Effective prioritisation of tasks and efficient management of your workload are among the most critical skills you need to learn throughout your career. Professionals who achieve the highest levels of success are able to juggle tasks, manage urgent requests within appropriate timeframes and stay abreast of competing deadlines and demands.
This can be a complex challenge that most people may struggle to achieve. But successful time management is within your grasp. There are many techniques, tools and personal habits that can be utilised to ensure you flourish.
Techniques to prioritise tasks
There are many different ways to prioritise the tasks you must complete for professional success. A combination of some or all of these 10 different techniques can help you complete your work on schedule.
1) Planning sessions
One of the most critical techniques to ensure you stay on top of your workflow and tasks is to set aside regular times to plan and sort through your tasks. This may involve yourself alone or with a team of colleagues.
Depending on the nature of your work and the speed of your tasks, this could be daily, weekly or fortnightly sessions and could take as little as five minutes or an hour. The important factor is that you stick to these sessions to keep yourself accountable and ensure you are aware of the work you have coming up. The mental breathing room will also ensure you can quickly identify if you have too many competing demands and can alert clients or seek help ahead of time.
During these sessions, you should note down all the projects you are involved in and identify what work must be done over the next period to achieve these goals. You can also note down a wish list of tasks that you would like to do for longer-term plans, including personal career development or goals.
Do not rely solely on memory. Tasks build up and for this reason a list is a powerful tool. Using the information you have learned during your planning sessions, you should write down all the work that you have to do for the next week in a long bullet point list. For instance, if during the planning session you found out you needed to write a webpage your task list may include
Using this list, you should then be able to identify what needs to be done immediately to allow other tasks to be completed successfully. Feedback from your clients or employer and your own experience should enable you to determine what is an urgent task. But if you’re unsure, get out your red pen and go through your list item by item and rank the task in terms of when you think it needs to be completed.
3) Diaries and calendars
To assist with prioritising tasks, many people turn to diaries, calendars and charts to track their workflow. This can be digital or written depending on your preference. Diaries can give you a day, week or monthly view and your selection should depend on the nature of your tasks and the detail you need to include to stay on track.
Using your to-do list, you should work through which tasks need to be completed by which date and log this into your own calendar along with an amount of time for you to finish the task. Build in additional time in case your carefully laid plans don’t stick to your expected timeframes.
Some people are more productive at different times of the day so it’s important to consider your own work style and personality when determining when to prioritise your most demanding tasks.
One of the most detailed options to track work tasks is a Gantt Chart, which is a bar chart style approach to scheduling that tracks tasks by the length of time it takes to complete them and shows the dependencies between tasks. For those with complex workloads, this can be a worthwhile effort.
Visual reminders are powerful psychologically and help to keep you on track with your time management. Remember though, there’s only so much anyone can get through in one day but a clear-eyed view of your task list is critical to ensuring you are as productive as you can be.
5) Alarms and notifications
Deadlines are firm dates and times when you must complete work by and this provides you structure for your diaries and tasks. But to ensure you do not miss these important timings, setting up alarms and notifications can be helpful.
This can include automatic emails and reminders to yourself that notify you of upcoming due dates. You should set these a little before the time the work is due to give yourself time to manage anything you were not expecting.
Digital tools for managing your workload
There are a range of tools available to ensure you can manage your workload effectively. You can use paper-based solutions, including physically writing lists and putting sticky notes on files to visibly remind yourself of work that is due, but increasingly the most productive workers are moving to using digital solutions that they can access and safely store across devices and work locations.
These technology-based answers to your workload could be as simple as a spreadsheet, such as Excel or a Google Sheet, to track tasks and deadlines. A word document or notepad can also be a simple way to follow a list and calendars seamlessly work between devices.
However, there are sophisticated applications for smartphones and tablets, and software for computers and laptops that could be considered for those seeking more specific solutions.
You could use any of the following free and paid software and apps to help you:
1) Monday.com – A digital board with pre-set templates to allow individuals and teams to collaborate on workflows in a highly visual and intuitive format.
2) Evernote – This note-taking and task management application bills itself as a “digital filing cabinet” allowing you to store plans, information and rich media across devices.
3) Google Tasks – If you’re a user of Google products, Google Tasks integrates with Gmail and Google Calendar to help you stay on top of tasks.
4) Trello – Project management for teams, this service allows you to keep a close eye on deadlines, feedback and completed projects.
5) BaseCamp – Whether it’s a complicated work project or a holiday, this software is designed to help you create and stick to a schedule.
Your choice of tools will depend on the brand of phone or computer you are using, your personal preferences and your team’s needs.