Prioritising tasks and activities

Guidance

Last Published  01 August 2012

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Introduction
If you are looking to run a training session on identifying urgent or important tasks, you may be interested in the tool: Identifying if tasks are urgent or important.
Time needed
Allow for about 20 minutes to run this tool.
Suggested steps - Step 1
Ask managers to complete the 'to do' list handout. Having evaluated their 'to do' list and classified tasks or activities into one of several categories (see the tool Identifying if tasks are urgent or important, they can now decide how they will deal with each of the jobs.

Take managers through the different categories listed below to explain how they can prioritise tasks and activities.

A - High urgency and high importance
Tasks or activities falling into this category have to be done both quickly, because of their urgency, and thoroughly, because they are important to help managers achieve their job purpose.
  • Do the task/activity yourself, and soon. 
  • Take as long as it requires (within reason!).
B1 - High urgency and low importance
Tasks or activities falling into this category have to be done quickly, because of their urgency - but only need the bare minimum of time spent on them to give an acceptable result, because they are peripheral to managers achieving their job purpose.
  • Get the task/activity done soon.
  • Spend as little time as possible on it to do a competent job.
  • Could you delegate it to someone as a development opportunity?
B2 - Low urgency and high importance
Tasks or activities falling into this category do not have to be done quickly, because of their low urgency, but must be done thoroughly, because they are important to help managers achieve their job purpose.
  • Schedule a firm date for the task/activity in the diary.
  • If you decide to delegate it, trust it to a safe pair of hands.
C - Low urgency and low importance
Tasks or activities falling into this category can be left for the moment, because of their low urgency and the fact that they are peripheral to managers achieving their job purpose.
  • Fit the task/activity in when possible.
  • What would happen if you never got round to doing it?
  • Tools, not rules!
Remind managers that the various techniques discussed here are tools - they are not rules! So whenever managers have completed a specific task or activity, they should review what they have done and see if the outcome feels right for them and their situation.
Step 2
Now ask managers to review how they have evaluated the 'to do' list created in the Tool Using a 'to do' list, and consider the following questions:
  • How easy/difficult is it for me to differentiate between urgent and important tasks?
  • What high urgency/high importance tasks do I have?
  • What high urgency/low importance tasks do I have?
  • What low urgency/high importance tasks do I have?
  • What happens to my low urgency/high importance items?
  • How much time do I spend on the low importance/low urgency tasks?
  • How can I improve my ability at deciding priorities?
  • What often happens?
Step 3
Using the text below, explain to managers how these four categories of tasks are often handled.

A - High urgency and high importance
These always get done because they are driven by the urgency. However, the pressure sometimes results in a less-than-ideal result despite the fact that they are important.

B1 - High urgency and low importance
Again, these always get done because they are driven by the urgency. But sometimes people spend too long on them, rather than just producing an adequate result.

C - Low urgency and low importance
(We put these next because that's what most people do.) These tasks are done because they are easy, familiar, quick, non-threatening, undemanding, and they give a sense of achievement as some tasks are ticked off the list. But you can't help thinking that while you are frittering away your time doing them, you really should be doing …

B2 - Low urgency and high importance
The B2 tasks are the real casualties, constantly being pushed back by the others - yet these are important to your being successful at your job. So schedule them in your diary and treat the time as though it was a meeting.

Ask managers:
Did you have self-development or activities that will enhance your career listed as B2s?