Prioritising Your Tasks For Productivity

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Prioritising your tasks

You just arrived at work and on opening your emails, you found several tasks that need your attention. At a glance, they all look urgent and important. Well, one thing is for sure, they are all important but are they really all urgent?

Sometimes work can be overwhelming, especially when there are so many things that need your attention. If you do not prioritise your tasks, you can end up feeling like you are constantly fighting fires and continuously falling behind your schedule. The truth is, chasing deadlines all the time can be draining and can lead to burning out. It can also cause you not to pay enough attention to your work, leading to sloppiness and stifle your creativity. 

To work effectively, you need to compartmentalize your day and organise your tasks in order to allocate each sufficient time and resources. This will result in improved productivity, as you will be able to attend to all your duties effectively. It will also reduce burnout as you will not be constantly chasing deadlines and feeling like everything is out of control. 

Well, if this is you, there is a helpful tool known as the Eisenhower urgent/ important matrix that can be a great guide to organising your day. The matrix helps you understand what tasks to attend to at what time and in what order, such that you stop feeling like every task on your in-tray is urgent and needs your immediate attention. This is also known as compartmentalising and it helps you maximise your time.

Before we go to the Eisenhower matrix, just how can you learn how to compartmentalise your tasks?

 1. Understand that not everything is urgent

Urgent matters

Granted, all those tasks require your attention but the reality is, they do not all need your immediate attention. What this means is that you first need to realise that not everything in your in-tray should be sorted immediately. 

By realising that not everything is urgent, you are able to attend to tasks in order of priority, which results in improved productivity due to a better focus on your tasks. 

 2. Allocate time to each task

Well, one way of staying organised is to ensure that you give time to each task such that when focusing on one task, you are not distracted by another. By doing this, you are simply ensuring that you do not give too much time to one task and limited time to another, which could cause you not to give some tasks enough attention. At the end of the day, all your tasks are your responsibility and by allocating time, you are also unconsciously compartmentalising your job and deciding when to attend to each task. This also helps you not to feel like you are constantly running out of time to work on all the things that need your input.

 3. Do not multitask

Multitasking

Despite common belief, no one is good at multitasking. Doing several things at the same time means that no task is getting your full attention and this reduces your productivity as you do not perform at your best. You may imagine that multitasking will help you kill several birds with one stone but the reality is, you might even take longer completing a task that you would have completed much faster had you focused on it alone.

Therefore, do not imagine that doing several things at once will help you clear your in-tray within a short time. It is only likely to make you sloppy and wear you out faster.

The Eisenhower Urgent / Important Principle

So, just how do you compartmentalise or organise your tasks for improved productivity? Well, one way of getting things done is to have a checklist which will help you list down the activities of the day and start working on them one by one. However, this does not help you determine the order of priority of the tasks. To have a more effective way of managing your tasks, you should consider using the Eisenhower urgent/important principle. This will help you determine how to approach the tasks at hand. Here are the details of how the principle works.

 1. Important and urgent tasks

Eisenhower Urgent / Important Principle

One way of avoiding having urgent tasks always at your desk is by planning ahead so that you always have enough time to attend to all of them. However, there are those tasks that you can never foresee and which require your immediate attention. These are tasks which are critical and in some cases, involve putting out fires. 

The general rule of thumb is to reduce your urgent and important tasks as much as possible but if not, then you have to attend to them as they come. These are typically tasks which can affect other people if they are not attended to and have a lot of value to the organisation. They also affect other tasks and thus, keeping them pending could have a serious negative effect. Thus, they demand your immediate attention and the repercussions of not attending to them are immediate and can be fatal. The solution is to do them immediately.

 2. Important but not urgent tasks

These are those tasks that have an impact on others and the organization but they can wait as their delay will not negatively impact others. These tasks come to you in good time and you, therefore, have enough time to attend to them. They may require some effort to complete but they can wait a bit longer. Thus, you basically have enough time to attend to them. Failure to complete them on time, however, graduates them to the important and urgent category so make time for them. Schedule such tasks based on how your day looks like.

 3. Urgent but not important tasks

This may sound odd but there are tasks that need to be attended to urgently but they are not important. They should ideally not stress you out as their lack of completion does not have a significant negative impact. These are tasks that are basically about housekeeping, or administrative tasks such as submitting reports. They have consequences if not handled in good time but failure to handle them immediately will not have immediate consequences. However, they need to be attended to but not before the first two. If possible delegate these tasks as they do not necessarily require your direct attention. 

  4. Not urgent and not important

These are those tasks that simply land on your desk for you to decide what to do with them. They could be things such as taking surveys, which do not have a direct impact on your work. They are tasks that you can ignore or attend to when you have cleared all your tasks. Do not stress about them and if possible, you can ignore them.

Having a full in-tray can feel like you need to attend to every task right away. However, a deeper look at your tasks for the day can show you that not everything needs to be done now. This will help you create a plan to attend to each task at the right time, such that you do not feel like you are constantly running out of time. Use the Eisenhower urgent/important principle to help you organise your work such that you do not get burnt out by trying to get everything done at once.

How do you organise your tasks? Share with us.

Njeri Karanja
Njeri is a reading and creative writing enthusiast who is neck-deep in research writing. She is well versed in researching and writing on various topics.