How to Set Priorities (When Your Plate's Already Full)

Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.

Stephen R. Covey
[3-min read]

Ever felt like you’re constantly putting out fires, only to end the day wondering what you actually accomplished? You’re not alone.

A few months ago, a director from a not-for-profit reached out to me.

She’d seen my posts on LinkedIn and wanted advice on coaching her overwhelmed team to set priorities when juggling numerous tasks.

Truth be told, I hadn’t considered myself an expert on this topic.

Knowing it’s a common struggle, I dove into research to create a comprehensive “Setting Priorities Ultimate Cheat Sheet.”

(Click the image below for a printable PDF version.)

Important note: Before diving into the methods, it’s crucial to have clear goals.

They serve as your North Star, ensuring the tasks you prioritize align with your larger objectives.

Here’s a snapshot of the tools that can transform how you prioritize:

For Individuals:

  • Eisenhower Matrix: Helps separate tasks into four categories based on urgency and importance, streamlining decision-making on what to tackle first.

  • Ivy Lee Method: A simple strategy to choose and order six tasks for the next day, focusing on one at a time for maximum efficiency.

For Teams:

  • MoSCoW Method: A collaborative approach to categorize tasks by their level of necessity, from “Must-haves” to “Won’t-haves.”

  • RICE Method: Uses a scoring system to rank tasks by their potential impact and effort required, making it easier to identify top priorities.

  • ABCDE Method: Prioritizes tasks based on the consequences of completing or not completing them, ensuring critical tasks are addressed first.

For Leaders:

  • Warren Buffett's 5/25 Method: Encourages leaders to focus on their top five priorities and ignore the rest until those are completed, fostering a laser-like focus.

  • Khe Hy's $10,000/hr Work Value Method: Guides leaders to prioritize tasks based on their impact and the skills required, aiming for high-value activities.

  • Goldratt's Theory of Constraints: Focuses on identifying and optimizing bottlenecks within a system to improve overall efficiency.

Making It Work for You

Implementing these methods starts with understanding your unique situation.

Are you looking to improve personal productivity, enhance team collaboration, or drive organizational success?

Select the tools that best align with your goals.

  1. Start Small: Begin with one method that resonates with you or your team. Practice it consistently to see how it impacts your productivity and decision-making.

  2. Reflect and Adjust: Not every method will be a perfect fit. Reflect on what's working and what's not. Be willing to adapt and try different approaches until you find the right mix that propels you forward.

  3. Consistency is Key: Prioritizing effectively is a skill that improves with time and practice. Encourage regular check-ins with yourself, your team, or your organization to ensure priorities remain aligned with your goals.

By integrating these prioritization strategies, you’ll find yourself making more intentional decisions about where to focus your energy.

It’s about doing less, but achieving more — turning chaos into clarity and action into results.

Diving Deeper

Interested in mastering the art of prioritization? Here are two resources to deepen your understanding and enhance your skills:

Book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. This classic explores the importance of prioritization and provides practical advice for integrating these habits into your life.

Podcast: Beyond the To-Do List by Erik Fisher. Dive into insightful discussions with productivity experts, who share strategies and tools for optimizing your time and energy.

YouTube: Ali Abdaal’s Channel. Ali covers every topic you’d ever want, from time management to beating productivity, to the best productivity tools and apps.

Connecting the Dots

Mastering priorities is more than a productivity hack; it’s a way of life. By focusing on what’s truly important, you create space for growth, creativity, and fulfillment.

Remember, it’s not just about ticking boxes off a to-do list. It’s about making meaningful progress towards your goals and living a more intentional and satisfying life.

Until next time, prioritize what truly matters.