When we want to prioritize consciously and more systematically rather than just randomly, it is good to know what goals we are responsible for attaining in our business or organization.
The to-do-tasks which contribute to the attainment of these goals are more important than those which do not. Hence, the more we work with tasks that benefit accomplishing our goals, the easier we will reach them.
If the goals are formulated in a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) way it will be even easier to see what tasks that are relevant to achieving them, than if the goals are ambiguously defined.
Many people work towards meeting deadlines or due dates on a regular basis. Could a deadline be considered a SMART goal when we are setting our priorities? It is specific since we know when something is supposed to be done, it is measurable since we will know that either something is completed or it is not, it is time-bound since we know when we need to have completed the task. How attainable and realistic it is, well, that is in the eye of the beholder.
No, it will not suffice
If you are familiar with the classic method for prioritization called the Urgent/Important-matrix, you will know that prioritizing something is based on a combination of how urgent and how important (meaning, to what degree it contributes to attaining your goals) a task is. If we were to regard a deadline as a clear and adequate goal, then all tasks which contribute to us meeting that deadline would be considered important - regardless what the deadline concerns.
This is precisely why a deadline or due date do not constitute an adequate goal when we are about to set our priorities, so we need to complement it with an evaluation of how important the task due actually is. A deadline in itself is only half of what we need to know to determine if something is actually urgent, and the other thing we need to know is the estimated time we need to complete the task.
Hence, refine your deadlines.
If you have goals which are actually deadlines, take a look at them and determine what ”weight” they have, meaning, how important they really are. You can for instance check them against the goals you are responsible for in the organization or business which are not deadlines (but perhaps rather customer satisfaction, profitability, quality, turnover or something else) and grade them and the the tasks which need to be completed before the deadline on a scale from one to three rating how important they are, that is, how much they actually contribute to attaining your goals.
If you want to, you could mark or tag the tasks by how important they are so that it is easier to make an accurate prioritization if the tasks would later also become urgent.
If you do not have any other more personal goals, then let the business’ or your department’s general goals guide you. If you are unaware of what these are, ask you boss, which I especially recommend you do if you tend to sometimes have too many tasks which are urgent simultaneously and you find it difficult to prioritize amongst them. You will feel better by then being able to say ”no” or ”yes, but later” to certain urgent tasks without getting a bad conscience about doing so.
Make decisions faster when you have a lot on your plate
If you spice up your deadlines with how important they are, it will become much easier to set accurate priorities when things are hectic and intense. It will be clear to you what you should put aside for now, and you will be able to finish the task with the highest priority wholeheartedly before deadline without getting a bad conscience.
What is your way?
How do you prioritize amongst several tasks which are due at the same time? Feel free to leave a comment.