As a motivational speaker, speaking to audiences about productivity, managing multiple priorities is one of the biggest interests and challenges. Let’s face it, managing multiple priorities can be overwhelming especially when requests are coming from all different directions. Think about the endless to-do list you have and the additional commitments you need to fit into your day. The non-stop emails, texts, phone calls, chat messages, family needs, urgent tasks from co-workers add to the challenge of getting things done and focusing on what is most important. It seems like everything is a priority. Therefore, priority management is one leadership skill you cannot overlook as a business leader.
Establishing the right priorities makes it easier to create efficient work environments, boost productivity and manage customers not to mention reduce stress.
Yet, managing priorities is tricky to achieve. When we think about our busy job, trying to grow our business or career alongside family commitments on one end, it is easy to become stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. Keep in mind overloaded and overwhelmed are two different things and have to be managed differently. Overwhelm is emotional while Overloaded is a capacity issue. However, managing priorities is an important step for solving both issues.
This is why setting and managing multiple priorities remain one of the oldest workplace struggles. Beyond that, it affects our homes, relationships, and work-life balance.
As a business leader, entrepreneur, or manager, time is your most critical asset. We have no choice but understanding the tenets of managing multiple priorities in the fast-paced, dynamic environment we currently live in.
Working harder and longer hours will not solve the issue. Multitasking, shortcuts, or time management hacks will often fall short as well. Managing multiple priorities techniques and communication is the quickest way to more effectively manage your time and help your team manage their time to more quickly get to the desired result.
In this article, you will learn:
Table of contents
- What is a priority?
- What is priority management?
- 10 Smart Tips For Managing Multiple Priorities and Deadlines
- 1. Be in a relationship with your results
- 2. Get your to-do list out of your head
- 3. Define urgent versus priority tasks
- 4. Mix it up in small manageable chunks
- 5. Be honest about your distractions
- 6. Discern between short and long-term priorities
- 7. Learn how to say “No.”
- 8. Create transitions and step away
- 9. Manage your attention
- 10. Set a time to create a tailored plan for managing multiple priorities
- 11. Be flexible enough to change and drop priorities
- 5 Key Prioritization Techniques
- 2. Use the Ivy Lee Method to rank your daily tasks by proper priority
- 3. Use ABCDE to separate tasks with similar priorities
- 4. Pareto Principle – 80/20 rule
- 5. Use time multipliers
- 8 Apps for managing your workload effectively and prioritizing tasks
- Concluding thoughts
I want to help you master prioritization by improving time management, managing multiple priorities, and boost overall productivity. You will learn how to create better boundaries and achieve a work-life balance.
First things first, a few key definitions so we are working on the same basis.
What is a priority?
A priority is a task or action that is deemed more important than another task or action. Determining a priority usually relates to a combination of factors such as time urgency, capacity, and overall value.
What is priority management?
Priority management is the art of deciding which actions are most important while faced with multiple tasks that need to be completed. It is more than just focusing attention and resources. Managing multiple priorities is more about managing the result and the most efficient and effective way to get there. To manage your priorities and the priorities of others, priority management is a plan based on the desired result and what criteria will determine what action comes before another.
10 Smart Tips For Managing Multiple Priorities and Deadlines
1. Be in a relationship with your results
What drives your results? What activities will get you further faster? What action could make other actions obsolete? Why is this result important to you? Without clarity on WHY you are doing what you are doing, you may not be accessing the creativity and drive that helps you stay focused on the top priorities.Understanding WHY is very important to your WHAT. Click To Tweet
2. Get your to-do list out of your head
Have you ever shot up out of bed remembering something you forgot to do, or are in the middle of an important task but are distracted by the aha of something you need to do. Many people run their day from their memory and this can be distracting, draining and inefficient, and effective in managing priorities.
Other authors and motivational speakers such as David Allen, talk about the mistake of having their to-do list in their heads. This takes up a lot of mental energy and can slow down your ability to prioritize. Instead of storing it all in your head, get a blank page and create a brain dump. This is part of the Getting Things Done philosophy (link). Also as Graham Allcott rightly says,’ this would serve as your second brain.(link to graham)
Create a brain dump, capturing all kinds of tasks you expect to do in the next few weeks. I like to block them into categories or projects helping me better remember all tasks and helping me connect the task with the outcome.
