Learning how to prioritize tasks at work is among the most important (and most difficult) skills in almost every profession. As your to-do list grows, effective task management becomes increasingly important for ending the day on a positive, productive note.

You might use any number of time management systems to get things done in a timely fashion.

Or maybe you’re using handwritten lists of daily tasks to make it through your workday.

No matter what you do, the way you organize your important tasks can make all the difference in being productive.

Fortunately, learning how to prioritize work and meet deadlines is not as complicated as you might think.

In this article, we’ll show you how to avoid procrastination and focus on the most important work first. Let’s get started on putting first things first!

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What is task prioritization?

Prioritization means determining which of your tasks are the most important and organizing your tasks accordingly.

It lets you focus on the most time-sensitive tasks with the highest priority first. Priority sorting allows you to put work related to emergencies or high-value clients at the top of your list.

On a more strategic level, prioritizing tasks also allows you to balance items that need immediate attention with those that might be highly important but are oriented more towards long-term goals.

How to prioritize tasks at work

The process remains the same whether we’re talking about project management or a simple workday. These ten steps will help you learn how to prioritize the work that needs to be done, effectively managing priorities in the process:

  1. Define your short-term and long-term goals
  2. Collect a list of all tasks required for each goal
  3. Define important and urgent tasks using the time management matrix
  4. Determine the impact of the shortlisted tasks using the Pareto Principle
  5. Separate tasks with similar priorities using the ABCDE method
  6. Group similar tasks using task batching
  7. Estimate the amount of time and effort needed for each task
  8. Consider the “eat the frog” method for your high-priority tasks
  9. Optimize your physical workspace
  10. Regularly review your priority task list to account for changing information

1. Define your short-term and long-term goals

For proper prioritization, you need to know what “anchors” against which you can prioritize your list. That makes the first step simple: define your daily, weekly, and monthly goals.

These goals may be related to organizational objectives, quarterly tasks, and individual projects you want to accomplish. The STAR method of goal setting can be a great tool to help you get started.

2. Collect a list of all tasks required for each goal

Based on your goals, create a master list of tasks connected to achieving your short-term and long-term goals.

Don’t worry about the level of importance for each task — yet. The goal is to ensure you capture all the related tasks, getting them out of your brain and on paper (or on your computer).

3. Define important and urgent tasks using the time management matrix

Next, it’s time to start applying some prioritization methods. Consider the Eisenhower Matrix. A popular productivity tool, the time management matrix splits your tasks into four quadrants:

  • Quadrant I is reserved for the most urgent and essential tasks, which take priority.
  • Quadrant II is home to significant but less critical tasks with longer due dates.
  • Quadrant III is for essential duties with low-priority status.
  • Quadrant IV contains tasks that are neither urgent nor important.

Sorting your tasks by priority level can help you understand what needs to be put on the front burner and can be pushed back.

Writing down tasks to prioritize and assign

4. Determine the impact of the shortlisted tasks using the Pareto Principle

The priority matrix will sort your tasks into broad categories but still leaves you plenty of tasks on the same priority level. The “Pareto Principle,” also known as the 80/20 rule, can help you get more granular.

Using the Pareto Principle, review tasks in your matrix according to the estimated impact each will bring. The goal is to find the 20% of jobs that produce 80% of the results, which is where you should spend most of your time.

5. Separate tasks with similar priorities using the ABCDE method

Of course, you might not always know what impact a given task might have. The ABCDE method can help you separate them by adding two or three sorting levels to each task.

It works by assigning each task a letter, from A (highest priority) to E (lowest priority). Then, within each letter category, a job receives a number according to the order in which you should complete it.

Especially in connection with the Eisenhower Matrix, the ABCDE method is a simple yet effective time management technique.

6. Group similar tasks using task batching

When you review your master list, chances are you’ll come across several tasks that are similar or require similar efforts. Task batching allows for better integration of your work by batching items into related contexts.

It’s a simple process: group closely related tasks with similar due dates together to make your days as efficient as possible. A single parent task in your project management tool or physical to-do list ensures that you group those tasks, helping you get things done more efficiently.

When you work on a clump of similar tasks together, it’ll help you be more efficient. Improper context switching can leave your focus in a lurch.

7. Estimate the amount of time and effort needed for each task

Any prioritization effort also has to include a time and resource estimate. Use a standard measure, like total hours or Agile story points, to better plan your time around working through your priority list.

Combined with task batching, this step also allows you to understand ways to make your day more productive over time. Repetitive tasks can benefit from templates or automations that minimize the time required.

A remote worker prioritizes tasks

8. Consider the “eat the frog” method for your highest priority tasks

According to Brian Tracy, “If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time.”

Consider your most time-sensitive and essential tasks to be the frog. Complete them first so you can set the tone for a productive day. This emphasis on the most important task (MIT) is just one of the many simple productivity techniques you can employ once you have a priority list.

9. Optimize your physical workspace

Physical organization of your workspace can go a long way towards productivity. For example, develop a filing system that keeps your physical space clean as you work on your tasks.

In addition, setting up your desk to minimize distractions can help you focus on those priority tasks effectively daily.

Style and aesthetic matter, too. Keep meaningful and inspiring things around you.

Don’t forget about staying active when you’re working. A standing desk can keep you on your feet, or using an exercise ball as a chair can improve your posture.

10. Regularly review your priority task list to account for changing information

Finally, an essential rule of prioritization is knowing that priorities will probably change over time. Regular evaluations of your master list and prioritization method are crucial.

These check-ins can include a scheduled review of goals, task importance, due dates, estimated times, and more. Also, check in with team members for their prioritization tips and tricks.

Final thoughts on how to prioritize tasks at work and meet deadlines

Prioritizing your tasks is no easy feat. But we all have limited time, so an all-in-one project management, time tracking, and payroll solution can really amp up your productivity.

A screenshot of Hubstaff and Hubstaff Tasks as a prioritization software

You need the right tools to succeed. A project management solution is a great way to keep your tasks top of mind and create a more efficient workflow. And, it works for remote teams, on-the-go contractors, tech teams, and creative agencies.

Take your tasks to the next level, and get your free Hubstaff Tasks account today.