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When everything is important, how do you choose?

How to prioritise your workload? This is how you do it.

I read an article the other week, which shared a worrying statistic.

There are currently one million species at risk of extinction. That’s a pretty alarming number.

After outlining the fact that two spoon-billed sandpipers — possibly the most threatened bird on the planet — have been bred in the UK, the article went on to ask how conservationists choose what to save out of that one million.

Clearly, my workload isn’t anywhere near as stressful as that but it did get me thinking. In high pressure situations, how can we cope better? How can we prioritise  successfully when our workload can seem overwhelming?

I’ve done the research so you don’t have to.

How to prioritise your workload – break it down into steps

Here are some top tips to refer to when you just have too much to do:-

  • Take a breath

When your workload gets particularly busy, it can feel overwhelming. You then start to panic and before you know it you can’t get anything done because you’re flitting from one thing to another.

Take a few deep breaths, make yourself a drink and keep calm. You are more than capable of doing this, remember.

  • Write everything down

Getting what’s in your head down onto paper or onto your screen is going to be really helpful. It can help to avoid any omissions and when you get to structuring your tasks it will be vital.

You might find it easier to use different colours for business tasks, home tasks and family tasks. Perhaps you prefer to have everything all in one colour and one list. Just find out what works best for you.

I’m certainly an advocate for forward planning and lists but on this occasion, we don’t want everything written down. You can leave off the entry about finding somewhere to learn the piano for now.

  • Get input from others involved

Prioritising is difficult to do on your own, so speak to the other people involved in the tasks for their input.

If a client has asked me to write an article for a magazine, I’d need to know what date the magazine needed the article by and roughly how long the article needed to be. That information would guide me on how long it might take to complete the work and also when I needed to have it written by.

Perhaps your accountant has left a voicemail asking you to provide documents as part of their monthly reporting. If you take the time to speak to your accountant you can ask when they need it by. Feel free to say that you have a big workload at the moment and you’re just prioritising your to-do list.

For home and family tasks, you are essentially the boss and the client, so less input will be needed by others.

  • Structure your tasks

Once you’ve gathered some information about the tasks and the timescales of them, you can begin to structure them. Think about breaking your tasks down into the following categories; important, urgent, value, and movable.

Important – It can be easy to automatically do all of your urgent tasks first. However, some of the important tasks may need more time given to them.

If you continue to leave the important tasks, they’ll simply become urgent. If you’ve promised a client that you’ll send them a marketing strategy by the end of the week, then it’s important. It’s not urgent because you still have four days but it’s going to take some time, so allow some time for that today.

Urgent – These tasks need to be completed as the tag suggests, urgently. Maybe you have to enrol by the end of today to attend a course. You can’t move that task. It needs to be done.

Maybe a client has asked you to quote for a new project. They apologise for the short notice but they need your quote by the end of the day. These things may be quick admin tasks or they may be longer pieces of work but what they have in common is the time they need to be completed by.

Focus – Is completing the task going to directly affect a client? If so, then it should probably go above, researching Excel training courses for you and your staff.

That’s not to say that training isn’t important and that it doesn’t affect how you perform for clients but it’s not a direct link. So, if you’re busy, then these internal tasks may need to take a back seat for a while.

Movable – Imagine that you were going to finalise the new colour for the office walls or you had said you would spend time clearing out your desk. These are movable tasks. If you don’t get them done today, the next day or this week, will it really matter? It’s not saying they’re not important at all but they’re not a current priority.

  • Compromise

Unfortunately, we’re not superhuman.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re not. I often feel that I’ve somehow failed because I haven’t been able to get everything on my to-do list done. But the truth is that very few people do.

Part of successfully managing your workload is to be able to compromise.

Completing the important and urgent tasks as a priority may mean that you don’t get time to listen to that podcast today. Maybe you don’t have time to cook the from-scratch dinner you’d planned but don’t worry. There is always tomorrow or next week for that. And remember that other people are usually more understanding than you think. You are your toughest critic!

  • Delegate

This is another difficult but important tip. There will be tasks that only you can do.

There will also be tasks that others could help with. Maybe everyone in the business is just as busy but if you don’t ask you won’t know.

I find it quite difficult to delegate, perhaps that’s why I never went into managerial roles. If you delegate, you are handing over control of something which can be scary but it also comes back to the compromise element above.

If you have tasks on your to-do list which you think someone else in your business or family can do, then let them.

  • Reflect in quieter times

During quieter times, go back to your task list. Spend your time and efforts on those long-term projects which may have been ignored. Look for training courses, plan that next holiday, reconfigure the home office, etc. And most importantly, make yourself the priority. Give yourself time to do what you enjoy. Take some time off, for example.

The less busy periods can also be a good time for businesses to look at their finances and overall strategy. Could working with an accountant give you the insight you need to grow your business further, for example?

So, in summary, take some time to find out what you have to get done and by when, structure your list of things to do and learn to compromise and delegate.

And take things slowly when you can.

Avatar for Liz Cordell
About Liz Cordell

I’m an experienced copywriter, with a great attention to detail. Having previously held positions at a global publisher, a top 100 law firm and a Big Four professional services firm, I now work with clients across a range of industries. Whether it’s new content for a website or creating interesting blogs for my clients, I can create engaging copy that doesn’t take a lifetime to read.

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