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Prioritization – how do I know what to do next?

April 10, 2014

The ability to correctly prioritize your to do list is a skill that develops gradually.  How many times have you made a to do list, started ranking the tasks as A, B or C level with the A’s the top priority, and realized that you have a list that’s 90% or more comprised of A’s?  With maybe a few B’s or C’s thrown in as you notice the trend?  And when you have a continually evolving list that never goes away, knowing what to do next gets very problematic!

Here’s a great method to not only rank your to do list, but also determine what you should actually be working on next:  Assign two scores to each task.  Each task gets an importance ranking and an urgency ranking.  Let’s face it – we often have tasks that really aren’t important in the scheme of things, but seem urgent (usually due to someone being quite vocal about it).   Forcing ourselves to assess both qualities helps keep the list prioritized correctly.  To keep it simple, each score can be a 1, 2, or 3.  So if the task in question is super important, and needs to be done this week, it would receive an importance ranking of 3, and an urgency ranking that’s also 3, for a combined score of 6.  An important task that doesn’t have an official deadline may get an importance ranking of 3 but an urgency rank of 1 for a combined score of 4.

If you keep your list in a spreadsheet, and track the scores in three columns, you can sort by importance (1 to 3), urgency (1 to 3), or the combined score (2 to 6).  And the combined score lets you know just what you should be working on next.  Even if you don’t want to track that formally, just factoring in both qualities when you’re evaluating a task will help you prioritize more efficiently.  And by the way, those tasks you rated as 2’s?  Accept that they’ll never make it high enough on the list to be handled by you, and either delegate or delete them – and move on.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 10, 2014 12:05 pm

    Great advice!

    When conducting an FMEA, we use a similar ranking scheme to prioritize issues, based upon frequency of occurence and severity of the issue. In that scheme, we multiply the two numbers, giving a wider range of final values. In either scheme, however, using a ranking system certainly does provide an order to the work. I have used the ABC method and found exactly what you described.

    An add-on to the ranking, is a daily top-ten. Once I have made the list and appraised the tasks, I will number the top ten items to work on (1 through 10), so I have a succinct task list to work on for the day. My overall task list commonly has 30+ items, so shorting it to a 10 item daily list makes it more achievable.

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