Two women in an office prioritising different tasks on sticky notes

The art of prioritising: is it important or is it urgent?

Prioritising is more than just an act; it's an art. We take a closer look at the significance of prioritising in the workplace and offer strategies for prioritising tasks.
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John Sherman
2018-10-07

Prioritising is more than just an act; it is an art. However, many people question whether it is merely important or actually urgent. Without question, prioritising work is critical. In fact, this is something that could make the difference between accomplishing goals and failing.

As to the question about the importance or urgency of prioritising, the answer depends. If you follow Pareto’s Principle, you make the decision using a unique 4D formula.

  1. Do – Urgent/Important –These activities are critical. For instance, calling 911 to report a house fire or rushing a pregnant woman going into labor to the hospital takes priority.
  2. Decide When – Urgent/Not Important – Along with priorities, tasks in this category are also goals. While these things need attention, they are not dire. For example, you have a project that needs scrutiny, but there is no hard deadline to complete the task.
  3. Delegate – Not Urgent/Important – While critical, things in this category are not urgent specifically to you. For that reason, you can delegate. As an example, you might have a co-worker rushing to finish a presentation within the next hour. Although urgent to that person, the work has no impact on you.
  4. Dump – Not Urgent/Not Important – As implied, things in this category do nothing but waste time. If you have a task at work that is neither important nor urgent, either set it aside or eliminate it.

Why People Fail to Prioritise

There is a fine line between procrastinating and prioritising. If you know or believe prioritisation is an issue for you, it is essential to learn the difference. With clarity, you can take the appropriate action to correct the problem. In simple terms, procrastination is when you purposely avoid doing something, while prioritisation is determining what is most important or urgent to you and putting tasks in the correct order.

There are three primary reasons a person procrastinates, including perfectionism, a fear of success, and a fear of failure. Do any of those sound familiar? If not, perhaps the issue has more to do with a lack of prioritisation rather than procrastination. When you combine everyone’s expectations of you at work and home, it is easy to understand why you struggle with prioritisation.

Improving Prioritisation

The good news is you have viable solutions for improving prioritisation. Take advantage of help when offered or reach out to someone at work to ask for help. Develop a strategy that will help you become and stay prioritised. You also can benefit from thousands of online training courses that cost little and take an hour or less to complete.

Along with those three solutions for improving prioritisation, consider the following suggestions.

  • Recognize and Accept the Need to Compromise – If you have a list of 30 tasks you need to complete by the end of the day, you will likely fail. Instead of setting yourself up for defeat, narrow your projects to no more than five if possible. Not only will that make it easier for you to tackle urgent requests when they arise, but it will also allow you to develop better prioritisation strategies. As your skills improve, you can add one or more tasks to your daily list.
  • Stop Compartmentalizing – When something urgent comes up, like most people, you probably spend more time dwelling on it than you should. Instead of compartmentalizing, use the 4D model to determine their level of importance versus urgency, followed by taking the proper action.
  • Learn to Delegate – Delegation is hard for a lot of people. Rather than fix an urgent problem yourself, which creates the risk of making a mistake, learn to delegate. You need to change the mindset that you can finish the task faster yourself. Identify people on your team who are qualified to handle an urgent matter, and then pass it on.

Time Management

  1. To-Do List – As mentioned, make sure you keep a daily “to-do” list. Even if you have a fantastic memory, you can expect to forget something significant when under stress. Remember, time management skills are a critical component of prioritising. Although you may find a system that works better for you, one option is to use coding. For instance, give urgent tasks an “A” or “1” and important tasks an “F” or “5.”
  2. Personal Goals – You may wonder what setting personal goals and prioritisation have to do with each other. As you become more organized outside of work, you will find that your business life improves. Instead of arriving at work with your mind jumbled with all the things you need to do after work or on the weekend, you can focus solely on job responsibilities. A clear mind helps tremendously with prioritisation.
  3. Distractions – If you have a high-stress job or work for a bustling company, it is essential to manage distractions. Even seemingly innocent things, like chatting with someone in the break room, answering a few personal emails, or taking phone calls from friends, can easily account for up to two hours of your workday. When on the job, dedicate yourself to your responsibilities.

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