3 Strategies for Prioritizing Tasks to Increase Productivity

by Thom Tracy

2 min read

Most small business owners prioritize tasks to optimize productivity on a daily basis. However, days can often become overwhelming and not as much gets done as expected. These three useful tools can help you prioritize your tasks.

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower matrix is a task organization matrix developed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th president of the United States. It consists of four different quadrants. The upper-left quadrant is reserved for tasks that are urgent and important. The lower-left quadrant is reserved for tasks that are urgent, but not important. The upper-right quadrant is for tasks that are important but not urgent. The bottom-right box is for tasks that are not important and not urgent.

Based on these categorizations, Eisenhower recommends the following actions:

  • Urgent and important: Do these tasks first. Focus on them before moving on to other tasks.

  • Urgent but not important: Delegate these tasks to other people.

  • Important but not urgent: Schedule these tasks to be completed on a future date.

  • Not important and not urgent: Don’t do these at all. Delete them from your to-do list.

Take a day to categorize all of your tasks using this system. Then, you can start working on the most critical items.

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few, states that approximately 80% of outputs come from 20% of inputs. It was created by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. Sometimes the relationship can skew to be even higher, such as 99% of outputs coming from 1% of inputs.

You can use this principle in your small business to identify a variety of relationships. For example, 80% of your revenue likely comes from approximately 20% of your products or clients. Task prioritization can result from this analysis. Identify your business’s top 20% products or clients and focus on tasks related to them, pushing back tasks on the remaining 80% of your products or clients.

You can also do this analysis on any other business metric and prioritize tasks accordingly.

The Ivy Lee Method

The Ivy Lee method was developed by Ivy Lee for Charles M. Schwab and the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Lee was brought in by Schwab to increase the company’s productivity. Lee spent 15 minutes with each of the top executives and described his method. Schwab was so impressed with the results that, three months, later he wrote Lee a cheque for what today would be worth about half a million dollars.

The method consists of five steps:

  1. At the end of each work day, write down the top six tasks that must be completed the next day – no more, no less.

  2. Prioritize these tasks by their true importance.

  3. The next day, focus on completing the first task before touching the second.

  4. Continue this pattern of focus.

  5. Put any unfinished tasks on tomorrow’s list.

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