How to Prioritize Tasks When Everything Seems Urgent
Sometimes all tasks feel like #1 on your list. Deadlines are piling up, and perhaps your productivity is taking a hit from the stress of it all. Now more than ever, in the age of distraction, figuring out how to prioritize tasks is a valuable skill.
Prioritizing work around your schedule and available resources is essential. The key is to spend time on the tasks that matter most. Oftentimes, successful prioritization requires you to pass on workload, say no to meetings or move tasks to future work cycles.
Before we get into our step-by-step task prioritization, let’s focus on: What does it mean to prioritize tasks? Prioritizing consists of accurately ranking items in order of importance. Note that focusing on the correct work is often easier said than done.
Tasks might seem urgent but are not actually important. It is then left to your team to determine which tasks to prioritize to achieve company goals and objectives. This might leave you thinking: how to prioritize tasks in the workplace?
The following article will lay out 9 steps for task prioritization we use on the daily that you can easily incorporate with your team.
How to prioritize tasks: 9 steps for implementing task prioritization within your team
In the upcoming section we will define 9 steps on how to prioritize tasks. We have implemented these into our own workflow to prioritize tasks on the daily. Here’s how we did it:
- Understand the difference between project and task
- Revisit your project management framework
- Learn to say no
- Work with sprints or cycles
- Prioritize tasks by defining the urgency
- Set deadlines based off importance and urgency
- Delegate or outsource where relevant and possible
- Leverage the My Tasks panel to view all priorities across projects
- Set Aside important tasks
Keep reading to learn more about how to prioritize tasks in the workplace.
1. Understand the difference between project and task
The first step to prioritizing work is understanding the difference of project vs task. Many people work on never-ending tasks with no closure on a weekly basis. Knowing the difference keeps work well-defined, measurable and accountable.
If you fail to do so, your team might be faced with never-ending tasks which can hurt morale and even cause a toxic work culture. This occurs because the team becomes unproductive and demotivated by tasks or projects that never seem to end.
Simply put, a project is a group of tasks carried out by a team. A task is a direct action which contributes to the progress of an overall project.
For example, a monthly update for a website is a recurring project. Meanwhile, individual tasks in the website project management system such as a new webpage or SEO reconfigurations build towards the final output.
Lines are often blurred, a project can be summarized in an individual task or require an entire space depending on scope and time commitment. There is no rule of thumb for how long tasks should take, or when something becomes a project.
Discuss with your team to strike a balance on the average time commitment of a task. Here are a few questions you can discuss to do so:
- What is the maximum time length for tasks? If longer, convert into two separate tasks or define as project?
- Is there a limit on task assignees? Will you separate into a project or create multiple tasks if there are too many assignees?
- How many checklist items can there be on a task? How much work can they be?
- How do you combine projects with tasks? Do you highlight projects through spaces, labels or a master task in a strategy space with sub-tasks @mentioned in a bullet list?
2. Revisit your project management framework
The right project management framework can help you prioritize tasks and organize your work in more structured ways. Project management frameworks are the foundation to how to prioritize tasks. It helps you define project stages through rules and definitions. High level examples are Agile vs Waterfall:
- Agile breaks down large projects into smaller cycles through sprints. This can provide value as the team can do virtual retrospectives and focus on a smaller set of tasks.
- Waterfall defines that tasks build upon each and certain tasks need to be finished before starting new ones. On a high level, this helps you with considering dependencies and how you want to organize the different project stages.
Whatever your project framework preferences are, it’s important to set up a list of rules and conditions to define day-to-day project management workflows. Here are some main questions your team can discuss:
- How often do you want to complete a set of tasks (sprint or cycle) and how do you review past performance and set new goals?
- Do you need to be strict with dependencies or can work be moved forward based on urgency and importance?
- How are different task fields going to be used? Title, descriptions, attachments, assignees, followers, start and due dates, sprints, custom fields, etc.
- Are you prioritizing tasks? How?
- Who is mainly in charge of task management within your team?
3. Learn to say no: projects, meetings, new tasks
Saying no is harder than saying yes. We might feel like we are disappointing our coworkers when we say no. However, it’s an important skill to have, particularly when you need to prioritize tasks. Harvard Business Review suggests that straightforwardness is key.
Be honest about your reason for saying no and give context. Also, learn to say no to excessive meetings; we spend too much time on unnecessary ones.Further develop your internal project management practices by setting rules to take this into consideration.
Who can assign new tasks and how is this combined with current workload? Your team should also decide when to organize meetings, what meeting agendas should look like or how to communicate. Setting up a communication plan can be extremely beneficial to keep this well-defined.
4. How to prioritize work by implemeting sprints or cycles
Sprints are a core practice within Agile methodology. They are set time periods to accomplish a set of tasks. Implementing sprints or cycles helps with prioritizing tasks and keeping the to-do list light. It’s also extremely useful when looking into how to prioritize tasks.
Before starting the sprint, you can look at all individual tasks that need to be completed. You can then pick the most urgent and important ones and add them to the sprint.This removes a lof of noise within a space and allows your team to focus and improve their prioritization skills as they will have to select a certain number of tasks they can take on.
