Effective prioritisation is like a ninja skill, and yet too few of us do it well.

When you have multiple projects competing for your attention, or if you have changing goals and objectives (as many of us recently have), your ability to make highly effective decisions about what to prioritise becomes critical.

It’s important to remember that deciding to do one thing means you are simultaneously deciding not to do everything else. Mastering your prioritisation is therefore a deliberate and consistent move away from reactive and task orientation and towards self-directed outcome orientation.

What not to do:

  • Have no method to prioritising at all
  • Have no clear on your goals or objectives
  • React to everything that comes your way / say yes to everything
  • Only prioritise things that are urgent rather than things that are important
  • Prioritising your email inbox over your considered strategic output

1. Get clarity on your goals / objectives, and your role / purpose.

It’s very hard to prioritise your work if you don’t know where you want to be going. Begin by getting clarity on what will define your success. What are your goals? What is your purpose? What is the process to get there? How is your performance measured?

Start prioritising with a sense of your desired outcomes. If you need help setting goals, watch How to Set Goals and How to Turn Goals into Processes

2. Do an 80/20 analysis.

80/20 analysis

Based on your goals, do an 80/20 analysis. The 80/20 principle (or Pareto’s law), states that 20% of what you do generates 80% of your results (or progress towards your goals). The other 80% of what you do (sorry!) really doesn’t matter very much.

Therefore an 80/20 analysis therefore helps give clarity on the tasks and activities that give the greatest return or value. Not all tasks are equal and to prioritise you need to be able to differentiate between high and low value tasks.

So, get a pen and paper and create two columns. At the top of the left-hand column right ‘MVT’ (Most valuable tasks or activities) and at the top of the right-hand column right ‘LVT’ (least valuable tasks or activities). Spend about 10-15 minutes identifying your MVTs and your LVTs.

Some examples of things that appear in people’s MVT column include: goal setting; planning; learning and skill development; relationship building; improving processes and operations; and if you have a team, coaching and training. These are all high-value activities as they offer a high return for the time invested.

The challenge is these activities are rarely urgent. They are rarely demanded by anyone else, and hardly ever appear in your email inbox. The problem is too often we prioritise based on what is urgent, what other people demand of us, and our email inbox.

This bring us to the critical third step – to calendarise your MVTs

3. Plan 1-3 MVTs each day — and do your most valuable task first.

Begin each morning knowing your 1-3 MVTs for the day. Do your most important task before you do anything else. This has benefits that I cannot overstate. Even if you just spend the first 60 minutes of your day in a non-reactive state, it will transform your productivity, improve your effectiveness and increase your sense of autonomy.

Final word

Stop emailing first thing: your behaviour will be determined by other people’s priorities rather than your own.

Stop prioritising tasks and projects based on deadlines alone: you risk getting lots done but never the right things.

Stop saying yes to everything: every time you say yes to something you’re saying no to everything else.

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