Prioritizing - Best Practice
Once you create your master project list, you will have a clear picture of all the ways you could be spending your time; now you have to choose how to actually spend it.
Remember that you can do almost anything, but you cannot do everything. Whenever you start a task, you are automatically giving up everything else you could have done during that time.
The best practice of prioritizing means taking conscious control of your choices and choosing to spend more time on the projects and tasks that are important and valuable, and less time on the ones that are not as important or valuable.
This may sound obvious, but the fact is that the vast majority of people don’t put much thought on how they spend their time.
They just flow through life going wherever the current will take them, doing whatever grabs their attention next or repeating the same things day after day out of habit and routine.
In 1895, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered what is now commonly called the Pareto Principle or the “80/20” rule. While studying the economy of his town, he discovered that 80 percent of the wealth was owned by only 20 percent of the population.
While there are exceptions, his principle does seem to apply to all sorts of groups including your projects and tasks: 80 percent of the value is contained in only 20 percent of the items. If you have fifty tasks spread over the various projects you are actively working on, ten of them will likely be more valuable to you right now than all the others combined.
The key to effective prioritization is to apply the 80/20 rule and discover the 20 to 30 percent of your projects and tasks that will give you the most value and the greatest returns on your effort.
One system for prioritizing your projects and tasks is the ABCD method. With this method, you go through each item in your list and assign it one of four labels:
A – The A's are assigned to projects and tasks that are important or valuable, or that are important and need to be completed right away because of an impending deadline.
B – The B's are assigned to projects and tasks that are “under review” because they are not as important as any of the A’s, but they are still worth considering. You may need/want to do them at some future point, but you haven’t committed to them just yet.
C – The C's are assigned to projects and tasks that you may want to do at some future time, but you are not even considering doing them right now because they are not important or valuable enough compared to everything else on your plate.
D – The D's are assigned to projects and tasks that you are not planning to do. They are not worth your time and energy.
It may seem strange to leave the D projects and tasks in your lists, but if they made it there it’s because at some point you thought you might need or want to do them.
Rather than lose track of them, just keep these items in your list in case they pop up again or you change your mind and decide that you would like to do some of them.
Once you’ve labeled all your projects and tasks, focus on the A's and assign individual priority rank values to the top five to ten items: A1 for the most important, A2 for the next most important, and so on.
You can usually tell which of two items is more important by asking yourself “If I could only complete one of these but not both, which one would I choose?” Your choice represents the more important task. If you think two tasks are equally important, just assign the same priority value to both of them.
If you have more than ten items at any given level, you don't have to assign rank numbers to all of them. Just rank the top five to ten items and leave the others with their general labels (A, B, etc.) When you complete all your ranked tasks, you can choose the next five to ten most important items and rank them appropriately.
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Urgency and Importance
You need to consider both the short‑term urgency and long‑term importance when assigning priorities to your projects and tasks.
Some examples of projects with long‑term importance are: completing a product for a major customer, planning and preparation, hiring a project lead, maintaining a good relationship with your customers, spending quality time with your family, regular exercise, and keeping your finances in order.
Some examples of projects with short‑term urgency are: completing a document before the product ship deadline, answering your phone, responding to a colleague’s email, traveling to visit a customer, or talking to a drop-in visitor at the door.
In prioritizing, it is critical to distinguish between the importance and urgency of projects and tasks because important things are not always urgent and urgent things are not always important.
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