Prioritization is a vital part of life. Whether we know it or not, we’re all prioritizing all the time. It’s often a subconscious or circumstantial decision – what we’re browsing on the Internet, the next email we send, the chores that pile up every day.
If you’re in business, prioritization is even more critical to your success – it’s important to do things in the right order. A well organized task list will help you get on top of your work, give you confidence, and help you make the right decisions to grow your business.
The traditional approach
Many guides to productivity will tell you to go through each of your tasks and decide the following:
- Urgency – How quickly does the task need to be done?
- Importance – How important is the task?
You then combine urgency and importance to assign the right priority and order your tasks that way. This approach can work – unfortunately, when you’ve got a list of 100 – 200 tasks, it’s very difficult to treat each of them objectively. Instead, we become overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” we have to do, defeating the whole point of prioritizing.
An easier solution
There is an easier solution, although it does require some setup work and discipline from you. Instead of adding an urgency and importance to each task, we’re going to focus on them according to how they could impact on or enhance your business.
Step 1 – Make a list of everything you have to do.
List all of the tasks you can think of, whether they are for your business or personal life. Spend time thinking of all the things you need to do so you can capture them:
- Go through all of the areas of your business – projects, admin tasks, product / service development, marketing, employment, finances, and more.
- Explore the areas of your personal life and capture tasks – family, house, chores, car, etc.
Step 2 – Capture all of your tasks.
The secret of good productivity and prioritization is capturing all of your tasks in the right system. There are lots of apps out there that can help you with this including Wunderlist, Todoist, Things, Remember The Milk, Toodledo, and my favorite, Trello. All of the apps are easy to use, so try them out to see if they fit with your working style.
Of course, some people prefer pen and paper – if that works for you, that’s great. You’re just looking for an easy way to capture, sort, and work on your tasks.
Go through your list and enter all of your tasks into the system you’ve chosen.
Step 3 – Sort your tasks into personal and work.
Once you’ve entered your tasks, use your system to sort them into personal tasks and work tasks. For the rest of this guide, we’re only going to look at the work tasks.
Step 4 – Group your work tasks into four areas.
Go through your work task list and assign your tasks to one of the following four areas.
- Tasks that can make you money (or problems that will stop you making money) right now. This might include:
- Invoicing and payments
- Customer service
- Distribution and logistics
- Your Website and how people use it
- The conversion funnel – how people move from potential customers into spending money
- Any other areas that affect your income in the next day to the next week
- Tasks that will make you money in the near future. This might include:
- Marketing and advertising
- Product design, development and improvement
- Customer relationship management
- Automating parts of your business
- Any other areas that will affect your income over the next week to the next six months
- Tasks that will help you avoid issues and problems in the near future. This might include:
- Financial management and payroll
- Taxes and regulations
- Any other areas that could impact you in the next week to the next six months
- Tasks for everything else
Step 5 – Go through each of the areas and give each of them a priority.
Now you’ve sorted your task lists, it’s much easier to see them in context to all of the other tasks you have in that area. Go through each one and give it a priority for the area it’s in. Prioritize as follows:
- High priority – I need to deal with this as soon as I can.
- Medium priority – I need to work on this in the next week or two.
- Low priority – This can probably wait a month.
Step 6 – Manage your list.
Managing your task list is an ongoing process that needs your attention. Every week:
- Mark off any tasks you’ve completed
- Add any new tasks you need to do
- Move the tasks into the right areas
- Prioritize them
- Move existing tasks to other areas if needed
- Reprioritize existing tasks if needed
It does take time and discipline to manage your list, but it’s worth it as it gives you the confidence that you’ve got everything under control.
Working on tasks
Now you know everything you need to do, it’s time to do them. Every morning, you’re going to decide what you “must” do today. Pick one high priority task from the first area – tasks that can make you money right now. Write it down as your “must do” item of the day.
Then, go through and pick up to three more tasks. You can do this in any combination you like, although most people choose high priority tasks from areas two and three.
Work on your “must do” task, focus on it, and get it done. When you’ve finished, move onto the other tasks on your list. If you’re not able to complete them, that’s fine, just put them back on your list for the next day.
Once you’ve completed your high priority tasks in each area, move onto your medium priority tasks.
By chunking up your time like this and working on what really matters, you’ll soon get a good sense of control and confidence. This will translate into more energy you can use to complete other tasks.
Most of this guide has focused on setting up and managing your task list, and that’s deliberate. Running a business with efficiency and expertise means that capturing tasks and prioritization is as important as doing the tasks themselves. If you can get into the habit of managing and updating your task list, you can make the right decisions and carry out the right actions to help your business grow.