done. They will be the ones that have the biggest consequences or make the biggest impact on your work. At the end of the day, when your most important tasks are checked off, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a completed list. 

So, where do you start? Well, the good news is, if you’re used to making lists, then this method will be something you’re comfortable with. Before you start your day, write down three tasks that are the most important. They could be tasks that have high stakes or tasks with upcoming deadlines. Either way, these three tasks will be your focal point of the day. 

Forget your to-do list because these are the only tasks you’ll do today. Your goal is to work on these tasks until they are completed. DON’T do anything outside of these tasks. Only having three tasks on your to-do list reduces the stress that longer lists do. The MIT method brings the focus to manageable sizes.  

Decision Matrix

If you like tables and organizing things into neat boxes, you’ll love the Decision Matrix. This method is more than creating a list, it’s categorizing your tasks and reflecting on which tasks fit into which box.

The goal of the Decision Matrix is to focus on the importance of each task. Where the MIT method focuses on manageability, this method gives you the opportunity to ask yourself, “which tasks require my immediate attention” or “which tasks can I delegate or even leave off?” Here, your priority is lightening your workload and only focusing on tasks that need your immediate attention.

Now’s the time to break out your excel skills because this method starts with creating a four-quadrant table. 

  • Quadrant #1: Your to-do list 

    • It’ll be what is most important and cannot be put off to another day. 

  • Quadrant #2: What can be scheduled to do

    • These are the tasks that don’t need to get done today and can be finished another time. 

  • Quadrant #3: Delegation

    • Think carefully about each task and who has the ability to complete it. 

  • Quadrant #4: What NOT to do 

    • Which tasks don’t need to be done and can be taken off.

It’s important that you follow the order of each quadrant. You’re not just filling out the information and being done with it, you’re reflecting on your tasks. This is your opportunity to really practice your prioritizing skills.

Ivy Lee

Take your to-do list to the next level with the Ivy Lee method. This method focuses on six tasks and only six tasks. Like the MIT method, the Ivy Lee strategy creates a manageable list. However, the list is created with the highest priority task in mind and ends with the lowest priority task.

The objective of this method is to lighten your task load but also give you direction in your day. Decision fog can affect your productivity when there are too many things to do. So by minimizing your to-do list to six and setting the priority of each, you can tunnel your focus and be more productive.

At the end of your day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish for tomorrow. Then, prioritize them based on their true importance. Does it really need to get done tomorrow? Can someone else do it? What are the consequences of not completing the task? The following day, you work down the list one by one. ONLY when the first task is done, do you move on to the next. Repeat the process until the list is complete.

This method is great for staying accountable and focusing on one task at a time. Not being able to move on to the next task until the previous is finished, and by decreasing the priority of the task throughout the day will be able to focus on your priorities and reduce your stress throughout the day.

A B C D E

If you’re still struggling with understanding prioritization, then this list is exactly what you need. The ABCDE method breaks down your workload into manageable and neatly categorized pieces. This method is very similar to the Decision Matrix but with smaller categories.

The purpose of this strategy is to make it easy to understand which tasks should take priority. By breaking them up into detailed categories, you’ll make your list easier to understand. Once you understand and can visualize which tasks are important, they’ll be easier to tackle, so you no longer have to guess which task comes next.

This method puts your workload into perspective. Don’t burden yourself more than you need to. All you need is a pen, paper, and your to-do list. Next, you’re going to conquer and divide. Organize your tasks based on these categories:

A = most important tasks

B = important tasks with consequence/deadline

C = tasks without consequences

D = tasks that can be delegated

E = uncategorizable tasks that can be removed

Eat That Frog

This method is one I use every day and the one that I recommend to many of my clients. Attributed to Mark Twain’s, “Eat a live frog early in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day,” this method focuses on getting the hard stuff done first. 

The goal of the Eat That Frog method is different from the other methods because you’re not only focusing on the most important task but also the one that is the most difficult. By starting on the hardest task first, you’re able to work and complete the task when your mind is still sharp. 

Start your day off by identifying your frog. This is the hardest or most important task. Only choose ONE. If there are two tasks that are both important, choose the “ugliest” one. This can be the task that will take longer or the one that takes more steps to finish. Ultimately, it’s your frog, and you’re the one that will have to finish it. 

The main objective is choosing that one task and focusing on it until it’s complete. Only then can you move on to the next one.

Just like ripping off the band-aid or eating your veggies first, this method focuses on the “do it now, not later” mentality. If you push the task off until later, you’re going to be tired or more stressed than if you did it in the beginning. This method is perfect for people who work better by focusing on one task at a time.

The Right Method

Remember: choose the method that is right for you.

In order to compress all the tasks you're juggling and manage your workload, having a prioritization strategy is important. Knowing which tasks need to be done and doing them little by little will help boost your productivity and focus your day.

However, choosing a prioritization strategy is only the first step in managing your tasks. Time management is equally important and is a necessary addition to fully organizing your day. 

Read the next article to learn how to implement time management with your prioritization strategy to make the most of your day.

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