Prioritize Project Tasks With These Techniques

Got a to-do list as long as your arm, a dozen KPIs to hit, and three different 'top priorities? We got you.

September 9, 2022
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You’ve got a to-do list as long as your arm, a dozen KPIs to hit, and three different bosses telling you to focus on three different “top priorities”.

Sound familiar?

This is the way most of us work… and a surefire recipe for going nowhere fast.

Want to get more done with less stress and have a real impact on your organization’s goals? Here’s everything you need to know about how to set priorities at work – and get them done.

Why do we prioritize projects?

As the old adage goes: “if everything's a priority, then nothing's a priority”.

It’s human nature to spread our efforts too thin unless our tasks are set out in a clear hierarchy. 

Let’s be honest: we’ve all spent time on a task we know isn’t the most important thing on our plate, but is a lot easier than whatever is.

So, it’s no wonder that:

  • 11.4% of the average organization’s resources are wasted through poor project management processes.
  • Businesses that don’t integrate project management into their strategies will see their outright project failure rate increase by 66%.
  • Just 2.5% of companies complete 100% of their projects successfully.

Figure out how to set priorities at work and you can enter the small percentage of companies that consistently succeed with what they set out to.

Try Assembly to make it as easy as possible for your people to prioritize projects.

What are examples of work priorities?

Depending on your role within your organization, some examples of priorities at work are:

  • Increasing sales
  • Filing the company accounts on time
  • Keeping customers happy
  • Planning staff schedules
  • Boosting employee engagement
  • Reducing staff turnover

A common thread that runs through these priorities is that they all make a real impact on the success of the business. If you’ve got a “priority” on your list that wouldn’t improve your organization’s chances of success if you achieved it, then you should seriously consider how much of a priority it really is.

How do you determine project priority?

Dwight D. Eisenhower rose to the rank of five-star general in the United States army and served as the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. 

And to top it off, he was elected the 34th President of the United States and served two terms, from 1953 to 1961. So it’s safe to say he knew a thing or two about getting things done. And his most famous productivity strategy is one we can all use to balance priorities at work and get more done.

It’s called the Eisenhower matrix, and here’s how it works:

The Eisenhower MatrixCC BY-SA 4.0

  1. Grab a notepad and write a numbered list of everything on your plate at work.
  2. On a new page in your notebook, draw a quick Eisenhower matrix (like the one above).
  3. Plot each task on the matrix based on how urgent it is (how soon it needs doing) along the x-axis and how important it is (how much of an impact it’s going to have on your organization's success) on the y-axis.

Book a demo of Assembly to make it easy for your teams to quickly and easily create their own Eisenhower matrixes . 

Once you’ve mapped your tasks out onto the four quadrants of your Eisenhower matrix you can easily see which you should prioritize – as well as which you can forget about.

Here’s what to do next:

  1. Do the tasks that are urgent and important. These, by definition, need to be your immediate priorities. Just be sure you don’t confuse them with tasks that are urgent but, in the grand scheme of things, unimportant.
  2. Plan the tasks that are important but not urgent. These are the tasks that would take your contributions to your organization to the next level – conducting in-depth customer research, automating your team’s workflows, or running an employee engagement survey – but so often never get ticked off your to-do list. 
  3. Delegate the tasks that are urgent, but not important. These things need doing, but aren’t going to move the needle when it comes to your KPIs. So, they should never be your priority.  
  4. Eliminate the tasks that aren’t urgent or important. If a task doesn't tick either of these boxes, then it shouldn’t be on your to-do list.

Ultimately, what separates the Eisenhowers of the world from the rest of us is that they make sure the important but not urgent tasks on their plate take priority over the urgent but not important ones. Take a leaf out of their book to make as big of an impact in your organization as possible.

What is a project’s scope and priorities?

A project’s scope is a description of what’s going to be needed to be done to get it over the line. It lays out the project’s:

Without a clearly defined project plan, a project has no hope of coming in on time and on budget. But as soon as a project has been scoped out, it’s a lot easier to see how all the moving parts need to fit together – and what needs to come first.

Used in tandem, an Eisenhower matrix can reveal which projects you should prioritize, then a clear project scope can reveal what order you should tackle a specific project in. This helps you and your team create daily to-do lists that always leave you tackling the most important things first.

Book a demo of Assembly to see how easy it can make scoping out projects and setting priorities. 

How to manage changing priorities at work

"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”, said the German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke. While you’re (hopefully!) not taking your project plan into battle, the point still stands: it’s never going to unfold exactly how you’d planned it would.

In fact, a massive 39% of projects fail because of a change in the organization's priorities.

The fact is that you're inevitably going to end up with a spanner of two in the works of your grand plan. The most effective project managers and team leaders know how to roll with the punches and effortlessly shift priorities.

Here’s a few tips for taking a change of priorities in your stride:

  • Always have a North Star. Ultimately, a Head of Sales’s job is always to make sales, a Head of People’s job is to keep employees happy and engaged, and a Head of Operations’s job is to make sure the business runs smoothly. If you never lose sight of your role’s North Star, your priorities will never change too drastically.
  • Understand the bigger picture. You might have got the greenlight to go ahead with a pet project you’d been building towards for years at the start of March 2020… but your priorities will have certainly changed a few weeks later. Look at the bigger picture and you’ll find it a lot easier to navigate a change in priorities – even when it’s hard to swallow.
  • Ask for clarity. Are your priorities always changing because you’re constantly getting contradictory messages from up the chain of command? You’re going to need to hold the higher-ups accountable for giving your mixed messages. At the end of the day, you’re going to go nowhere fast if you’re constantly being asked to switch to another project before the current one if bearing fruit – which could ultimately put your job security at risk if you don’t draw a line in the stand now.

Bringing it all together

How effectively you manage all the priorities on your plate at work is going to have a huge impact on your career trajectory. Stick to the tips we’ve outlined here to make sure you and your team are always working on the most important thing – and having the biggest impact on your organization’s bottom line.

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