Work can be a little overwhelming sometimes, especially if you receive hundreds of emails and messages a day while trying to get work done. And even if you achieve all of your goals in one workday, how can you keep it up the next day or evaluate your long-term goals? This is one area that having good priorities management skills can help since it will help you consistently achieve your daily tasks, as well as help you stay on track with your mid-term and long-term goals.
How do we prioritise work effectively? Work prioritisation is not just having a to-do list and checking off tasks on that list every day. If you want to achieve your short-term and long-term goals, you can use the following tips to get started.
Start a list
It’s difficult to organise your thoughts and all the things you have to do without any tools to manage them. That’s why the first thing for you to do is to start a “brain dump” list.
Grab a piece of paper or your diary and jot down every short-term task and long-term goals that you have at the moment. They don’t have to be in detail, they are simply reminders for you. For example, your list can include small tasks like “reply to X’s email” or long-term ones like “purchase a home by 2025.” Whatever your tasks and goals are, writing them down will help your brain release the mental load required to remember them, as well as make it easier for you to set your priorities.
Ideally, you should use SMART goals to write down the tasks in your list. SMART stands for Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Relevant – Time-bound, and it’s a great way to ensure that you set realistic goals that you can achieve within a time frame. Using SMART goals to list your tasks will also help you envision how to complete them, which will be beneficial when you are ready to complete the tasks.
Organise your tasks into a matrix
Once you have a concrete list of tasks written down and ready to go, you can organise them in terms of urgency and importance. There are many ways to prioritise work, but using the urgent/important matrix is the easiest way to help you see your priorities. In this matrix, there are four areas: low importance/low urgency, low importance/high urgency, high importance/low urgency, and high importance/high urgency.
Obviously, once you can see your task in this matrix, you should take care of tasks that are highly urgent and highly important first, followed by tasks that are urgent but less important. Tasks that are important but have low urgency tend to be long-term goals like finishing a big project, getting a degree, or buying a house, which requires you to revisit periodically to make sure that you are on the right track. The last tasks in your priorities list are in the low importance/low urgency area.
It’s worth noting that the tasks can move around in the matrix as time progresses, for example, if you have to finish a project by the end of the quarter, the project may move to the high importance/high urgency area as time passes. You should continuously revisit this matrix and evaluate your priorities to make sure that your tasks and goals are progressing as planned.
Set goals for your day
When you have a list of tasks organised in this order, the next step to get things done is to set achievable goals for your day. Depending on your schedule and your task prioritisation, you can fit in five to seven tasks that you must complete by the end of the working day. Setting daily goals will concretise your to-do list and help motivate you to complete the tasks you have prioritised.
Additionally, breaking down big tasks into smaller ones that you can achieve in just one day will allow you to achieve important goals that are less urgent as well. For example, if your goal is to complete a report by the end of the month, you can break that down into small, daily tasks, perhaps “download all data by today” or “organise data for analysis by Friday.” This method will ensure that your longer-term goals will progress without neglecting other, more urgent tasks.
Arrange the most difficult work for the most productive hours of your day
Everyone has a different working style and productive hours – some people are more productive in the morning, while others love to work at night time when it’s quiet. When you arrange your schedule and manage your work priorities for the day, you should reflect on when you feel most productive and ready to face new challenges. Then, you can arrange the most difficult tasks during these productive hours, when you are more likely to complete the tasks without procrastination or distractions.
Setting a time limit to work on your prioritised tasks will also motivate you to get work done within those hours, which means that you are more likely to complete these difficult tasks and progress in your project.
Adjust your schedule when needed
However well you plan, sometimes, priorities can change. It’s important to recognise that once you have a well-crafted, well-thought-out prioritised task list, it’s still not set in stone. Circumstances can change that affect the order and content of your task prioritisation, and you will need to revise your priorities.
You should periodically revisit and revise your priorities – especially long-term goals – to reevaluate your goals, check your progress, and ensure that you are on the right track. This step can happen once a week, once a month, or once every quarter for important long-term priorities. However, this step will ensure that your priorities are adjusted according to your situation and that you can keep on the right track no matter how your circumstances may change.