If you’re like most people then you likely have an on-going list of around 15 to 20 items that you’re constantly juggling, whether or not it’s related to your work or your personal life. Interestingly, some people are experts at delegating tasks, but they might not be so savvy with their own task lists.
Most people these days turn to technology to solve the problem of tackling those tasks. There are a bevy of task apps out there from Trello boards to Evernote to our own ProjectManager.com. Online tools have become so intuitive and simple to use, in fact, that we might collectively be more organized than we ever have before!
But even a simple task list needs some structure, because a simple list for you might very well impact someone else, particularly at work. The following are a few suggestions to help you prioritize that list whether you’re putting it online or on the back of your hand.
Yes, you can prioritize simple lists
Prioritize. That’s step one. You do it when managing your large work projects, and it works on that macro level, so it makes sense that it’d apply as well to the micro level. No one knows as well as you do which items on your task list need immediate attention and which are likely okay to leave until later.
Here is an simple way to prioritize. Start with the active items on your task list (which means that you’ve already cut the ones that you’ve deemed unnecessary from the list). Span this list and quickly make an assignment to each item in terms of its priority with either a 1, 2 or 3 next to it. These numbers correspond to the following criteria.
Priority 1. This distinction is reserved for all items that are critically important and must be completed within a certain time-frame. Now you’ve determined the high-visibility, high-impact, deadline-driven tasks that cannot be overlooked. These are your most important tasks, obviously, because they must be error-free and delivered on time.
For example, these are items such as preparing for a meeting that you are presenting or making travel reservations that require you do them within a certain window to take advantage of low fares. There is no flexibility with these items. They’re dictated by time and you must be vigilant, which is why you’ve given them the number 1 designation.
There’s another item that should be a priority 1, and that’s tasks where you have to do something in order for someone else to start on their tasks. Maybe a team member is waiting on a report from you because it is going to be a part of their report to their managers. If you don’t get that report off your table you’ve created a domino effect that is going to ripple dangerously through the scope of your project.
Priority 2. You’ve probably already figured out this one: these are items that are important but with enough flexibility that they don’t need immediate attention. They have to get done, of course, but the deadline is not hard.
Maybe you’ve been thinking about a new direction for your department, modifying procedures to become more efficient. These tweaks are important, but they’re not crucial to the lifecycle of the project, so they can take a backseat. You want to implement these changes, but if they don’t get done right away it’s not a death knell for the project. That’s why you give them a priority 2 rating on your task list.
There is one caveat: don’t neglect these priority 2 items. That is, you are setting yourself up for a fall if you continue to push these items down your task list. You’ll get to them next week, which becomes the week after that and then suddenly they’re lost in the backlog of your task list. There will come a time when the deadline is no longer soft and you’ll need to focus more attention on these priority 2 items. That’s when they become a priority 1 item.
So, keep them at arm’s reach but always within your grasp.
Priority 3. The items with a priority 3 rating next to them are neither date-driven nor are they important. You may ask yourself, Why are they on my list? That’s an important question. You need to answer it before you begin to think about completing your priority 3 assignments.
Think of it like tweaking a report to make a column easier to understand. Yeah, it’s hard to even think of other items that may fall into this category. Again, priority 3 means there’s no hard deadline or crucial import to it. Think of it as a step above deleting an item, something you don’t want to get rid of, but you’re not sure exactly why, sort of a parking lot for stuff.
Some Additional Tips About Managing Task Lists
After trying this method you’ll find your items lining up in a classic bell curve, with the majority of them falling in the middle with a priority 2 and the priorities 1 and 3 trailing off to the side. You can take some of the more important priority 2 items and move them up to the priority 1 category to help even out the task list.
What about priority 3? Well, best to try and ignore them and see what happens. They’ll likely indicate their importance or non-importance in time. Take, for example, an employee who spent three to four hours each Thursday morning assembling a report that is disseminated to about 25 to 30 people. That employee hated this weekly task, but it was assigned to him.
Then the employee was out sick one week and the report wasn’t created or sent out, and no one cared. No one asked about it. The report wasn’t sent out the next week. Same thing. No big deal. The report wasn’t read and likely deleted as soon as it landed in the distribution list’s in-box. Now, if asked, the employee can always generate the report, but by removing this priority 3 task from the task list that employee was freed up for a few more hours during the week to work on more important matters.
Lastly, remember to take a moment to review and rework your list each day. Priorities change and you need to always be aware of their status and your need to address them. By doing this you’ll say in sync with what’s important, which is the management of your project.
Take it further: watch project management expert Devin Deen offer his tips in the video below.
As you can see, your task list is crucial to the success of your project. ProjectManager.com gives you an easy place to store those To-Do Lists, where you can indicate the level of their priority and have access to them anywhere, as well as collaboratively with your team. Check out the free 30-day trial and see for yourself.