A prioritized to-do list (The Eisenhower model)
Our time is limited. It is that resource that cannot be supplemented by the purchase of additional units.
The only solution we have at our disposal is to make efficient use of available time.
In this blog, you will learn what a prioritized to-do list is, and how to manage your time more efficiently.
What does it mean to prioritize?
Prioritizing activities is an extremely effective strategy for people facing a high workload.
But prioritization should not be seen only as a simple time management exercise, through which we classify activities according to importance and urgency.
First, the prioritization process should begin with the clarification of individual objectives.
We must define very clearly the purpose of our work, what we want to achieve, what the organization and the manager expect from us or, in other words, what is the added value of our work, for the company, for colleagues and last but not least, for ourselves.
Clear knowledge of individual goals is the first step in prioritizing tasks.
Our goals are what determine the level of importance of each task.
Objectives become priorities and priorities become concrete actions.
Before making our prioritized to-do list, we have to set goals.
For efficient time management, setting goals is very important, because it helps to direct the effort, in a constructive way, towards the successful accomplishment of the tasks.
They offer increased control over the activities and the time invested in them, but also the possibility to evaluate the progress, depending on each activity.
However, setting goals also requires a long-term plan.
You need to know what your professional priorities are, what your goal is and how long you want to achieve it.
Motivation is also very important.
In defining the goals, the following aspects must be taken into account:
- When thinking about what you want to achieve, it is important to think about the reasons why you want it. You have to answer the question of WHY do you want that?
- To act smart you need a plan. Most of the time you know what you want, you have clearly identified the reasons why you want it, but there are still many cases in which you do not achieve your goals. Why is that?
- When we really want something, it’s important to stay focused on the outcome. Unfortunately, most of the time we are focused on the process of reaching the result, and we get scared or we self-sabotage.
- Setting goals and stepping towards them helps you bring order to other planes of your life.
- The objectives must be relevant for the activities that will be undertaken and for the direction that will be followed professionally. Integration of objectives in the long-term plan.
- Make a list of all the goals. This will give a concrete aspect to the plan and will commit to their fulfilment.
- Once the goals have been listed, an Action Plan should be developed, including the steps to be followed to achieve the objectives.
- Very important: consistency, ie closely following the action plan and ticking, one by one, each goal met.
Time management tips for daily professional activities
- Eliminating the activities that are of any other nature or distribution at times of the day when the energy level is low.
- Scheduling activities, as already mentioned, depending on the energy level. Thus, difficult or important tasks must be performed in the moments when the level of energy is full, because then the efficiency increases, the work is done better and in a shorter period of time. The recovery moments, when the energy is minimal, must be oriented towards minor tasks, less important or not related to the work environment.
- It is disadvantageous to work on several tasks at the same time. Similar activities must be grouped.
- Reduce the time spent on unimportant but necessary activities, such as ordering food or making coffee. Saving time by distributing daily tasks, but not before strengthening the team spirit.
The 5 steps of the prioritization process
Only when we have managed to define very clearly our goals, can we initiate the actual prioritization process, a process that involves 5 successive steps:
- Identifying low-value tasks involves analyzing each task, providing a clear answer to the following questions:
- Does the task contribute to the achievement of individual or organizational goals?
- How important is that task?
- When should the task be completed?
- What is the deadline for this task?
Depending on the answers we identify to the questions above, tasks can be divided into 4 broad categories (according to the principles of the classic Eisenhower-Covey time-management model): important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but which are not important and unimportant & urgent.
We will discuss this model in more detail below after I will present you all the 5 steps of a prioritized to-do list.
- Cataloguing tasks according to urgency and importance is only the first step in the process. Now is the time to decide:
- Which of the tasks can be eliminated immediately?
- What tasks can be delegated with minimal effort?
- Are there tasks that can be redefined or revised?
Another question that can be used now is: which of our tasks could be automated or outsourced?
- The release is the third step in the prioritization process and comes as a normal continuation of the previous steps.
Most of the time the release is done by delegation or deletion.
In both cases, very good communication of both the decision itself and the goal’s reasons behind the discharge decision is required.
Delegation is a distinct process in itself and needs to be treated with the utmost care because the way it is done has the potential to influence the organizational climate and the motivation of the team.
- The first three steps help us eliminate low-value tasks for our role. But it is not enough. We need to identify the best allocation of free time. Otherwise, there is a risk that the time spent will be taken up by new urgent problems.
The main options we have available for the efficient use of free time are:
- Allocate additional time for those activities that are important but not necessarily urgent,
- Focus on activities that we should do but never have the time to do,
- Optimization and innovation or listening to internal and external customers in order to continuously improve the business,
- Personal Development.
- The process does not end here: step 5 involves the formal commitment to comply with the plan.
It is vital to discuss the new time allocation formula with your manager, mentor or colleague.
Moreover, we now explain what activities we eliminate and why we agree that we will evaluate the achievements over the coming weeks.
Follow-up meetings should be set and marked in the calendar, otherwise, there is a risk of abandoning new habits from the first days.
There are various ways in which we can organize the 24 hours we have available every day.
