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Prioritization Skills

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

James Manktelow: Hello. I'm James Manktelow, CEO of MindTools.com, home to hundreds of free career-boosting tools and resources.

Amy Carlson: And I'm Amy Carlson from Mind Tools.

Do you prioritize your time effectively?

Most of us would love to say yes to this. But the reality is that many of us don't make the best use of our time and resources.

There are little emergencies we have to tend to during the day, colleagues who unexpectedly need our help, and last-minute projects that crop up out of nowhere.

Before we know it, we've spent all day working, and yet we haven't accomplished anything that we set out to do.

JM: Knowing how to prioritize your tasks, and your time, is the best way to stay on track with your commitments. It also helps keeps stress at bay.

When you're trying to prioritize your day, there are always going to be several factors that you need to consider.

These might include the time you actually have available – the needs of your boss, clients, or team members – and, how urgent a task is.

Most people start prioritizing based on a task's urgency – they focus on the most urgent tasks first, and do other tasks when these are complete.

Although this is an easy way to start prioritizing, the reality is that things are often more complicated.

So, using other, more specific prioritization tools can make more sense.

AC: One of these tools is the Action Priority Matrix . This lets you analyze the value of a task, compared to the effort it will take to complete it.

This helps you identify whether tasks are quick wins, major projects, fill-ins, or thankless tasks.

From there, you can see which tasks and projects will give you the best return for your efforts.

And you can see which tasks you should delegate, or save for a day when you have plenty of time to work on them.

JM: Another useful prioritization tool is Pareto Analysis .

This tool uses the Pareto Principle – also known as the 80/20 rule – which is the idea that 20 percent of your effort generates 80 percent of results.

You can use the tool to identify the highest-value problems to solve, thereby making the biggest possible impact on the situation.

AC: Prioritization can also be a challenge when you're working in a group, because everyone wants to have a say in what's most important.

In this case, you can use the Nominal Group Technique to prioritize tasks.

This tool helps everyone in a group state the priorities that they think are most important. They then score these based on that importance. You then add up everyone's scores to identify the group's top priorities.

This tool is really useful because not only does it help a group reach consensus – it's also really fair, so no one will feel like they haven't had any input.

JM: Knowing how to prioritize your tasks, and your time, is an essential skill, because all of us have demands on our time and attention.

Not knowing how to prioritize those demands means that you'll likely spend your days on a treadmill, working hard, but not feeling that you've achieved anything.

You can find out more about these tools, as well as many more prioritization tools and resources, in the article that accompanies this video.

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Comments (4)
  • Over a month ago Midgie wrote
    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?

    Midgie
  • Over a month ago dp7622 wrote
    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.
  • Over a month ago RachelRoddam wrote
    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?
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