Making Best Use of Your Time and Resources
How to prioritize effectively,
with James Manktelow and Amy Carlson.
Prioritization is the essential skill you need to make the very best use of your own efforts and those of your team. It’s also a skill that you need to create calmness and space in your life so that you can focus your energy and attention on the things that really matter.
It is particularly important when time is limited and demands are seemingly unlimited. It helps you to allocate your time where it is most-needed and most wisely spent, freeing you and your team up from less important tasks that can be attended to later. or quietly dropped.
With good prioritization (and careful management of deprioritized tasks) you can bring order to chaos, massively reduce stress, and move towards a successful conclusion. Without it, you’ll flounder around, drowning in competing demands.
At a simple level, you can prioritize based on time constraints, on the potential profitability or benefit of the task you’re facing, or on the pressure you’re under to complete a job:
•Prioritization based on project value or profitability is probably the most commonly-used and rational basis for prioritization. Whether this is based on a subjective guess at value or a sophisticated financial evaluation, it often gives the most efficient results.
•Time constraints are important where other people are depending on you to complete a task, and particularly where this task is on the critical path of an important project. Here, a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way.
•And it’s a brave (and maybe foolish) person who resists his or her boss’s pressure to complete a task, when that pressure is reasonable and legitimate.
While these simple approaches to prioritization suit many situations, there are plenty of special cases where you’ll need other tools if you’re going to be truly effective. We look at some of these below:
Paired Comparison Analysis
Paired Comparison Analysis is most useful where decision criteria are vague, subjective or inconsistent. It helps you prioritize options by asking you to compare each item on a list with all other items on the list individually. By deciding in each case which of the two is most important, you can consolidate results to get a prioritized list. Click here to find out more about Paired Comparison Analysis.
Grid Analysis helps you prioritize a list of tasks where you need to take many different factors into consideration. Click here to learn how to use it.
The Action Priority Matrix
This quick and simple diagramming technique asks you to plot the value of the task against the effort it will consume.
By doing this you can quickly spot the “quick wins” which will give you the greatest rewards in the shortest possible time, and avoid the “hard slogs” which soak up time for little eventual reward. This is an ingenious approach for making highly efficient prioritization decisions. Click here to find out more.
The Urgent/Important Matrix
Similar to the Action Priority Matrix, this technique asks you to think about whether tasks are urgent or important.
Frequently, seemingly urgent tasks actually aren’t that important. And often, really important activities (like working towards your life goals) just aren’t that urgent. This approach helps you cut through this. Click here to find out more.
The Ansoff Matrix and the Boston Matrices
These give you quick “rules of thumb” for prioritizing the opportunities open to you.
The Ansoff Matrix helps you evaluate and prioritize opportunities by risk. The Boston Matrix does a similar job, helping you prioritize opportunities based on the attractiveness of a market and your ability to take advantage of it.
For more information on the Ansoff Matrix, click here: And for the Boston Matrix, see here.
Where you’re facing a flurry of problems needing to be solved, Pareto Analysis helps you identify the most important changes to make.
It firstly asks you to group together the different types of problem you face, and then asks you to count the number of cases of each type of problem. By prioritizing the most common type of problem, you can focus your efforts on resolving it. This clears time to focus on the next set of problems, and so on.
For more information on Pareto Analysis, click here.
Nominal Group Technique
Nominal Group Technique is a useful technique for prioritizing issues and projects within a group, giving everyone fair input into the prioritization process. This is particularly useful where consensus is important, and where a robust group decision needs to be made.
Using this tool, each group participant “nominates” his or her priority issues, and then ranks them on a scale, of say 1 to 10. The score for each issue is then added up, with issues then prioritized based on scores. The obvious fairness of this approach makes it particularly useful where prioritization is based on subjective criteria, and where people’s “buy in” to the prioritization decision is needed.
To learn more about the Nominal Group Technique and how you and your team can use it to prioritize issues and projects, click here.
To understand how prioritization fits into a comprehensive and effective time management system, click here see our Make Time for Success time management and personal effectiveness self-study course.