The first step in establishing priorities is to improve the information you are receiving when tasks and projects are given to you. It is faster and more accurate to ask questions than to guess or assume the right answer.
The three biggest reasons why people have trouble prioritizing quickly and accurately are:
- They try to prioritize without the essential information needed. As you will see, the fastest way to improve how you prioritize is to ask better questions.
- They let human nature get in the way, so they work on what they’d rather work on instead of what they know (deep down) they should work on.
- They are given very little information at the time the request is made.
Then, you can use the A, B, C method or a decision-making matrix to prioritize tasks.
- An A task is one for which the deadline is today, and the task is important to your leader, offers visibility for you and your skills, and is vital to the needs of your customers, peers, or team members.
- A B task is as important as an A task, but it doesn’t have a deadline to be completed today.
- A C task is one that you like to do, something that you can work on whenever you have some time to spare.
When you prioritize, you must know a task’s specific deadline to know the correct urgency of the task. When someone gives you a deadline like “ASAP,” you must ask, “When do you need it by?”
In order to understand the validity of the deadline, you must ask another question or two to get the reason why the task must be completed by that deadline. When you know the reason for the deadline, you truly know its importance.
To assure that others prioritize your requests correctly, you must give them a specific deadline and explain why you need it by your deadline. To avoid seeming too “pushy,” you need to use a cooperative tone when making your request. When you say “ASAP,” you give away control of when others will work on your request.
Be careful of human nature: Human nature rather than clear thought often affects which task we choose. Some examples are:
- We choose easy tasks before difficult ones.
- We do requests, e-mails, or tasks that don’t take a lot of time.
- We work on the new request and drop what we are doing (last in–first out).
- We like to wait to the last minute to start tasks, projects, or goals.
- We start small tasks before large ones.
- We work on other’s tasks before our own.
- We choose tasks based on habit, not clear thought.
“The number one reason why people don’t prioritize correctly is that they’re trying to prioritize without the necessary information—why it’s important and when it must be done.”