Making Best Use of Your Time and Resources

Learn how to prioritize,
with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.

Prioritization is the essential skill that you need to make the very best use of your own efforts and those of your team. It's also a skill that you need to create calmness and space in your life so that you can focus your energy and attention on the things that really matter.

It's particularly important when time is limited and demands are seemingly unlimited. It helps you to allocate your time where it's most-needed and most wisely spent, freeing you and your team up from less important tasks that can be attended to later... or quietly dropped.

With good prioritization (and careful management of reprioritized tasks) you can bring order to chaos, massively reduce stress, and move towards a successful conclusion. Without it, you'll flounder around, drowning in competing demands.

Simple Prioritization

At a simple level, you can prioritize based on time constraints, on the potential profitability or benefit of the task you're facing, or on the pressure you're under to complete a job:

  • Prioritization based on project value or profitability is probably the most commonly-used and rational basis for prioritization. Whether this is based on a subjective guess at value or a sophisticated financial evaluation, it often gives the most efficient results.
  • Time constraints are important where other people are depending on you to complete a task, and particularly where this task is on the critical path of an important project. Here, a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way.
  • And it's a brave (and maybe foolish) person who resists his or her boss's pressure to complete a task, when that pressure is reasonable and legitimate.

Prioritization Tools

While these simple approaches to prioritization suit many situations, there are plenty of special cases where you'll need other prioritization and time management tools if you're going to be truly effective. We look at some of these prioritization tools below:

Paired Comparison Analysis

Paired Comparison Analysis   is most useful where decision criteria are vague, subjective or inconsistent. It helps you prioritize options by asking you to compare each item on a list with all other items on the list individually.

By deciding in each case which of the two is most important, you can consolidate results to get a prioritized list.

Decision Matrix Analysis

Decision Matrix Analysis   helps you prioritize a list of tasks where you need to take many different factors into consideration.

The Action Priority Matrix 

This quick and simple diagramming technique asks you to plot the value of the task against the effort it will consume.

By doing this you can quickly spot the "quick wins" which will give you the greatest rewards in the shortest possible time, and avoid the "hard slogs" which soak up time for little eventual reward. This is an ingenious approach for making highly efficient prioritization decisions.

See our article on the Action Priority Matrix   to find out more.

Eisenhower Urgent/Important Principle

Similar to the Action Priority Matrix, this technique asks you to think about whether tasks are urgent or important.

Frequently, seemingly urgent tasks actually aren't that important. And often, really important activities (like working towards your life goals) just aren't that urgent. This approach helps you cut through this.

See our article on Eisenhower's Urgent/Important Principle   to find out more.

The Ansoff Matrix and the Boston Matrices

These give you quick "rules of thumb" for prioritizing the opportunities open to you.

The Ansoff Matrix   helps you evaluate and prioritize opportunities by risk. The Boston Matrix   does a similar job, helping you to prioritize opportunities based on the attractiveness of a market and your ability to take advantage of it.

Pareto Analysis

Where you're facing a flurry of problems that you need to solve, Pareto Analysis   helps you identify the most important changes to make.

It firstly asks you to group together the different types of problem you face, and then asks you to count the number of cases of each type of problem. By prioritizing the most common type of problem, you can focus your efforts on resolving it. This clears time to focus on the next set of problems, and so on.

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Comments (10)
  • alicynkane wrote Over a month ago
    this is at the top of my list
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    In his book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", Dr Stephen Covey lists as one of the habits "Put First Things First". Great if you can prioritize well, Shanay.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Shanay wrote Over a month ago
    Yes prioritizing is to put things first in my life
  • Donald wrote Over a month ago
    One must prioritise most things in life
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Kaushik

    Thanks for your comment. I always feel that if a tool helps me prioritize, then it also helps me not to procrastinate.

    What is your favourite tool?

  • wrote Over a month ago
    Great article summarising key tools avaialble. Always useful to refer to this.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi RachelRoddam and Don,
    I agree with you both that taking a democratic vote can be risky at times. Ideally, you want everyone to be on board with ideas and plans, yet at a certain point decision need to be made and action taken.

    What ways do you use to get people on board?

  • dp7622 wrote Over a month ago
    I steer clear of voting too if I can. If 51% of the people are happy with the choice that means 49% aren't and that's a lot of unhappy people! With a large group you sometimes have to use some sort of democratic process but if there are other alternatives I use them.
  • RachelRoddam wrote Over a month ago
    I'd like to see a caution regarding democratic approaches; It is possible for a 'vote' to result in a choice that the group unanimously judges to be less than ideal. I think that democratic decision making processes would do well to include a step that is to review the result and check in with the group or self - are we confident that the choice is the best one?
  • JosieB wrote Over a month ago
    This is a favorite of mine too Rachel. If I don't take time to prioritize I run around like a scared rabbit zig zagging from one place to another. For the rabbit that's a good survival strategy, for the workplace it's terrible. Also, when I am clear about my priorities I find it much easier to say "no" or postpone other work because I have a defensible reason. Before I'd feel like I was perceived as slacking and now I state the facts, tell them why I can't accommodate the request, and look at finding a more appropriate time or person to do the work. It's really empowering and liberating!


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