How to prioritize tasks in 4 steps (and get work done)

Molly Talbert contributor headshotMolly TalbertJuly 18th, 20226 min read
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Summary

Tired of your never-ending task list and watching your priorities get pushed to the side? Learn how to create a task list, choose a prioritization strategy, schedule your tasks, and communicate with your team to increase productivity and get things done.

If you’re like most people, you usually start your workday with the intention of being as productive as possible. Yet, as the day rolls on, you find yourself fielding multiple urgent requests and watching your task list grow. What you initially set out to accomplish seems to get pushed to the side.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Without a process for prioritizing tasks at work, it always feels like we’re playing catch-up. However, there are four steps you can take to increase your productivity, meet your deadlines, and better manage your time:

  1. Create a task list  

  2. Choose a prioritization method to organize your tasks 

  3. Schedule your tasks in a calendar 

  4. Communicate your progress to your teammates

Take a look at our tips below and use these steps to help you prioritize your daily tasks at work.

1. Create a task list

You can’t decide how to prioritize tasks if you don’t have a single view of everything you need to get done in the first place. This may seem rudimentary, but it’s something that’s often skipped in the rush to dive into projects. Instead, take the time to list out what you need to work on across all of your projects. Be sure to break down bigger tasks into subtasks to feel less overwhelmed.

Once your tasks are aggregated and listed, add additional information, such as:

  • The amount of time each will take to complete 

  • Level of importance or urgency

  • Due date 

With all of your tasks in one place, you’ll be able to see an overall view of what needs to be done, get a sense of how much work you’re dealing with for time management purposes, and what most likely needs your attention now.

Don’t worry about organizing your tasks quite yet; just get them all in the same spot to start. Creating a master list of tasks is a crucial first step, because if you can organize yourself at the beginning of a project or quarter, it is much easier to stay organized for a longer period of time.

Asana tip: My Tasks is a feature of Asana that automatically aggregates all the tasks assigned to you in a single view. It serves as the master checklist that keeps you focused on the right pieces of work and allows you to organize and prioritize tasks based on due date.

Build to-do lists with Asana

2. Adopt a task prioritization method

How you ultimately prioritize your tasks will depend on the nature of your job and your personal work style, but there are common task prioritization methods that might work for you. Let’s take a look at a few effective methods for prioritizing tasks. 

[inline illustration] Task prioritization methods (infographic)

Eat the frog

The eat the frog method is not a literal suggestion, but rather a system based on a quote from the ever-wise Mark Twain. He said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” In the world of project management, that translates to tackling big or complex tasks first before moving on to less important or time-sensitive tasks.

Important tasks that serve the highest purpose and are tied to top-level objectives or OKRs should be first on the priority list when you start your day. Once you’ve eaten your frog for the day, you can slot in other tasks based on factors such as deadlines and feel less stress, since your most important work is already done.

Read: How to set OKRs

Eat the frog in action: Finish up that big presentation you’ll be making to the management team at the end of the week before you reply to emails, work on your review form, call clients, or iron out contract revisions. By diving into a big project before doing anything else, you won’t lose focus or get distracted by random tasks or questions, and you’ll be able to knock a big piece of work out more easily.

Eisenhower Decision Matrix

Another prioritization technique, the Eisenhower Decision Matrix or Urgent-Important Matrix, starts by organizing tasks into four quadrants, based on whether they are:

  • Important

  • Urgent

  • Important and urgent

  • Neither

As a five-star general during World War II and then President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower was adept at making important decisions quickly, and came up with this method to help him.

This approach helps you decide:

  • What to do now (important and urgent)

  • What you need to plan for (important but not urgent)

  • What you may be able to delegate (not important but urgent)

  • What you can possibly delete (not important and not urgent) 

It is a great tool for prioritizing tasks, making decisions quickly, and staying organized.

Eisenhower Decision Matrix in action: A colleague has just sent you an email asking for help with a sales presentation. This request is urgent because it has to be done today, but is it important enough (to you) to postpone other work? 

Measure each of the tasks on your own daily list for importance and urgency to decide whether you can shift tasks to help your colleague, or if it needs to be deferred to later. Knowing your commitments also helps you say “no” when you need to.

Create an Eisenhower matrix template

ABCDE method

The ABCDE method is comparable to giving grades to your tasks, from A (very important) down to E (eliminate whenever possible). 

