Everybody knows you can’t succeed in your job without setting priorities. That’s true for employees, and it’s doubly true for managers, who are responsible for their team’s priorities as well as their own.
But what is the best way to prioritize all the many tasks you face? There are lots of methods out there, some of them better than others, like:
- Job description. Attend first to whatever is most directly related to your job.
- Degree of difficulty. Hit the hardest tasks either first, or last.
- Authority. Ask your own supervisor to advise you on what to do first.
- Perceived urgency. Oil the squeakiest wheel(s) first.
- LIFO or FIFO. Borrowing from accounting principles, make the last item in your in-basket the first out (LIFO). Or the first item in, the first out (FIFO).
Importance vs. urgency
Each of these methods is better than nothing, and some of them work quite well — some of the time.
But the technique that is consistently best, according to goal-setting experts Susan Wilson and Michael Dobson, is a blended approach that takes into account both how significant an activity is, and how fast it needs to get done. Wilson and Dobson have come up with a simple formula you can use:
1. Daily or weekly, rank your goals and activities in two columns — importance and urgency.
2. Assign each entry a numerical value from 1 (low) to 3 (high).
3. Calculate a point total for each activity by adding importance points to urgency points.
4. Attack the activities or goals in rank order, highest number of points first.
Once you’ve gotten well into the habit of prioritizing in this way, you may be able to drop the formula and consider importance vs. urgency without a numerical aid as you make your decisions about what to do first, and what to leave for later.
Source: “Goal Setting: How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Goals,” by Wilson and Dobson.
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