Busy manager

Task prioritisation techniques that really work

When your task list keeps growing and everything needs to be done yesterday, task prioritisation can be difficult. To-do lists are very useful to keep track of everything that needs to be done, but they don’t give you a solid workable plan of action. It’s just impossible to dive into a to-do list and expect to get everything done on time. What you need to do first is assess the priority,  determine the action plan, and then get cracking on those important activities.

Task prioritisation assessment matrix

One way to assess the priority of your task is to use the task prioritisation assessment matrix. Here you assess the task priority based on the following criteria:

  • Urgency – when does the task have to be completed?
  • Importance – how important is the task? Will it impact other activities, particularly critical path activities?
  • Dependency – is the task dependent on other activities, or are other activities dependent on the task?
  • Effort – how long will it take you to complete the task? Remember to include preparation time.
  • Impact – what will be the impact of not doing, delaying or completing the task?

Once you have completed filled in the criteria, you can rank each task in order of how you will complete them.

The easiest way to do this assessment is to create an excel spreadsheet like this:

Task Prioritisation
Task Prioritisation Matrix

Stephen Covey’s Time Management Grid

A very popular approach comes from Stephen Covey, the author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  The grid is very useful in quickly reorganising tasks in order of urgency and importance. Being a grid, visually it is also effective as it is easy to identify which tasks need to be addressed first.

Time Grid
Stephen Covey’s Time Management Grid

Quadrant Explanations

  • Quadrant 1: All tasks that need immediate attention should be inserted here as they are both urgent and important.
  • Quadrant 2: This quadrant should be used for long term strategising as these tasks are important however they do not need to be done immediately.
  • Quadrant 3: These tasks are seen as urgent but are not that important therefore you should try to eliminate or minimise this task list, for instance through delegation, as they do not add much value.
  • Quadrant 4: These tasks are a low priority, do not add any value and can often be seen as time wasters.

Creating an Action Plan

Once you have prioritised your tasks it is vital that you create a workable action plan with deadline dates, otherwise your to-do list will not get done. Creating an action plan is easy if you have chosen to use the task prioritisation assessment matrix as you simply re-order the tasks according to their ranking and add deadline dates to convert it into an action plan. For instance:

Task Action Plan
Task Action Plan

Note that if you are planning to delegate some activities, you should include a delegation column as well. Insert the assigned person into that column and ensure that they can complete the task by the due date.

When creating your action plan be realistic. Don’t assign deadline dates that cannot be met. Remember that it is highly unlikely that you will be able to dedicate full days to completing the task, therefore keep this in mind when you are assigning effort and a deadline date.

No matter what task prioritisation technique you use, it is important to monitor your action plan on a daily basis to ensure the deadline dates are still achievable. New issues and activities crop up all the time so you will have reassess task importance and urgency on a regular basis, and make sure that you delegate or eliminate all unnecessary tasks to free up some time.


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