To use the ABCDE method: 

  • Take that task list you’ve created

  • Assign each task a letter value according to its level of importance, with A tasks being top priority and E tasks being low priority  

  • Tackle tasks accordingly 

This method offers a way to quickly weigh task importance to help you identify your highest-priority tasks. Make sure you’re always working on your A and B tasks first, because those are the ones that will make or break your success at work.

The ABCDE method also works well when combined with eat the frog. If you start your day off with your A and B tasks, then you can spend the rest of your day on tasks of lower importance, like C, D, and E.

ABCDE in action: You have eight working hours available today, but fifteen hours’ worth of tasks on your list. When you give each task a letter, only two qualify as A tasks, and most are D tasks that you can delegate or reschedule. Now you know to focus only on those A tasks, and leave the D tasks until later or pass off to another team member. You’ve just gone from being overwhelmed to having a prioritized task list that focuses on the must-do items of the day.

Chunking

For the chunking method, a chunk is defined as a focused work activity. It can be self-contained (emptying your inbox), a slice of a larger project (completing the first draft of a document), or a collection of small, unrelated tasks. Your key here is to make these chunks focused, uninterrupted blocks of time.

Turn off outside distractions and signal to others that you are unavailable by:

  • Taking advantage of features on collaboration tools like Do Not Disturb 

  • Blocking out time on your calendar for deep focus

  • Implementing a No-Meeting Wednesday policy for yourself and your team if you’re able to

Don’t forget to take breaks in between chunks to relax and refresh.

Chunking in action: You might start your day with one hour of design work followed by a coffee break. Then, two hours of scheduled meetings, lunch, and 30 minutes of email response time. Next, you move on to one hour of research for a new project.  

You note all of your activities in your calendar to hold yourself accountable and ensure no one schedules over your plan. You end your day by taking a short social media break, head to the team update meeting, and then finish with a final hour of design work.

Asana tip: If you’re using Asana to manage your tasks, you can create custom fields to add additional information, such as a letter grade (if you’re using the ABCDE method), urgency and importance (if you’re using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix), priority level (if you’re going with eat the frog), or estimates on how long it will take to complete.

3. Use a calendar tool to schedule your tasks

Whether a task takes you minutes or weeks to complete, it always has a beginning and an end. So, once you have your list, add a start and an end date to each task. Doing this will make sure nothing falls through the cracks as new things come up and priorities need to shift.

[inline illustration] Benefits of using a calendar to schedule tasks (infographic)

If a task is assigned to you without clear start or end dates, be sure to ask for that information so you can schedule a time to work on it and set expectations. Once you know these dates, you might want to set your personal end date even earlier to account for unexpected issues or to turn in work early. Think of your work as a puzzle: You need to know the pieces will fit together, and start and end dates are the edges of those puzzle pieces.

To continue the metaphor, if tasks are puzzle pieces, with start and end dates noting their edges, then your calendar is the puzzle board where you assemble the bigger picture. 

Use a calendar tool to:

  • Balance high-effort and high-priority tasks

  • Make sure you meet deadlines

  • Prevent scheduling conflicts

  • Manage your workload

  • Preserve work-life balance

If you’re adopting one of the prioritization methods above—or a combination of your favorites—use that framework to help fill your schedule and manage time.

Asana tip: Using the Calendar View in Asana, you’ll be able to spot days when you might be overloaded and also see open blocks of time. Take advantage of this view to shift tasks and spread your work out more evenly. When you proactively manage your calendar, you can stay organized and start each day knowing exactly what important tasks need to be accomplished.

Visualize team calendars with Asana

4. Communicate task progress with your teammates

Finally, don’t forget to loop in teammates who may be waiting on you to complete a task or vying for some of your time. 

Cut down on the amount of requests you receive by proactively giving teammates status updates on:  

  • Task progress

  • When you plan to complete a project 

  • Any delays or blockers that come up

Instead of constantly responding to requests, you can keep doing your work productively and efficiently.

Asana tip: Asana’s task comments feature lets you share updates and ask follow-up questions directly on a task to keep communication connected with the actual work you’re doing. Or, you can use status updates within a project to notify every stakeholder of your progress on a specific project, not just a task.

Prioritized work is productive work

When you clearly prioritize your work, you can increase productivity, better manage your time, and feel confident that you’ll hit your deadlines—every time. 

Boost your productivity by using a work management tool, like Asana, to organize and manage all of your tasks—no matter how big or small—in one place.

Manage and prioritize tasks with Asana

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