Five tips to "prioritize" and stick to tasks

Urgent matters and demands keep on increasing for company executives and managers. Knowing how to determine the importance of your tasks to make the best use of your resources has become a priority.

A person writes entries in a calendar.

Described as a linguistic distortion by the French Academy in 2018, the term "prioritize" nevertheless seems to have entered into common usage. Faced with an ever-increasing number of tasks and a flood of information that has become incessant, particularly due to the proliferation of communication channels (emails, WhatsApp-type messaging, telephone, online meetings), how do you prioritize the various tasks to be completed? How do you stick to your schedule? Here are five practical tips for everyday use.

1. Accurately estimate your time

According to Fabienne Revillard, scheduling an hour for a task that requires two hours is just one of the bad habits that need fixing. Coach, trainer and business mentor at AAA+ in Geneva, she recommends setting priorities in writing and then checking whether the estimated time for each task is realistic. "The objective is to readjust if necessary, so as to improve one's organization - for example by delegating certain assignments that cannot be executed within this timeframe - and to thus immediately gain more time".

2. Set small goals

The accumulation of tasks can sometimes seem like an insurmountable mountain, which can cause apprehension and a tendency to procrastinate. To counteract these difficulties, Fabienne Revillard encourages her clients to "only read the first few lines of files that have been set aside." Another way of overcoming this problem is to stay focused on one real goal for the day, says Christian Sartorius, coach and consultant at Servus in Rüti (ZH): "Taking five to seven minutes to determine the main task for the next day before you go home can be liberating. This allows you to control your schedule, rather than being dictated by it."

3. Give up the need for perfection

When faced with an urgent request from management or an unexpected phone call from a client, even a perfectly planned schedule is no guarantee that all tasks can be completed to the level of expectation set at the beginning. Christian Sartorius emphasizes the need not to insist on exceeding what is realistically achievable, as this can lead to discouragement. "It is a matter of doing as well as necessary, rather than as well as possible," he advises. "Continually learn from your experiences, and rejoice in your victories."

4. Utilize assessment and time management tools

Although now available digitally, the core principles of time assessment and management as defined in the Eisenhower matrix (see box) have remained the same since inception. Christian Sartorius refers to a number of digital applications on the market, such as Trello. Available in French, German, Italian and English, it allows you to visualize the tasks that need to be done, that are underway and that have been completed. "This type of tool is very useful, especially for keeping track when a task has been unexpectedly interrupted."

5. Conserve energy and resilience

One energy drain is the time wasted on putting off the more thankless tasks, according to Fabienne Revillard. "I advise tackling tasks one after the other, without value judgments." The specialist also urges taking ten-minute breaks every hour to prevent brain burnout. "The more pressure increases, the more our resiliency capacity decreases," adds Christian Sartorius. It is crucial to be able to set aside time to take care of ourselves and recharge our batteries on a daily basis: getting up 15 minutes earlier to read, going for a walk at the end of the day... Not having time for these activities can be detrimental to our long-term health and is therefore not a viable option."


On the theme

Gaining Clarity with the Eisenhower Matrix

Inspired by the pronouncements of the 34th President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower, the tool is based on two main axes: importance and urgency. 

Divided into four sections, the tasks to be carried out must be either:

  • to do immediately (important + urgent),

E.g.: return a call to a customer who has asked to be contacted to complete a contract.

  • to delegate (unimportant + urgent),

E.g.: drafting and sending minutes directly after a meeting (can be delegated to a collaborator)

  • to deal with later (important + non-urgent),

E.g.: present a computer system redesign project before the end of the month (as the due date approaches, the task can be moved to the urgent category)

  • to delete (not important + not urgent). 

Important tasks add value to the projects to be completed and are essential to the progress of the user's own goals. Urgent tasks are defined by their time frame, and very often concern others' goals.

Source: Prioriser les tâches: Fixer les priorités avec la matrice d’Eisenhower (Article, 22 juin 2020)

Last modification 03.08.2022

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