What Techniques Are Effective for Prioritizing Urgent Tasks?


    What Techniques Are Effective for Prioritizing Urgent Tasks?

    In the whirlwind of daily demands, discerning which tasks to tackle first can be daunting. We've gathered insights from productivity experts, including a Holistic Productivity Coach and CEOs, to share their most effective techniques. From distinguishing urgent tasks from important ones to implementing the two-minute rule, explore the seventeen diverse strategies that can transform your to-do list into a done list.

    • Distinguish Urgent from Important
    • Utilize Eisenhower Decision Matrix
    • Strategize with Big Picture Actions
    • Bucket Tasks by Urgency and Importance
    • Categorize Tasks into Three Cs
    • Conquer Disliked Tasks First
    • Trust Your Intuition
    • Discern Personal vs. External Urgency
    • Create a Strategic Roadmap
    • Perform a Pre-Sleep Brain Dump
    • Allocate Time for Pressing Matters
    • Outsource Low-Effort Tasks First
    • Assess Worst-Case Task Consequences
    • Apply MoSCoW Method for Precision
    • Implement the Two-Minute Rule
    • Plan with Reverse Calendar
    • Prioritize with Energy Management

    Distinguish Urgent from Important

    Differentiating between urgent (other people's tasks) and important (your tasks) is key. Urgent tasks feel like a fire because someone else is expecting it from you. Someone else is depending on you. Important tasks are the things that move your needle forward—but it's likely that no one else is yelling at you to get it done. Important tasks are on you and for you, meaning they are high-impact for living in alignment with the best version of you. Go through your to-do list and mark down a 'U' for urgent and an 'I' for important next to each task. Some tasks will have both letters; others will have neither. Make a practice of doing the tasks marked with only an 'I'—important first—because the urgent will always find a way to get done.

    Amy Fairbridge
    Amy FairbridgeHolistic Productivity Coach, Do Less Be More Coaching

    Utilize Eisenhower Decision Matrix

    My favorite technique for prioritizing tasks when everything seems urgent is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, a tool that visually prioritizes tasks into four boxes based on importance and urgency. I classify the tasks and then deal with them as follows:

    *Important/Not Urgent - If something is important and supports my goals, I prioritize it. Approximately 60% of my back-end business time is spent on these types of tasks.

    *Important/Urgent - I try not to let things get to the point where they are 'urgent,' but sometimes it's unavoidable. Anything that is important needs to be done to move my business forward. I spend approximately 20-30% of my back-end business time on these types of tasks.

    *Not Important/Urgent - It is rare that my tasks end up in this box. If a task is unimportant, it likely doesn't support my business goals. If it is also urgent, it's likely that something fell through the cracks or is an actual emergency. I try to limit my time here to 10-15%. When possible, I delegate items in this category; otherwise, I'll address only items that cannot be ignored without consequences.

    *Not Important/Not Urgent - I try to spend as little time as possible here. If something is neither important nor urgent, chances are it can either be delegated, deleted, or deferred for now. I may place items from this category into a 'Pending' folder, which I periodically check to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

    Lisa Mark
    Lisa MarkCertified Professional Organizer, The Time Butler

    Strategize with Big Picture Actions

    1. Take a deep breath and think big picture. What is the most important strategic priority you have? (This step is key.)

    2. Write down three specific actions that would have the greatest impact toward achieving that priority.

    3. Rate the level of impact of each of the three actions: 1 high impact, 2 medium impact, 3 some impact.

    4. Rate your readiness to take each of the three actions: 1 most ready, 2 somewhat ready, 3 not quite ready.

    5. Start with the action you rated '1 most ready,' focus on that to get meaningful traction, and get a small win.

    6. Repeat the exercise. Small wins compound.

    Barbara Abadi
    Barbara AbadiProductivity Consultant, Real Teams Work

    Bucket Tasks by Urgency and Importance

    When things get crazy, I love to take a step back and put all of the items on my to-do list into four buckets on an urgency versus importance grid. Even if everything seems urgent or important, you can still rank items relative to each other ('Which of these is the most urgent?').

    I then focus on getting things back under control in two stages: short-term and long-term.

    In the short term, I focus on the important and urgent tasks, putting my head down and working until those are knocked out.

    Then, in the moment of breathing room that provides, I look at the root causes for so much important and urgent work falling onto my plate at the same time. Is our team understaffed? Am I doing things I'm not particularly good at, that should be delegated? Does any of this work not really produce a meaningful result, and could it be eliminated? I then work to put those insights into practice.

    Ultimately, this allows me to spend as much time as possible in the 'Important but Not Urgent' quadrant, which is where all of the tasks that actually make a long-term difference are always hiding.

    Grant Hensel
    Grant HenselCEO, Nonprofit Megaphone

    Categorize Tasks into Three Cs

    I've developed a unique technique: the 'Three Cs.' When everything's urgent, categorize tasks into three Cs: Critical, Creative, and Collaborative. Address critical issues first, as they directly impact business outcomes. Then, allocate time for creative thinking to foster innovation. Lastly, focus on collaborative tasks to strengthen team dynamics. This approach combines urgency with strategic thinking, ensuring not only immediate problem-solving but also long-term growth and synergy in the organization.

