In a time long ago, we were once burdened by a problem laid upon us by the traditional world of primitive productivity: prioritizing work.
In that world, clients shuffle their needs and new roadblocks demolish your team’s carefully orchestrated paths. The future becomes an unsolvable, tangled web of tasks, dependencies, and sleepy employees.
I say “once burdened” because if you’re already using ClickUp, you know we don’t live in that traditional world of primitive productivity.
When broken down to fundamentals, the real problem is a simple one, so there must be a simple way to solve it.
Essentially, we need to add the most value with the least effort and make our users or customers the happiest.
I’m going to lay out a few methods I like to use when prioritizing, but really, just keep that one thing in mind (at all times) – your customers.
What do they need?!? What is the fastest path to making them happy with the information you have?
Method 1: The Time Management Quadrants
Before we really dive into the nitty-gritty of how to prioritize your work, we need to establish an overall framework for where most work falls in our priorities.
One way to think about what you have to do and what you want to do is place them as a quadrant value. The quadrants range from urgent and important to not urgent and not important. Each of your tasks can easily be placed in these categories. This method was made popular by Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and has worked for lots of people.
Here’s what the quadrant looks like:
Quadrant 1: Urgent & Important
These are the things that you must do right away or soon or there will be negative consequences. These could be immediate reviews or changes that you need to do before a deadline or could have other time-sensitive implications. These are high-value activities that will yield gains for your company that also must be done right away.
- Deadline to send in deposit for event
- Sales guy doesn’t have the right file for the presentation in 30 minutes
- An embarrassing error on your social media feed
Unless you’re a trauma surgeon or something heroic like that, this isn’t where most of your work should be.
Quadrant 2: Not Urgent, But Important
Here’s the sweet spot. This is where your most productive work can occur. Tasks that fall here are what you’re building towards. These are the bricks that help you reach your long-term goals.
These aren’t immediately urgent, but help you build towards long-term success on your goals.
- Developing a new habit
- Creating a new strategy
- Working on your quarterly report (before the end of the quarter)
- Planning the budget
- Writing code for the new product feature release
- Creating a prototype and MVP
Get some meat and a helping of potatoes, because this what your daily work *should* look like. If you’re spending way too much time in quadrant one and three with emergencies, then you need to re-think, re-prioritize or find more resources to help you out.
Quadrant 3: Not Important, But Urgent
This is the most dangerous quadrant.
This is where many of us live and breathe without wanting too.
It’s easy for people to make demands of our time without realizing what exactly they’re doing.
Their problem is not necessarily your emergency. If they’re trying to find a quick fix or response for something that isn’t moving the business forward, then clear communication is hugely important.
A project management system like ClickUp helps solve this. Users set different priority levels for tasks, provide time estimates to ensure the assignee knows the scope, send reminder notifications, and relay any important information across the entire team. This helps keep work and expectations in line and helps you be a more effective team.
We have to be careful though. Our phones and communication tools are meant to distract us at every second. Notification overload is a real thing. Push notifications on our phone for social media apps make us think that something is urgent, but it’s really not–especially when it’s just your friend showing what a great time they’re having on vacation. Interesting? Maybe. Urgent? No way.
Quadrant 4: Not Important, Not Urgent
Also known as the procrastination quadrant. This is the stuff that you find yourself doing, even though it’s not important and not urgent. Basically, it’s the stuff you’re doing when you should be working.
This isn’t to say that you should never have a break or recreation or relaxation. But sometimes good things can be elevated to the ultimate thing. And you don’t want these to become that for you.
They could include things like:
- Obsessively checking Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or other social media
- Checking out your favorite news sites…again
- Shopping online
There are many great productivity apps out on the market today that can help you stay focused. One of my favorites is Forest. For every block of time that you’re productive and don’t touch your phone, a tree grows. You can even start to build a forest and share your progress with your friends. It’s a game that keeps you off your phone.
What Goes in Which Quadrant?
How do you decide? This is very straightforward and goes well in conjunction with the quadrants. They’ll help:
- Decide if it’s urgent, important or both
- Analyze the value: What is the value of this task to your organization and business? What would change and improve if you completed it or pushed it through?
- Consider time: How long will this take you to do? Is this a few minutes or multiple weeks? Several months? If you create a project plan to tackle larger-scale initiatives, then you’ll finish small tasks with an eye on the big picture.
- Think about cutting: What items on your list or project seem inconsequential? What’s inessential? If tasks or jobs can be combined, then do it.
