10 ways to… Prioritize your workload

Working efficiently is important for any business but getting snowed under is a too-familiar situation. A well-structured workload is key to good time management and will increase your productivity. Find out how to prioritize tasks:

  1. The to-do list. Don’t keep it on different post-it notes or in your head — at the beginning of each day or week, write on a sheet of paper what you want to get done and by when. Rank tasks according to importance or urgency to plan your day and focus your mind.
  2. Review your workload regularly. Is there one task that always ends up at the bottom of the pile? If you find you’re avoiding it, can somebody else do it? Consider delegating whole projects that you don’t need to be involved in or allocate a specific time when you only do your admin, for example.
  3. Remember the 80:20 rule of workloads. It’s very simple — 80 per cent of our work contributes to less than 20 per cent of its value. Concentrate on the most crucial 20 per cent of your workload, because performance would still be strong.
  4. Set realistic deadlines for your tasks. Look at your to-do list and estimate the time each task needs to be completed but don’t be overoptimistic. Be honest of what you can achieve in a working day or week so that you don’t feel overwhelmed from the start.
  5. Allow time for interruptions. If you need to finish a certain task at a certain time, only deal with urgent queries during this time. You can then quickly pick up again where you left off.
  6. Structure your workload. Avoid picking up a job, doing a bit and then putting it back on the pile. Deal with them one at a time and finish each one before starting another. Your mind will be clear and ready for the next one.
  7. Don’t let your inbox drive your workload. If you get 50 mails per day, this means 50 interruptions to your day. Don’t check your inbox every time a message arrives. Switch off instant alerts if necessary and allocate a time when you will check your inbox.
  8. Fun, fun, fun. Ticking items off your to-do list is great, but are you concentrating on the quick-and-easy ones? Tackling more challenging projects first might mean more time, but also that a major task is completed and a weight off your shoulders.
  9. Keep multitasking to a minimum. Starting a number of jobs simultaneously means most of them won’t get your undivided attention. Think of multitasking as dealing with more than one task during a day, not at the same time. That way you focus on the project in hand.
  10. Keep a log of your workload. If you’re unsure how long things take, how often your focus shifts or how many times you get interrupted, keep a log of your working week. This will help you plan your week in future.

“There is a story about a seminar leader who placed a large jar on a table. By the side of the jar he placed a bucket of gravel, a bucket of sand, a bucket of beer, and three big rocks. He then challenged his participants to find a way to fit everything on the table into the jar.

After numerous attempts, it became clear that the only way to successfully fit everything in was to start with the big rocks first. The gravel filled the gaps between the big rocks, the sand filled the gaps in the gravel, and the beer filled the gaps in the sand.

When it comes to managing our time, it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the daily gravel, ground down by the sand, and swept away by the beer. What can be tricky is finding ways to put first things first – to prioritize the big rocks – those things in our life that matter most.”

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