    Ryan Doser
    Ryan DoserCo-Founder, AI Insider Tips

    Conquer Disliked Tasks First

    I've been there, getting confused about how to prioritize when everything seemed like a priority. I've tried many productivity methods, and in this context, the "Swallow the Frog" technique has been the most effective for me.

    Long story short, I focus on the tasks I dislike the most. The concept for this technique is from Brian Tracy, a success expert, who wrote a book called “Eat That Frog.” In it, he suggests tackling the most disliked tasks first. These are the “swallow the frog” tasks. The reasoning is that once you've done these challenging tasks, everything else seems easier.

    This technique has been very helpful to me. I've noticed that the tasks I dislike the most often get pushed off and stay on my to-do list. This is harmful because just seeing these tasks and knowing I need to do them creates negative emotional energy, which can drain my energy. So, it's crucial to do these tasks first and not put them off.

    By completing the tasks I dislike first, I free myself from the negative emotions and mental burden they bring. This is important because the most challenging tasks often end up being done last, and finishing them first can be liberating.

    Patrick Beltran
    Patrick BeltranMarketing Director, Ardoz Digital

    Trust Your Intuition

    I usually just use my intuition to set priorities. As an entrepreneur and professional with a very busy schedule, I've grown to have a gut feeling about what to do first for the best course of action.

    Honestly, there can be a lot of complicated methods and calculations for prioritizing tasks. But doing this kind of detailed analysis isn't practical for most tasks. For instance, you wouldn't calculate the return on investment (ROI) for a quick two-minute email response. This kind of in-depth analysis is better suited for larger tasks or projects that take several hours.

    For smaller tasks, I use my intuition to prioritize. This means I don't do an ROI calculation or follow a detailed flow diagram to decide what to work on next. However, it's important to be aware of general prioritization principles to refine your intuition. Specifically, you need to be careful about two common prioritizing mistakes: focusing too much on urgent tasks and neglecting important ones, and avoiding tasks you dislike, which leads to a backlog of unpleasant tasks. It's also crucial not to have too many tasks in progress at once, and to avoid starting new tasks before finishing the ongoing ones.

    Lucas Ochoa
    Lucas OchoaFounder & CEO, Automat

    Discern Personal vs. External Urgency

    When considering what's truly urgent, ask yourself: Is this urgency someone else's or mine? Not to say that you can't ever respond to other people's emergencies, but people often want you to solve their problems for them, which makes you a reactive worker. To get your own work done, you have to work proactively. You are not responsible for someone else's lack of planning.

    Caroline Guntur
    Caroline GunturOrganizing & Productivity Coach, The Swedish Organizer LLC

    Create a Strategic Roadmap

    When everything seems urgent, the main question is, what to prioritize first? I believe creating a roadmap helps answer this question. This approach transcends the mundane and taps into the essence of strategic prioritization. Imagine, when faced with a barrage of pressing tasks, the first step is to calmly survey the landscape. Instead of succumbing to the overwhelming tide, envision the end goal. What is the ultimate destination? Define the crucial milestones that pave the way to success. This initial contemplation serves as the cornerstone for an effective roadmap.

    As you craft your roadmap, assign each task a specific lane. Categorize based on urgency, importance, or dependencies. This step ensures a clear, organized path forward, preventing the chaos that often accompanies a barrage of to-dos. Now, as you traverse your roadmap, there's an inherent need for flexibility. Embrace an organic approach to executing your roadmap strategies, making informed decisions to reroute when necessary. A roadmap is not a rigid script but a guide, offering direction while allowing for adjustments based on real-time circumstances.

    Alan Carr
    Alan CarrDirector, www.webpopdesign.com

    Perform a Pre-Sleep Brain Dump

    I always start with a 'brain dump' before I go to bed. That way, I get all the ideas and tasks out of my mind onto paper, which in turn helps me have more restful sleep. Then, in the morning, I go over my list and check my email to see if something else needs to be added. After that, I start prioritizing the to-dos.

    The way I do that is by first deciding what the goal for the day is, and second – what is one thing that will move the needle closer to the desired outcome. You may have multiple goals for that day, but the question still stands: What is the thing that will get you closer to the result you want? Is it delegating it to someone who has the capacity or expertise to deal with the task? Is it a quick phone call instead of emailing back and forth? Or perhaps it's something simpler – like a 5-minute break to center and ground yourself so you can be more present at what you do, which undoubtedly will benefit you and your work.

    Pavlina Atanasova
    Pavlina AtanasovaFounder and CEO, Master The Time

    Allocate Time for Pressing Matters

    When everything seems urgent, it's hard to even know which task to start with. When this is the case, I allocate 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the nature of the task) to work on each pressing matter. This might seem counterintuitive because it spreads your attention across many tasks, but I've found that committing to working on one thing for a short amount of time 1) pushes you across the mental block of starting anything at all, and 2) gives you a better idea of the urgency of the task and how much work is required to finish it. I've often found that the short time frame given to each task also makes me more productive, and I can finish a lot more than I thought within a time limit.