If paper is becoming too complex and confusing, consider using a project management tool to make that master list. Trello is a great list maker or a more sophisticated project management tool like Monday.com makes it easier to access and update when new priorities come along.
This brain dump will help you then break down those tasks by day, week, and monthly.
What to do first?
The Getting Things Done philosophy says that if you can complete it in a short period of time you should do those first. I disagree. If we aren’t careful, these tiny tasks might soon take over the entire day, making it difficult to manage your core priorities, and know which is most important. That’s why we often get stuck managing conflicting priorities.
Steven Covey says to start with the big rocks. I agree with that! Do the most important things first and feel so much more productive from the start of your day. Be proactive and start the day on your most important items before others’ requests start to fill your day. The most important task has to qualified by the Pareto Principle. It tells us that 20% of the tasks will generate 80% of the results.Start with the bigger tasks, eat that gigantic frog first. That's how you master your productivity Click To Tweet
3. Define urgent versus priority tasks
Sometimes we become overwhelmed because we are not clear about the authentic tasks we should be focusing on. This is especially true when everything seems urgent which in reality, is never. That being said, we live in a society where we have an inflated sense of urgency.
As you categorize tasks by week, day, and month, you will quickly see the difference between tasks that feel urgent but don’t really need your attention right away.
Beyond that, you will see that different tasks have different levels of attention. There are tasks to be done today, others in a week, and so on. It also makes it easier to understand how every deadline affects you and can help your future scheduling habits.
One of the things I learned from my building my IT business was that instead of assuming deadlines as I often did and created more stress for myself, I started to ask for their final deadline (key word -final) and in many cases suggest a deadline such as “Can I get that to you by Friday morning?” Enabling me to better manage my priorities.
I used to get run my day like a firefighter – going from fire to fire. That didn’t help me grow my business or get the most important things done it just kept me busy, overworked, and overwhelmed.
I found a way to structure my day to avoid this trap and balance urgent and important every day. This is how I manage urgency and importance in my daily to-do list, I call it my 1:3:5 daily planning method.
Brain Tracy says the following: “you need to pull your monthly list from the master list and pull your weekly list from the monthly list.” That way, your daily priorities will align with your bigger goals seamlessly.
These prioritization methods will also help you fight the completion bias – which is our tendency to focus on finishing smaller tasks instead of working on the complicated and larger tasks.
Be careful of that trap, answering emails, general housekeeping tasks to all sorts of busywork that might feel like you are productive. However, when the day is over and you reflect on all you’ve accomplished, you only realize that you made barely a dent in the actual work feeling like “what have I done all day at the end of the day”. It’s up to you to purposely plan that balance.
This brings to mind the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the creator of the Eisenhower matrix (we will talk about that later in the article):
“I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
4. Mix it up in small manageable chunks
Even the important tasks can be broken up into smaller chunks. Small chunks can help overcome procrastination or even perfectionism and keep the momentum going. Smaller chunks make all tasks easier and can be done in shorter time frames leaving you with the ability to focus and give your best in the more complicated work.
You can also learn from HubSpot’s Co-founder and CTO, Dharmesh Shah, who likes to ‘deconstruct’ a large project into smaller, bite-sized chunks.
5. Be honest about your distractions
Some of us have a habit of spending our first minutes after waking up on email or social media. That is one of the biggest distractions because it starts your day being reactive over proactive. That starts the tone for the entire day. Avoid this bad habit at all costs.
So take some time to learn more about yourself. Understand your low energy times and schedule tasks during high energy moments. I always talk about energy management as part of your time management strategy. It isn't just what we do with our time but how we show up for it. Click To Tweet
As vetoed by Kurt Faustin, prioritizing and working within those peak productive times, you can seamlessly integrate productivity and prioritization, giving yourself the best possible feeling that comes with achieving all you set out to do.
