All Tasks Are Not Created Equal (How to Prioritise Your Task List)

I started working with a new client this week, helping him manage his emails and calendar.  Like most clients, his days are full on and he’d been talking to a colleague who has a VA.  Now he does!  So while I can give him back some hours now he’s not having to respond to all emails, he still has a list of tasks much bigger than his available hours.

Below is the strategy we’ve worked out to help him to achieve more out of his day with the help of some prioritising.  And with prioritising being something many of us don’t always think about, or give it the attention it deserves … I wanted to share this with you.

How we prioritised his tasks
1.I asked him to make a list of all his tasks.  The urgents, the need-to-do and the must-get-round-to tasks.  We popped these into ASANA and synced that with his calendar.


2.Next we ran through the list and identified urgent vs. important. Urgent being work that, if not completed by the end of the day or in the next several hours, will have serious negative consequences (in his case a missed deadline, research required for a meeting that afternoon and finalising a proposal).


3.We discussed the 80:20 rule. This argues that typically 80% of your outcomes come from 20% of your inputs. It really doesn’t matter what numbers you apply, the important thing to remember is that in your life there are certain activities you do (your 20%) that account for the majority (your 80%) of your happiness and outputs.  We looked through his tasks and identified which ones (and it was 20%) had the greatest outcomes once complete.


4.Then we assessed value. We looked at his important work and identified what carried the highest value to his business. We created rules to help recognise exactly which types of tasks have top priority over the others. His priorities: billable work before lead generation; newsletter before his next blog; returning missed calls before email, etc.


 Note: Another way to assess value is to look at how many people are impacted by the task. In general, the more people involved or impacted, the higher the priority.


5.He is more productive early morning so we prioritised tasks that took the most effort first.  Productivity experts suggest the tactic of starting the lengthier task first. But sometimes it’s a nice mix to interchange the lengthier tasks with quick ones, there’s an important satisfaction element to closing completed tasks and you need to do all you can to keep your momentum!


6.He has times where troubleshooting can seriously impact his day.  We allowed time for these in his calendar and I emphasised, be flexible and adaptable. Uncertainty and change is a given. Knowing that his priorities will change and sometimes when he least expects them to. But—and here’s the trick—he can be focused and committed to the tasks he’s committed to doing right now.  And accept there are times priorities will change rather than letting frustration creep in.


7.Know when to stop. He didn’t have a chance of getting to everything on his list. After we prioritised his tasks and checked the calendar I got him to schedule the balance through the rest of the week (according to priority).  The priorities changed as the tasks we pushed out, meaning a priority 3 task on Monday became a priority 1 task on Wednesday … making sure it was worked on before newer, less urgent tasks.

So, here’s your homework (15 minutes):
1.List ALL your tasks (in your diary, on a piece of paper, in a time or project management app … whichever works best for you).
2.Identify which are urgent and which are important.  Sort or tag accordingly.
3.Now look at the 80/20 effect.  Which tasks have the greatest outcomes.  Tag.
4.Create a short list of simple rules that help you assess value.  Apply to list.
5.Schedule your tasks according to when you are most productive.  Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day.
6.Look at your schedule, have you allowed time for the unexpected?  If not, slot some times in to allow for any changes to priorities.
7.When your calendar schedule does go up the gurgler, relax.  Re-prioritise and embrace that flexibility.  We are only human!!

Knowing you have listed all tasks and prioritised them gives you huge peace of mind.  You don’t have to worry thinking you’ve forgotten something and you can relax knowing you have a plan in place.  As new tasks come in, prioritise according to the steps above.  Put them in Asana (or another task tracking system) and a tip I use is to spend the last 10 minutes of my day reviewing tasks.  It’s then that I amend priorities, schedule in new tasks and my day is planned out for me from the moment I sit at my desk the following morning.

If you are working with a virtual assistant I highly recommend documenting how you prioritise tasks so they can work with you to ensure the ‘urgents’ get the most attention, and prioritise and schedule incoming tasks for you from your inbox.

Tell me, what do you take into account when prioritising?

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