    Adam Shlomi
    Adam ShlomiFounder, SoFlo Tutors

    Outsource Low-Effort Tasks First

    When everything feels like a priority, I outsource tasks that have a low learning curve and don't require long explanations or quality control. Out of the tasks I can't outsource, I focus on the ones that require the least amount of time or effort first. This way, I can start cleaning my to-do list (and my mind), which will allow me more clarity for the remaining tasks.

    Most importantly, when everything feels urgent, I take a step back and breathe deeply. Feeling frantic isn't beneficial when you have a million thoughts and things to do. Own the fact that things might take a while to work through. Set realistic expectations about your approach and know that this feeling of urgency isn't permanent.

    Alli Hill
    Alli HillFounder and Director, Fleurish Freelance

    Assess Worst-Case Task Consequences

    I think it's best to judge the cost of skipping a task altogether when everything seems urgent and impossible to complete. Figuring out the most important task is best done by considering worst-case scenarios. For me, it always provides a sense of calm to realize that not all urgent work is actually do-or-die, and I'm then able to concentrate on what's really critical. For instance, if you risk losing your biggest client by failing to fulfill an assignment, and if it's your boss asking for immediate updates on a project due next week, try excusing the latter with a quick note and finish the high-profile client's task first—your boss might actually appreciate you for it.

    Ben Lamarche
    Ben LamarcheGeneral Manager, Lock Search Group

    Apply MoSCoW Method for Precision

    In the fast-paced and intricate domain of forex and trading, precision in prioritizing tasks amidst a high-pressure environment is not just an advantage—it's a necessity. The MoSCoW prioritization method has been instrumental in this regard.

    This disciplined approach segments tasks into four quintessential categories: 'Must-have', 'Should-have', 'Could-have', and 'Won't-have'. It enables me to swiftly zero in on the essential tasks that are pivotal to our operations and immediate client satisfaction—the 'Must-haves'. It also aids in identifying valuable yet less time-sensitive initiatives—the 'Should-haves' and 'Could-haves'—and discerning tasks that, while potentially useful, do not align with our current strategic focus—the 'Won't-haves'.

    This methodical and pragmatic prioritization ensures optimal allocation of our team's efforts and resources towards endeavors with the greatest potential for impact, fostering not only growth but also the flexibility to respond adeptly to ever-changing market dynamics.

    Ace Zhuo
    Ace ZhuoBusiness Development Director, Tech & Finance Expert, TradingFXVPS

    Implement the Two-Minute Rule

    What I've found invaluable is the "Two-Minute Rule" from David Allen's 'Getting Things Done' (GTD) methodology. If a task can be completed in two minutes or less, I do it immediately. This simple yet effective rule helps in quickly reducing the number of smaller tasks that can otherwise clutter the to-do list, freeing up mental space to focus on more complex, high-priority items. It ensures that I'm efficiently managing my time and keeping the workflow smooth and uninterrupted.

    Pavel Khaykin
    Pavel KhaykinCEO, Pavel Buys Houses

    Plan with Reverse Calendar

    Looking at my calendar in reverse order gives me a different perspective when I'm trying to prioritize. It helps to start with your deadline and work backward, allocating specific time blocks for each task. This makes it so much easier to create a structured approach and prevent procrastination by creating a sense of urgency within a predefined time frame.

    When you work backwards, you can visualize the task better and understand how much time you really need for each deadline. It also makes it easier to plan out meetings with your team, if need be, to delegate and keep on top of your work.

    Make sure to use different colors for each task and even use both a physical calendar and a shared calendar online. I find this helps to ensure everyone is on the same page and deadlines don't get missed.

    Curtis Feather
    Curtis FeatherFounder, Franboost

    Prioritize with Energy Management

    One technique that can be effective for prioritizing tasks when everything seems urgent is the "Energy Management Method." Instead of solely focusing on urgency or importance, this method emphasizes managing your energy levels and allocating tasks accordingly. Take a moment to evaluate your current energy levels and identify times of the day when you tend to have higher or lower energy. This self-awareness will help you make informed decisions about task prioritization.

    Consider the nature of each task and its energy requirements. Some tasks may require high levels of focus and mental energy, while others can be done during periods of lower energy. Match tasks to your energy levels to optimize productivity and efficiency. Identify tasks that require high levels of focus, creativity, or problem-solving. These are the tasks that are best tackled during your peak energy periods when you can bring your A-game to the table.

    Assign tasks that are more routine, administrative, or less mentally demanding to periods of lower energy. These tasks can be done during times when you experience a natural dip in energy, such as afternoons or evenings. Incorporate regular breaks into your schedule to recharge and replenish your energy levels. Short breaks throughout the day can help maintain focus and prevent burnout. Be flexible and adjust your task allocation based on fluctuations in energy levels. If you find yourself with unexpected bursts of energy, take advantage of them by tackling more demanding tasks.

    Chris Mcguire
    Chris McguireReal Estate Investor, Real Estate Exam Ninja