How To Prioritise Tasks

When your To Do list doesn’t stop growing, how do you plan what to do first? Knowing which tasks are urgent and which are important will help you prioritise what to work on first.

Understand What’s Important

Important tasks are:

  • Things that contribute directly to achieving your personal objectives
  • Things that contribute to the success of your department or team
  • Often projects.

Highly important tasks are things like building relationships within your organisation, or with suppliers, planning and strategising and identifying new opportunities. Important work can also involve issues with a tight deadline such as dealing with a crisis or an upcoming deadline that can’t be moved.

Sometimes you’ll have to take a judgement call on what’s important. It might be important to get those meeting minutes finished, or it may be OK to let them slide for a bit while you work on something else.

Tasks that aren’t important are things like dealing with trivia at work. You can probably identify a whole load of emails and calls you’ve had into the office this week that don’t count as important and yet took up a lot of your time!

Understand What’s Urgent

Urgent tasks are:

  • Things that have to be completed soon to avoid a negative impact
  • Things that are often quick to complete.

Urgent work has to be completed in a short time period. You generally have to judge what’s urgent based on your knowledge of the situation. Some interruptions will be urgent, for example being called to join a meeting at short notice. Some correspondence will be urgent, as will be dealing with today’s crisis.

Returning phone calls and dealing with emails are not, in the main, urgent tasks, but it does depend on the message!

Plan Your Focus

This chart shows how you can plot your work on the twin scales of urgency and importance.

Think of the tasks you do, and where they fall on the continuum. This is how your To Do list will break down:

  • Important and urgent: Tasks to do soon to avoid a potential crisis. Your top priorities.
  • Important but not urgent: Tasks that are objectives of the ‘day job’.
  • Urgent but not important: Tasks that, if they are not done now, will cause disruption or a negative impact. Tasks for other people who need answers now.
  • Not important and not urgent: Tasks that are not essential to your objectives. Do you need to do these at all?

In summary, the high urgency, high importance tasks are the ones that should be priority, especially when time is tight. Ideally, the fewer urgent tasks you have the better, as that gives you time to focus on the important actions. These are normally the ones that help you meet strategic and operational goals and move forward.

Making the Tough Decisions

But what if everything is important? And everything is urgent?

Well, there’s a secret that helps you know what to do in that case.

The secret is: Not everything you are asked to do truly is important and urgent.

Call out your manager when the urgent list is getting too big.

“I’m already working on the report for the Remuneration Committee, which will take me until Tuesday. I can work on this new task after that. Or would you prefer that this got done first and the Committee report was finished on Thursday?”

“Can’t you do them both?”

“Yes, if Claire organises the long service lunch instead of me.”

There might be rolling of eyes. There might be sighs. But most normal, rational people will be fine when you help them prioritise the work like this.

The most common explanation for giving you more than it feels like you can handle is that they’ve forgotten what you already have to do. If you remind them of what’s on your To Do list at the moment, they’ll be reasonable in their expectations of what you can achieve.

Once you’ve been in your role for a while you’ll get a feel for what is truly urgent and what is just someone blustering. Push back, ask for more time, provide evidence as to why that time is needed and get a steer about what is critical from the people who can help. This is essential to give yourself the space you need to do a good job because multi-tasking is not the answer to a long To Do list.

Remember: Lack of planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part! What’s urgent for someone else might not be urgent for you. Work with your colleagues to prepare for upcoming deadlines and stay on top of all your work.

This guest post was written by Elizabeth Harrin, project management author and blogger from Elizabeth will be speaking at the Future Assistant event in February 2018. 

Elizabeth is the author of 4 project management books and the award-winning blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management. She’s also a practicing project manager in the healthcare industry.

Elizabeth’s goal is to help people to manage their projects with more confidence and less stress through practical tools and techniques that work in the real world. She is a Fellow of the Association of Project Management.

Grab an Action Log template (Excel) in Elizabeth’s free project management resource library, and use it to track your tasks.

A little of what to expect at the Future Assistant Conference

Today I wanted to give you a little of what to expect at the Future Assistant Conference in February next year by sharing one of the panel sessions from the Practically Perfect PA Virtual Summit. The topic was ‘managing your Executive’s schedule like a total megastar’ and the panel was made up of four brilliant assistants offering fantastic advice on managing complex diaries. We have two panel sessions taking place over the course of the two day event, here are a few more details.

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Time Management for Remote Workers

Time Management for Remote Workers

When you’re a remote worker, such as a PA, EA or VA, time management is essential to your business success, as often you’re billing on an hourly basis or for the time spent on a specific project.

But time management isn’t limited to just knowing where your time goes – it also means ensuring your time is well spent too. Here’s some tips to help you manage your time better.

Set your working hours

By sticking to regular working hours, you, your family and your clients will all know when you’re working. This helps you to keep focused on your work, whilst also ensuring you’re not encroaching on your downtime and/or family time, as well as ensuring you’re not heading into overwork and burn out.

Stay focused

Prioritise your workload, so you’re dealing with the most urgent or important things first. Either use a project management tool (such as Asana) or use a to-do list and time chunk your time and plan your work for the day ahead, prior to starting your day.

Use time tracking software

When you’re working with several clients, it can be easy to lose track of the time spent on each. Therefore, it’s so important to implement some kind of time tracking software, such as the project management app Paymo  or the time tracking too Minutedock.

Also consider getting software that serves several purposes, such as Quickbooks or Freshbooks – as they both include time tracking, invoicing and accounts.

Implement workflows and procedures

You can make your processes more streamlined, if you have a standard procedure and/or workflow for each task you do. Not only does this save you time, it also enables you to achieve a consistency across your work, whilst also ensuring you’re not missing anything.

Limit distractions

Working from home will inevitably give you two potential big distractions – the environment around you and your laptop!

Your home environment can be distracting as it will usually fall into two categories – too noisy and/or too quiet. Often, it tends to flip between the two. Some days, you’ll struggle with the noise around you – the TV, your children, the dog barking etc. However, having too quiet a space can be equally distracting – especially if you’re used to the buzz and noise of an office environment!

When it’s just you and your laptop, your single biggest distraction will be the internet and your notifications. It’s easy to get side-tracked by automated notifications reminding you of everything, from emails to changes made to your shared online files. Having your internet connected means you’ll also feel the draw of a ‘quick’ visit to a social media platform, just to see what exactly your best friend has tagged you in.

Make the decision to limit the distractions around you, by making sure your office is a distraction-free zone. Let family members know when your office hours are, work whilst your children are at work and turn off everything not needed – your internet connection, notifications, reminders, land line etc. If you need to break the silence, play music (without words, if preferred) or have the radio on.

By following the tips above, you’ll ensure you’re both monitoring and making the most of your time – ensuring that every minute of your working day counts!

This guest post is written by Amanda Johnson from VACT

Amanda Johnson of VACT Limited, is a Virtual Assistant Coach, Trainer and Mentor offering a variety of courses and workshops, both free and paid to help both aspiring, new and experienced Virtual Assistants to launch, create and grow their own successful VA business.  Passionate about “Creating Exceptional VA’s”, All of the VACT training courses and mentoring options, are designed to support and fit around you, your current work commitments, your individual circumstances and your budget.  VACT Limited were named as the “The Best VA Training Provider – 2016”.   This is how Amanda describes what she does:  “I’m passionate about creating exceptional VA’s – I am at my happiest when I am inspiring, challenging and supporting others” (and there might be a bit of xxx kicking in there too!)


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