Track your distractions so you can create a higher level of awareness of what is distracting you and own it at a higher level. The excuse “I don’t have the time” may be created by all the time lost and wasted being distracted.
6. Discern between short and long-term priorities
What are your short-term and long-term priorities? You need to create an effective balance between all priorities, including personal priorities and keeping your business profitable.
According to Linda Aiyer, the ability to balance both short-term and long-term priorities can help you keep your business profitable, align your vision and maintain a precise hold on your core purpose. Shelly Smith of Premier Rapport equally adds that if your priorities do not align with your bigger goals, it becomes unclear to remember why you are doing them in the first place.
7. Learn how to say “No.”
Regardless of our status in life, we sometimes find ourselves agreeing to more than we can handle. This comes from falling out of touch with our vision and values. We need to ensure that you stay true to your vision and values.
Whether you are working towards fulfilling your daily or annual tasks—make every second count.
As Hannah Koenig puts it, don’t forget the Big picture. Learn to eliminate inefficiencies so you can stay focused on the big picture in your personal and business life.
8. Create transitions and step away
We need to remember that in the end, we are human beings, not machines. So we must find time to step away from our responsibilities. It would help if you find moments when you aren’t thinking of work but clearing your head.
Currently, we are primarily in confined spaces because of the pandemic. So you need to get creative about how to find mental clarity.
Consider taking a walk around your neighborhood or zoning out by putting on a pair of noise-canceling headphones, closing your eyes, and taking deep mindful breaths for five minutes.
This is where the saying by Jeff Altman in the Big Game Hunter comes to mind:
“Slowing down for a few minutes will help you go much faster”.
9. Manage your attention
Graham Allcot’s famous book, how to be a productivity Ninja, talks a lot about managing your attention instead of time management.
In his book, he talks about how we have a much-limited attention span due to our fast-paced world today and that our attention span fluctuates from one minute to the next.
So, as echoed by Allcot, you cannot have a high level of focus consistently at all hours. It fluctuates from one hour to the next, sometimes by design, other times because of our environment.
For instance, as a leader in your department, you need to be on call for all kinds of issues at particular times of the day – this obviously won’t be the hours you use for tasks requiring your total focus.
So you need to prioritize your most important work during your most productive hours – which is when you can pay the greatest attention to it.
10. Set a time to create a tailored plan for managing multiple priorities
It’s natural to want to step into your day right away, especially if you already have one big goal in mind. Planning should always be the first step. If you can, take time to plan for the next day before going to bed.
Planning should be a part of your day. However, you can also take five minutes in the morning to create that plan. While doing so, use an additional five minutes to answer the questions below, so your to-do list reflects every vital goal:
- what is the most important task I have to accomplish today?
- What other essential tasks will follow suit?
- Does my calendar reflect that priority in a realistic way?
- Am I doing what I most need to do today?
Finally, when done at the end of each day, take time to reprioritize any unfinished tasks, add new tasks and delegate what doesn’t align with your values, goals, and vision. Consider reflecting on these questions:
- Did I accomplish what I needed to do today?
- Is there anything I should do tomorrow differently with my time?
Beyond that, you also need to have that strategy meeting again at the end of the week.
This helps you look back at the entire week from a bigger picture. That way, you can observe what went well and what’s stressing you right now.
At the tasks and write down what went well and what’s stressing you right now. What can you do to alleviate stress, so it doesn’t carry on into the net week? What can do you more to automate your day?
By analyzing the past week, you can take charge with realistic expectations to understand precisely what needs to be done.
Our world is so fast-paced but reflecting helps us become mindful about what we are actually doing. That way, we can practice time management effectively while avoiding the possibilities of frustrations and burnout.Planning helps you stay on track, and focused on your goals regardless of the frustrations and obstacles that come your way Click To Tweet
11. Be flexible enough to change and drop priorities
Sometimes we prioritize a task only for expectations and deliverables to change without prior knowledge.
