It can be hard to balance your long-term and short-term objectives, but rather than trying to do everything, you need to get better at prioritising your most important tasks and activities.

Prioritising your work involves regularly asking yourself the question ‘is this the best use of my time?’ This might seem a simple question, but to answer it with any validity takes some thought.

To help you prioritise better, here are three principles, three steps, and three things to avoid.

How to think about prioritisation: three principles

  1. You can’t do everything. There simply isn’t enough time in the day, or energy in your brain, to do all that is asked of you or everything you’d like to do. So some smart decisions need to be made.
  2. Not all tasks are equal. This probably goes without saying, but not all tasks deliver the same value or result in the same measure of progress.
  3. All decisions have an opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is a term borrowed from economics: if you spend £10 on one thing, you can’t spend the same £10 on something else; the opportunity cost of the first thing is the second. The same is true of how you choose to spend your time: deciding to do one things means you are simultaneously deciding to not do everything else.

How to prioritise your work: three tips

  1. Get clarity on your goals. It’s very hard to prioritise your work if you don’t know where you want to be going. What will define success, and what are the steps necessary for you to get there?
  2. Do an 80/20 analysis, based on your goals. The 80/20 principle (or Pareto’s law), states that 20% of your efforts cause 80% of your result. i.e. if you have a business, 20% of your customers tend to generate 80% of your revenue. The same is true for how you spend your time at work: 20% of what you do contributes to 80% of your progress towards your goals. 80% of everything you do really doesn’t matter very much. 
    • Spend a few minutes identifying your ‘most valuable tasks’ (MVTs) and your ‘least valuable tasks’ (LVTs).
  3. Plan and do 1-3 MVTs each day, and do your most valuable task first. Don’t try to plan any more than 3 MVTs each day; as Jim Collins said “If you have more than three priorities, then you don’t have any”. Prioritise your MVTs over your LVTs wherever possible.

How not to prioritise your work: three things to avoid

  1. Emailing first thing. This common behaviour is one of the biggest killers of productivity. By opening your inbox first you are determining your actions based on your inputs rather than your outputs. Your behaviour will be determined by other peoples priorities rather than your own.
  2. Prioritising based on deadlines alone. Prioritising based on deadlines shift your decision making towards urgent rather than important tasks. You risk getting lots done but never the right things.
  3. Saying yes to everything and everyone. If it’s impossible to do everything, you may need to get better at saying no!

Best of luck,


What to tell a friend: three main points

  1. Do an 80/20 analysis to establish your most and least valuable tasks
  2. Plan between 1-3 ‘MVTs’ each day
  3. Each morning, do you highest value MVT before anything else


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