Our to-do lists set us off in the right direction every day, enabling us to focus on and prioritize our tasks. However, when we find our to-do lists stretching on and on — as if they have no end, moments of feeling overwhelmed by our workload can get the best of us.
The truth is, each day brings new tasks to accomplish. Every task or project we agree to take on comes with several responsibilities and a looming deadline. Before we realize it, we can barely keep up.
Focus is directed attention. It is a thinking skill that enables us to start a task, overcome procrastination, and maintain our attention and effort until the job is done. Without focus, distractions can overtake us and our ability to think will suffer, compromising our productivity and the quality of our output.
Distractions come from several culprits. From our smartphones and the internet to emails and trivial conversations, distractions surround us. It is difficult to focus when we live in a world that constantly bombards us with products, services, news, ideas, opinions, and other things that desperately aim to capture our attention. Nevertheless, our ability to focus is like a muscle we can exercise to strengthen. We need to train ourselves to focus constantly, setting aside distractions until we complete our tasks.
Our struggle to focus is a result of our struggle to prioritize. When we know our priorities, we can attend to our tasks better.
When your priorities pile up, you need to implement a system or method to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. We have listed several action plans to help you prioritize better and be in control of your tasks.
Mindfulness is the ability to achieve a state of awareness. It helps us be present and aware. To be able to prioritize effectively, you need to be intentional with your work — and you become more intentional when you are mindful.
Mindfulness does not necessarily mean you need to stop thinking and empty your mind. It means, practicing the ability to pay close attention to your physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, and actions — to yourself. It allows you to improve your focus by becoming more intentional.
When you practice mindfulness, you train your mind to know the tasks that matter the most. Moreover, aside from strengthening your ability to focus and prioritize, mindfulness also improves your health and well-being, decreasing your anxiety and stress when work is overwhelming.
Apply prioritization techniques
Prioritizing tasks is harder if you do not implement a system to aid you in understanding and approaching each task. By adapting prioritization strategies, you can determine the importance and urgency of each task, ensuring that every task you tackle delivers value. Such strategies keep your to-do list uncluttered.
Applying prioritization techniques enables you to become proactive instead of reactive and results in better management of work, increased productivity, and quality output on time.
Learn some of the most popular prioritization methods you can apply.
MoSCoW Prioritization Technique
The MoSCoW Prioritization technique, or simply MoSCoW, has nothing to do with the capital and most heavily populated city of Russia. It is an acronym that stands for Must, Should, Could, Won’t. The o’s do not stand for anything and only make the acronym pronounceable.
You can use the MoSCoW framework to determine and decide which tasks to complete first.
MoSCoW segregates tasks into four groups:
- Must (Must-have) — This group contains mandatory and non-negotiable tasks. Failure to complete any of the tasks under this category is damaging to the project.
- Should (Should-have) — This group contains critical yet not time-sensitive tasks. It includes tasks that are semi-important but not vital. Without them, the project can still work.
- Could (Could-have) — This group contains tasks that have a much smaller impact on the project if left out. Tasks under this category are the first ones to be deprioritized when must-have and should-have tasks need more work and attention.
- Won’t (Won’t have) — This group contains tasks that are of the lowest importance; those that you can omit and won’t have an impact. Some tasks under this category may be part of the latter part of the project or not at all.
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The use of MoSCoW results in a clear sense of priorities and direction. For projects or tasks that have multiple collaborators, everyone involved should be able to get a full view of the requirements to gain a shared sense of responsibility.
The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a prioritization tool that guides you in determining the most important and urgent activities. It is a simple decision-making method.
Tasks will fall into four quadrants in the Eisenhower Matrix: Urgent and Important, Not Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important, and Not Urgent and Not Important.
- Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important (Do) — This group contains tasks that demand you to take action quickly and require a crisis-mode action.
- Quadrant 2: Not Urgent and Important (Decide) — This group contains tasks that are of medium priority. Since it includes tasks that are important but not necessarily urgent, you can schedule the tasks for another time.
- Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not important (Delegate) — This group contains tasks based on expectations set by others and do not necessarily affect your long-term goals. It includes tasks that are of little importance to you; hence, tasks you can delegate to someone else.
- Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important (Delete) — This group contains time-wasting activities you can ruthlessly remove and discontinue. Typically, it contains day-to-day activities that take over large chunks of time, but do not contribute to your productivity.
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The ABCDE Method is easy as it sounds. You just need to understand the level of importance of each of your tasks. You will assign each task to a letter, depending on its significance.
You will need to label and break down your tasks into five categories: A, B, C, D, and E.
- A — This group contains your most important tasks that will result in serious, negative consequences if you fail to do them. While it has tasks you are more likely to ignore, completing each task yields benefits.
- B — This group contains tasks that are less important than your tasks in group A. Nevertheless, failure to do tasks under this category has minor, negative consequences.
- C — This group contains tasks that are nice to do, but do not have any consequences if you do not complete them. Since tasks in this category are neither urgent nor necessarily important, they do not contribute towards your goals.
- D — This group contains tasks that you should delegate to free up time to complete tasks in group A.
- E — This group contains irrelevant tasks that you can eliminate from your to-do list.
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The ABCDE Method is also useful to separate tasks with a similar priority level. For every category, you can further break down tasks by number (A1, A2, A3) for a more fine-grained approach.
Utilize digital tools
Reinforce the way you prioritize your tasks by adopting digital solutions. Moreover, utilizing technology promotes productivity, fine-tunes the way you tackle your tasks, and enables you to finish top-priority tasks faster.
For tasks that require you to interact and collaborate with other people constantly, you can use communication tools. Communication tools enable you to coordinate and talk freely when the need arises. Two of the most used communication applications right now are:
- Slack — Slack offers chat and call capabilities and integrates with popular productivity applications.
- Zoom — If you prefer video conferencing services, Zoom is ideal. It can also accommodate virtual meetings, webinars, and online classes.
Project management applications are digital tools that empower you to stay on top of your tasks and deadlines. Whether short or long-term projects and one-time, sporadic, or lengthy tasks, these tools allow users to manage each task with diligence. Hit deadlines by utilizing project management applications:
- Asana — Asana is a project management software that lets you plot in a Gantt-inspired chart your projects and tasks. Its ability to generate detailed progress reports is one of its esteemed functions.
- Trello — Trello uses boards, lists, and cards for tasks to help users stay organized. It is useful for small projects and few tasks.
If your tasks regularly involve collaboration and paperwork, integrating a web-based document management application into your processes is beneficial. Document management tools allow you to keep track of the progress of paperwork you need to complete. Some of the available document management tools in the market are:
- PDFRun — Aside from its PDF editor, electronic signature solutions, and library of fillable documents, PDFRun is a document management tool that lets users upload, store, and share their documents. It also streamlines and automates documentation and signature workflows.
- Dropbox Paper — Dropbox Paper is for creative work. It is a document creation and editing software that lets users create., collaborate, and coordinate in one place.
Properly prioritizing your tasks results in unhurried and stress-free workdays. Nevertheless, remember to be realistic about the work you can do each day, considering potential interruptions that may come up. Also, do not forget to track your progress for each task.