We must never forget that we cannot tell what the future holds no matter how organized or prepared we are. Sure, it’s hard not to be disappointed when it seems like we won’t be ticking off that task anytime soon.
However, we must avoid the ‘sunk cost fallacy.
This is the psychological tendency to continue doing something just because we already put time and effort into it. Never forget that though we can never get the time back, we must be ready to change priorities when necessary to avoid wasting more time.
5 Key Prioritization Techniques
Although your master list makes it easier to separate your tasks, it’s not always easy to do that right away quickly. Let’s talk about some other prioritization techniques to manage multiple priorities projects and deadlines effectively.
1. Eisenhower matrix
The Eisenhower matrix is a four-quadrant box with answers to help you divide ‘important tasks’ from ‘urgent tasks.’ These quadrants therefore include:
- urgent and important: do these tasks as soon as possible
- important, but not urgent: decide when you will do these tasks and schedule it
- urgent, but not important: delegate these task to another person
- neither urgent nor important: drop these from your schedule as soon as possible.
Now, this quadrant looks easier to work with. However, it’s tricky pulling off the ‘urgent but not important tasks’ section. I suggest you focus on this section first – unless your kitchen is really on fire. Challenge your urgencies and ask yourself is this really urgent? Can someone else handle this?
To fulfill that quadrant, you need to find the right person and explain the tasks correctly, which means time off your plate and mind. But finding that person isn’t a simple task, but there’s one small but powerful way to make things easy:
Budget 30X as long as the task would take to train whomever you get for the job. This is the 30X rule, and here’s an example to make things clear.
Let’s say you have a task that generally takes 10 minutes to complete. Training someone new would demand about 300 minutes (30 X 10) to delegate and train someone new. At first, it seems like a lot, but when you do the maths of what 10 minutes means over 250 annual working days, which is 2500 minutes spent on that task, you realize that the 300 minutes is totally worth it.
Delegating means you can focus on putting your leadership qualities and abilities where you need them the most. You can avoid stress, provide more time for development for your team.
Recommended Reading: How to better manage your email schedule
2. Use the Ivy Lee Method to rank your daily tasks by proper priority
Now you know what tasks need your attention today, it’s easy to complicate things by starting wrongly.
Use the Ivy Lee method, developed over 100 years ago by a productivity consultant. Ivy Lee helps you prioritize your day by using a simple set of rules.
- At the end of the workday, outline the six most critical tasks you need to accomplish tomorrow. Don’t go over six tasks
- now list them by their true importance
- when you arrive tomorrow, start with the first task and work on it until you are done before going to the second task, until you are finished with all six tasks.
Naturally, you might have more than six tasks that seem important. But when you limit yourself to six tasks, it becomes easier to prioritize correctly and remain focused. I also find that having three top tasks is even more effective than six. As echoed by Gina Lucente-Cole, at Promina Advisors, the three-task approach helps you remain focused while maintaining flexibility.
3. Use ABCDE to separate tasks with similar priorities
Ivy Lee Method helps you focus on six tasks a day, but sometimes picking these six tasks is a different challenge entirely.
Consider Brain Tracy’s ABCDE method. This involves consequences to define urgency.
Go through your list and assign every task a letter from A to E with A’s highest priority. For every task with A, give it a number that shows the order you will do it. Repeat until all tasks have numbers and letters.
4. Pareto Principle – 80/20 rule
The 80/20 rule states that 20% of your efforts tend to produce 80% of your results. I learned this from one of my mentors when he told me “I hired me to make decisions and what I did with the rest of my time was up to me”. That was oversimplified but it made me realize the truth in the 80/20 rule and how it was essential for me to use it to find my 20% tasks. I am so grateful as I try to live by this principle but just know of it. I suggest you do the same.
One tip to make this work for you is to step back and even oversimplify your projects and tasks. Step back and come from the result you want to accomplish overall and the drivers that create those results.
However, implementing the 80/20% rule comes with experience, which can be challenging if you are new at handling a different set of tasks, such as changing your career, expanding your business, and many more.
When you are new to managing multiple priorities, the Eisenhower matrix gives you a more straightforward foundation.
