Some time ago I was up to my neck in pending tasks, unsent emails and overdue delivery deadlines, and because of constant meetings and other more urgent issues, I never had time to take care of all of them. No matter how quickly I crossed things off my list, my to-do list always seemed to be longer than it was the previous day.
One day I decided to hit pause so that I could figure out what I was doing wrong. I made a list of all the tasks that I was managing and what I had pending, and when I started to classify the tasks on my list I realized a lot of things:
- I was prioritizing urgent items over important items.
How I could solve this? The solution was simple. I transformed my to-do list into an excel sheet, and added two columns: importance and urgency. After that I classified all the items, putting a number between 1 and 5 in each column. Then I sorted the list by importance and urgency, in that order. If I had doubts about any item, I asked someone who could advise me on how to quantify the urgency and importance of the issue.
- I was spending a lot of time on unnecessary tasks.
When I made my list and classified the items according to their respective importance and urgency, I discovered that some of them had a 1 in importance and a 1 in urgency. Those kinds of issues were the most expendable tasks that I had on my list. In some cases it wasn’t necessary that I do them in the short term, or even for the foreseeable future. In other cases the tasks were completely unnecessary chores, which would benefit neither myself nor my team.
- I wasn’t delegating the tasks that I should have been.
Another thing that I discovered from my list excercise was that I was taking on a lot of tasks that I could have been delegating, or that I wasn’t the right person for the task in the first place. For that reason I started to delegate some items to my team, and the results were impressive. Not only did it help me solve my capacity problem, it also helped my teammates grow confidence in themselves and helped them to acquire new skills. Furthermore it taught me to have more trust in my team when it comes to those kinds of issues. It’s important to note as well that delegation is not only for dependents, you can also delegate tasks to your equals or to your boss, if you feel that doing so will be more effective.
So if like me you find yourself with more tasks “pending” than “completed”, take the time to make a list of all your tasks and determine both how important and urgent they are. If you don’t like using spreadsheets, feel free to use a program other than Excel; even pen and paper will do. What’s most important is that you have the discipline to add new items as they come up, keep the list classified, and follow the order of the list even if you are tempted to do otherwise. And if you are given a task by your boss or team, make sure to ask them about the importance/urgency of the task. Not only will this help you categorize and classify your list, but it will also help others understand where those tasks lie on your list of priorities.
I hope that my excercise in prioritizing helps you in some way; let us know in the comments what you do to keep on top of your to-do list!