Adopting a complete prioritization process is actually a simple and quick way to increase individual productivity.
It’s up to us how much time we spend on activities that are really important.
Tools for a prioritized to-do list
There are a number of useful tools for setting priorities:
- Comparative analysis: used in situations where the decision criteria are subjective or inconsistent. This analysis involves an objective comparison of tasks to determine what is really important.
- Grid analysis: this type of analysis is used in situations where several factors must be taken into account.
- Matrix of priority actions: this is a diagram that compares the benefits of performing a task with the energy deposited to perform it. This helps to identify really important activities that bring great benefits in a short time.
- Urgent matrix: this helps to draw a line between urgent and important tasks, because urgent activities may be unimportant or important ones may have a longer lead time, just to be performed properly.
- Boston Matrix: used in business to set priorities based on market attractiveness and possible profit from this task.
- Ansoff matrix: similar to the previous matrix, the Ansoff matrix allows the evaluation of priority tasks, depending on the risk involved.
- Pareto analysis: its hypothesis is that 80% of the problems are caused by 20% of the causes of all the problems. A list is made of the problems encountered and their causes, a note is given to each problem and it is grouped according to the common causes. The group with the highest score must have priority in solving.
- Nominal group technique: this is used for team projects and takes into account the opinion of each member. Each issue must receive a grade from each member. Priorities are thus set by mutual agreement.
- Rigorous self-discipline will entail time management skills, which will allow establishing a productive daily routine, establishing in advance the moments of maximum effectiveness and those in which there is a need for a break, compliance with deadlines and prioritization of objectives. It also helps to group activities according to similarities and to take into account unforeseen situations.
The Eisenhower time-management model
The Eisenhower model suggests identifying important and urgent activities, in order to overcome the natural tendency to focus on urgent activities, but without importance.
In other words, we need to focus on activities that are important and not just urgent.
To do this and reduce the stress of having too many tight deadlines, it is necessary to make this distinction:
- Important activities have a result that leads us to achieve professional and personal goals;
- Urgent activities require immediate attention and are usually associated with achieving other people’s goals; they need attention because the consequences of not realizing them are immediate.
When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, we will be able to overcome the natural tendency to focus on urgent activities without importance.
So we will clearly have enough time to do what is essential for success.
To use this model, follow these steps:
Step 1 – Make a list of all the activities and projects to be done and the time that they will take.
Step 2 – Analyze each activity and place it in one of the 4 categories
Step 3 – Act according to the 4 categories. If the activities are:
- Important and Urgent, they must be solved first. If you identify many urgent and important activities, analyze which of them you can anticipate and think about how you could schedule this type of activity in time, so that it does not become urgent.
- Important, but not Urgent – they need to be paid attention to and scheduled carefully because this type of activity will help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Allocate enough time for them and plan for them so that they do not become urgent.
- Not important, but Urgent – they can be delegated or refused because they prevent you from fulfilling your goals. Schedule time intervals to be available to employees and colleagues so that you do not frequently interrupt important activities. In this sense, you can arrange regular meetings with those who interrupt you frequently and you can then solve their problems. Then you will be able to focus on your important activities.
- Unimportant and Urgent – must be rejected, ignored or cancelled, as it does not contribute to your goals. If others see that you have clear goals and boundaries, they will avoid asking you to do unimportant activities in the future.
For an effective application of the Eisenhower model, it is important to keep in mind the following:
- Building a prioritized to-do list will help clarify the flow of activities, but you will need to decide on priority activities;
- Limiting to a maximum number of 8 activities in each category; before adding a new activity it is necessary to complete one of those already included in that category; the importance is the completion of tasks and the realization of a collection of activities;
- Building a single list for both professional and personal activities;
- Avoiding external influences in building the list of priorities (do not let yourself be influenced by the intervention of other people);
- Avoid postponing the fulfilment of the tasks in the list.
The Eisenhower principle is a useful tool in decision making and time management, helping to increase productivity and eliminate inefficient behaviours in terms of achieving goals.
In this blog, you learned what a prioritized to-do list is, and how to manage your time more efficiently according to the Eisenhower time-management model.
If you have too much to do in too short a time, use Eisenhower’s important-urgent principle to prioritize activities and tasks.
Stressors are ubiquitous sources of pressure at work and occur as a result of overload – too many things to do in too little time.
How can you overcome this stress and how can you replace it with essential factors that will help you do your job well?
The use of time must be effective and efficient. Eliminating stressors from a professional activity is possible with the help of Eisenhower’s model, to prioritize important and urgent activities.
Please feel free to leave a comment or to ask any questions about the content!
The Eisenhower Matrix: How To Be More Productive, Eliminate Time-Wasting Activities, Task Management Through Notebook, Distinguish Between Urgent & … Your Own Professional Development Plan, by Mark Selo
McKay; Brett; Kate, The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life,2013. A Man’s Life, Personal Development.
Maura Nevel Thomas, Personal Productivity Secrets, 2013, John Wiley & Sons Inc.
John Hermarij, Better Practices of Project Management Based on IPMA competences,2016, Van Haren Publishing, Zaltbommel