5. Use time multipliers
Throughout this article, we’ve talked about focusing on the most critical tasks first. How about focusing on tasks that you can do today but will positively influence your future obligation. As explained by Rory Vaden on a TED blog:
“Rather than asking ‘What’s the most important thing I can do today?’, time multipliers ask ‘What’s the most important thing I can do today that would make tomorrow better?’
“In other words, by thinking about how we use our time today, we can free up our hours in the future.”
This helps us not only prioritize the right projects but proper habits. So we work smarter to create a better culture that helps us achieve more using less energy and time in the future.Be realistic about how you plan and project for actual tasks. Don't underestimate how much time you need, it only leads to undue pressure and anxiety. Click To Tweet
8 Apps for managing your workload effectively and prioritizing tasks
1. Priority matrix
Priority Matrix is an excellent tool that helps you keep track of emails, tasks, and events so you won’t be pulled in all directions. It is a powerful tool for managing multiple priorities and is developed on the Eisenhower matrix, helping you implement the prioritization technique quickly. It also synchronizes across all your devices (Windows, Mac, Android, etc.), so you don’t have to miss out on any critical detail.
2. nTask (Free, $1/month)
nTask allows you to create, organize, assign, share and prioritize tasks. You can also schedule recurring tasks and manage your to-do lists using kanban boards and Gantt Charts. nTask also comes with a dedicated time tracking module, meeting module, issue management, risk management, and a host of third-party integrations. You will love the free plan with unlimited tasks, workspaces, timesheets, and lots more.
3. Trello (Free, 14-day trial, $9.99/user/month)
If you love a visual board-like task management system, Trello is an excellent choice. Here you can organize tasks using categories, labels, and tags. You can also create checklists and color-code according to priorities seamlessly. Trello also has flexible Kanban boards, which is a perfect choice if you want your team on-board.
4. Freedcamp (Free, $1.49/user/month)
Freedcamp allows you to manage tasks with milestones and your calendar. Here, you can organize tasks on a kanban board or standard to-do list for short and long-term planning. You will also love all 12 different widgets for managing your task history, events and lots more.
5. TickTick (Free, $2.4 per month)
TickTick is an excellent task manager app that allows you to make schedules, get a reminder, and prioritize as easily as possible. It also comes with native time tracking and Promodoro tracking, which is excellent for achieving your productivity goals.
If all you need is a minimalist tool that allows you to focus on your task and priorities without any visuals, this is a great choice. This simple distraction-free editor is absolutely free and will not take a lot of space on your devices.
HourStack is a collaborative time tracking tool that also helps you manage time in blocks and windows. You can create tasks, projects, and color-code accordingly. HourStack also integrates with other productivity tools.
MyLifeOrganized is a lovely tool for organizing and prioritizing your tasks. It comes with handy features to create new checklists, tasks, and milestones. You can also break enormous projects into smaller bites to build a more productive schedule. It also allows you to add due dates, contexts, and smart reminders to get more from your day.
Don’t forget that when managing priorities you need to be utterly realistic about everything you do, oversimplify and be aware of your biggest distractions. In times such as the global pandemic, you might deal with more distractions than ever before, making it challenging to master managing priorities from the onset.
So, be realistic and compassionate that there are days we might not end up knocking out many important tasks. If you have a bad day, let it go. Fall back to the structure that supports you to stay focused. Also, during these difficult times ensure that your expectations match your circumstances and you are to measuring your productivity by your pre-pandemic circumstances.
Using these priority management strategies will help you better cope with your workload, your desires and your capacity, and before long, you will find that you accomplish your goals in less time without all the stress.
Penny Zenker is a Focusologist, international speaker and best-selling author. She is passionate about helping people live more fulfilling lives by reducing stress, improving communication, and creating greater passion and focus. Her experience includes building and selling a multi-million dollar business, managing business turnarounds, living abroad for 16 years, and worked 5 years a Tony Robbins business coach. She will challenge you to think differently and inspire you to be your best. Her easy-to-understand frameworks and methods make implementation fast and easy.