In this crazy busy world you may find yourself spinning from one task to another, ticking things off a mental to do list as you go. Juggling priorities and conflicting agendas has become part of the challenge of managing a successful professional (and personal) life in the 21st century.

In my career, I have found that one of the most effective life skills I apply every day is the ability to set priorities. 

Being able to correctly prioritise business and personal tasks, projects, deadlines and events all contribute to good time management. Setting appropriate priorities helps reduce stress and also prevents you from feeling overwhelmed. Most importantly, it ensures you are spending time on the things that matter.

So what is prioritisation?


The Collins dictionary defines it as:

the act of arranging items to be attended to in order of their relative importance

Here are my tips for effective prioritisation in the workplace.

1. Create the Head-Space to set Priorities

Don’t launch straight into your e-mails or spend the whole commute on your smartphone or device. 

Focus on spending some conscious and active time thinking about what is the most important item in your day.
– Is it a client meeting? 
– Is it building relationships? 
– Is it solving a problem? 
– Is it dealing with a staffing issue? 

Decide clearly the best value use of your time and skills. Decide now whether items are very important and vital for you to do, or just ordinarily important and can be done in due course. 

2. The To Do List

I am a firm believer in using the first and last 10 minutes of every day to plan and review your day. This might include preparing for meetings or calls, deciding on the most important item on your do list or planning out your day. 

Take time to review your to do list considering:
– Does everything on it absolutely need to be completed by you? 
– Is there anything that can be culled? 
– Outsourced? 
– Delegated?

The business author and speaker on Innovation Paul Sloane is famously quoted as saying  “Only do what Only You can do”. That way you will be getting the best value out of your time.

3. Schedule Time to get Things Done

This may require blocking time out in your calendar when you are not available for meetings, it may mean locking yourself in a quiet room away from distractions or it may mean letting the phone go to voicemail while you focus on a single task. I schedule and colour code my calendar for my priorities and this gives me a great visual snapshot of each week.

4. Be Self Aware

Ask yourself do you have a tendency towards procrastination? Is there an item on your to do list that feels overwhelming and too hard? Can you break it down into a number of smaller tasks? 

A number of time management experts including Brian Tracey in his book  “Eat That Frog”  recommend spending the beginning of your day completing the nastiest item on your to do list. The book gets its unusual name from a saying by Mark Twain “if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you have got it behind you for the rest of the day, and nothing else looks so bad”. 

Self–Awareness also involves reviewing your priorities constantly and ensuring you are applying your values authentically to your decision making process. I often ask myself ‘is this the best use of my time right now’?

5. Information gathering

Do you have all the necessary data to set a priority? Do you know any deadlines, milestones stakeholders, relevant history or supply chain issues. Have you completed this task before? Has it been done by someone else before? If you know exactly what you are in for, you will be able to make an informed decision and determine the time or even resources required to allocate to it. Do you understand any relevant agendas or company goals the item is contributing to?

6. Share your priorities 

Particularly when you are not at the top of the food chain, part of the delicate balance of prioritising important tasks requires managing expectations. If you set out clearly the area you are focussing on, no-one will be surprised when it is completed first. This also then gives stakeholders a chance to express an opinion or to provide further relevant information. 

7. Most Importantly Do Not forget to Prioritise Life!  

More on this in blog posts to come…..

Please tell us in the comments below, how you go about setting priorities in your workplace?

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