Prioritizing tasks at work is something that I constantly struggle with, especially when everything is a fire that needs putting out. These days I’m spending about 55 hours a week recruiting like crazy, and when you’re a one-man HR team, there are some things that just have to be left undone. The hard part?
Deciding what things can wait.
It’s a task that requires skill, experience, and input from others. This week I have struggled with prioritizing tasks at work. I’ve worked to get my tasks separated into the three “D’s” so I can make sense of everything.
Prepare for prioritizing tasks at work
Grab a blank sheet of paper and draw two lines so you end up with three columns. At the top of the first write “Delay,” on the second write “Delegate,” and on the third write “Do.”
If you have forgotten how to use a pen and paper, you’re welcome to use a spreadsheet or word doc. Whatever works best for you. Once you have the foundation, let’s jump into what each is for.
Three keys to prioritizing tasks at work
- Delay-Sometimes we just have to decide not to do anything for now. I am bad about thinking I can get it all done, and it’s hard to be honest with yourself and just say, “X is the priority. Y will not get done until tomorrow/next week/whenever.” Pick the things that are important but not urgent. We need these things to get done, but it won’t happen today. Some examples for me are cleaning out the inbox, filing, and auditing.
- Delegate-Some things can be delegated. If they are important enough that you can’t delay them, but you still don’t have the bandwidth to make them happen, then consider delegating. Target the person who has the skills and time to make it happen, tell them your expectations for a finished product, and let them work. This is not the time to micromanage the process (if you’re going to do that, why delegate in the first place?). Some examples for me include generating press releases, filing, and invoice reconciliation.
- Do-After streamlining the list somewhat, you should be left with the critical, must-do items. I have to stress the fact that this can’t be a list with 20 items on it. If so, there was no point to the first steps in this exercise. This needs to be the top 2-3 big tasks that you must do today. You can redo your list tomorrow if need be, and by then maybe some of the priorities will have shifted so you have a clearer overall picture. Then, when you have the key tasks ready, you do what you have been putting off: get to work!
One more tip
I think it’s very important when prioritizing tasks at work to send that list to your manager or post it somewhere that they have access to it. Your manager has a job, too. They can’t keep up with your laundry list of to-do items as well. This can be a great tool for showing them what your focus is, what you’ve decided to hold off on, etc.
It’s not perfect, but when you are short on time and have a long to-do list, this is one method I’ve found to help reduce stress, get a grip on the tasks at hand, and get everyone on the same page.
What do you do when there is more work than time in the day? How do you stay motivated when your list of tasks never seems to get shorter?