- Think about delegating: Is there a task that’s been assigned to you, but it’s really under the purview of another team member? Or is there a colleague who is more qualified or better skilled to take it on? Understanding your limits and what can be done practically is also part of the prioritization process.
Method 2: Eat A Frog
Don’t eat a frog really.
But if the quadrants seem too serious and you’re just looking to survive each day, here’s another way of thinking about what to do.
Eat a frog.
The thinking is that if you eat a frog for breakfast then the rest of your day is a piece of cake (not really, I’m kinda mixing my metaphors there).
Fun fact: Most people attribute this idea to Mark Twain, but that’s not toad-ally(!) true. Okay, no more of that.
Here’s what I mean: Do the hardest thing first.
This one is often overlooked. Start your day or workday with that and the rest of it will be much simpler in comparison.
Personally, if exercising is what you’re dreading: do that first.
Professionally, don’t really want to respond to all those emails: do that first.
Each person develops a different system, and it’s okay to change things up over time.
Method 3: Make Your MITs
I don’t mean that you should go back to college (and a difficult one at that).
MIT = Most Important Thing.
Create a list of the three most important things you need to finish up that day, and then use the rest of the time to check off the more shallow work tasks, like your notifications and emails. Josh Kaufman at the Personal MBA has a great write-up on this.
The MITs also give you an easy excuse if your co-workers demand more attention for quadrant three things. You can tell them that you’re working on a deadline and then you’ll get back to them soon. This leaves their problem as their problem. And if it’s urgent to them, but not important overall, then they’ll find a workable solution on their own.
These tasks should be separate from your to-do list, because they should be of high value and high importance–your quadrant two ideas.
Method 4: Prioritizing With Your Project Management Software
Prioritization can be customizable and happen with your productivity software / project management software platform. ClickUp offers a multitude of tools that solve the priority problem. With these features, you’ll find prioritization a breeze for any situation:
Multiple Assignees + Assigned Comments
Big tasks are the hardest to prioritize, especially when they require collaboration from multiple members of your team.
By assigning comments to specific assignees as the group progresses, everyone knows exactly what they’re responsible for.
With task tray, you can open multiple tasks at once and then minimize them to the bottom of your screen window. You can refer back to them quickly while working on other tasks, and then close it out when finished.
Start and Due Dates
Really, all tasks with time-dependent items should be given a clarifying due date. Add a start date to focus your assignee’s attention to the task when it’s needed.
When working with clients, be sure they give you clear timeframes and set task dates to give you redundancy when possible.
Keep tasks that haven’t been approved in a “Backlog” or “Ideas” List so that your team doesn’t start working on ideas that aren’t ready for their expertise.
When a task is ready for your team, move it into an “active” List.
Yes, I know it’s obvious, but dependencies let you to plan out your tasks by setting which must be completed first.
Say you’re completing a blog post. You have a Space for your designers which is separate from your content Space. You know your blog post needs to be conceptualized before your designers can start creating images. No problem! Create tasks in both Spaces but make the image tasks dependent on the status of the blog post task. That way, your designers know not to start until the main blog post task has reached a status like “Draft Review.”
Take this one step further by setting up an entire group of tasks that need to bounce off each other before progressing. ClickUp allows multiple layers of dependency.
This way your team knows what they should and shouldn’t be working on at any given time!
Add time estimates to tasks so your assignees know the scale of a task. Giving them an estimate of 10 minutes on a task that seems lengthy let’s them know that they can take shortcuts or alert other members if the task is taking them too long.
ClickUp is also bringing machine learning into the platform to predict when (and by how much) your Time Estimates will be off. This way you can accurately prioritize tasks without relying on your intuition (unless you’re just that good).
Don’t read on just yet! This one seems too simple, but combine priorities with our advanced filtering and sorting to dive down into what is absolutely the most important.
Save filters that let you see what’s most important and share them with your team so they know what exactly you’re looking at.
View all tasks in all Spaces in List View and sort by priority AND due date to see what’s the absolute top priority task at any given time.
See, there is hope! You can prioritize your work!
This is so simple anyone can do it. And they should. You just have to teach them (and yourself)!
If your team knows how to think about what’s most important to your customers and prioritize well, they will be able to step back at a roadblock and critically determine how to best proceed. Then all you need to do is teach them communication so that they can explain to you why they made the decision they did. My bet is that if they’re thinking like the customer, you’re going to agree with their decision.
Think about how much easier your life just became by prioritizing. Ahhh, it’s time for a change.