Rock has a dedicated feature for sprints. It allows you to filter the space view only for tasks that need to be completed in a sprint or cycle. The same can also be done with labels although this won’t automatically add a start and due date.
5. Prioritize individual tasks by defining the urgency
Now that you have made your selection of tasks, it’s time to rank them on urgency. This allows your team to focus on the key matters at hand. A dedicated toggle allows us to configure task priority as: urgent, high, medium, low and lowest.
The goal is for the team to focus on everything labeled as urgent, and then move down a category every time. This way you can make it to the end of a sprint or cycle and make sure that team members know how to prioritize tasks correctly.
6. Prioritize work by setting deadlines that align with importance and urgency
Add another level or granularity by adding start and due dates to tasks. Some tasks might be blocked for the time being. It’s also possible that they are dependent on work that is prioritised earlier on.
If you find yourself amid loads of urgent tasks, it’s hard to figure out which one to pick first. Setting deadlines allows you to balance out tasks that are equally urgent, and keep the team in the loop on when different activities need to have been completed.
Rock allows you to visualize your deadlines in a calendar view. This way you do not lose track of task prioritization and when what activities are starting or due.
7. Delegate or outsource where relevant
Think about which work you can delegate to another employee or intern. Perhaps a certain task is better outsourced to a freelancer or contractor. Outsourcing often leads to lower labor costs with access to a larger talent pool, reports Forbes.
Additionally, might want to reprioritize work or outsource work if you notice there are too many urgent tasks or you’re struggling to make deadlines. Rock allows anyone to collaborate together. This means that freelancers can be added into any new or already existing space.
8. Make use of the My Tasks panel to see all tasks you’re assigned to
Task management sounds straightforward, but what about juggling multiple individual tasks across spaces? We organize priorities across sprints and projects with the My Tasks panel.
Chances are work is not organized in a single space. To combine sprints and focus on prioritized items across spaces we work from the My tasks panel. This combines all tasks we are assigned to, have created or are following. Priority and due date filters tell us which action items we should tackle in the short term.
We move these to the Set Aside panel to quickly access action items without searching across spaces or look at hundreds of tasks. This makes the workload manageable and defined.
9. Set Aside important tasks
This is the most granular we are going to go in this article. Do not crowd your to-do list with all the tasks from your sprint. The more items you add, the more context switching and mental space these items will take up.
People often keep work in a spreadsheet or their notes app as task management tools can quickly get congested. Finding tasks back in board that have hundreds of different action items can be detrimental to staying organized at work.
It is often easier to keep priorities in a dedicated panel so you’re not distracted with other tasks. This is exactly why we introduced Set Aside a while back. With internal and external projects in one place, we often have tasks scattered across spaces and boards. To avoid context switching within the app, we access prioritized tasks directly from this panel.
This way, whatever space we’re browsing, our top priorities are just a click away in a dedicated panel (we also add messages, notes and topics besides tasks so we can have other important information and files at hand).
How to prioritize tasks with asynchronous work
Asynchronous work nurtures prioritization skills. With a flexible work schedule, employees can work when they wish and focus on the tasks that matter. Team members do not need to be online simultaneously, allowing them the freedom to work when they wish.
This methodology reduces distractions, particularly in a remote setting. With fewer check-ins, messaging, and meetings, our team is more focused. Implementing asynchronous work gives more time to prioritize the tasks that matter while reducing the noise.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice
The great thing about teamwork is that you are not left to tackle challenges alone. In a healthy team environment, everyone is safe to speak up about their workload. Need a helping hand? Make your voice heard.
There is no point in looking how to prioritize tasks if the team member in charge of them has no way of actually completing them. If you have reached a point where you can no longer handle your tasks, ask someone to help you carry the workload.
However, perhaps with the right advice on how to prioritize work, you will feel supported to tackle challenges. This is where communication strategies become key. Seek advice from your coworkers and managers and set up a system that works for everyone.
Make sure you’re well rested
While prioritization techniques are helpful, you don’t want a heavy workload and lack of rest to lead to a burnout. In fact, it will be hard to prioritize any tasks when you are feeling unmotivated and exhausted. It’s essential that you set regular time off to rest your brain.
Only then can you maintain high concentration levels, as well as care for your mental health. Note that rest looks different for everyone. Taking an occasional vacation might not be enough for you. You can also look into setting up a productive morning routine or define how you want to get work done at night if you’re more of a night owl.
How to prioritize tasks with Rock
We hope you can take value from these 9 steps and maybe even implement when looking at how to prioritize tasks with your own team. Prioritising work is often easier than said, but with this foundation you are well set to get important work done and implementing your organizational strategy.
Rock allows you to tackle every point on our list, from Set Aside to the My Tasks panel and unlimited spaces. Sign up for free and try it out. Join one of our dedicate communities if you’re looking to learn more about work strategies, staying productive and getting work done:
- The Future of Remote Work: This community focuses on staying productive, growing a team and building a culture in remote environments. Meet with other professionals and access new resources on the daily.
- The Future of Project Management: Trying to make sense of tasks, notes and other features for project management frameworks? We discuss different workflows, methodologies and project management applications in this dedicated community.
- The Future of Rock: Join the Rock team as we build the future of collaboration and productivity. Learn more about upcoming features, share product suggestions and access the latest resources and events from the Rock team.