I get a lot of questions about how to prioritise, so for today’s update I thought I’d share three quick tricks I use to work out the ONE thing I need to do next:
- Prioritise with your gut;
- Use a decision matrix; and
- Use a ranking algorithm.
Let’s look at each one in more detail…
1. Prioritise with your gut…
Prioritising with your gut is the right thing to do almost all of the time.
The truth is, there are two kinds of people in this world:
- Those who genuinely don’t know what to do; and
- Those who know what to do but aren’t doing it.
If you’re the second, your issue isn’t prioritisation, it’s procrastination – in which case, you should go download the free chapter from TAoL’s ultimate productivity primer (“Step 9 – Beat Procrastination“) to get you out of your funk and take action.
If you’re the first, then the first thing to do is write down all your options. This is where having a solid productivity system, or at the very least a decent to-do list comes in handy (both of which I cover in the primer).
With the options in front of you, you can prioritise them with one simple question:
“If I could only do ONE of these things, which one would it be?”
Don’t overthink it. Imagine you had a gun to your head and pick ONE.
That’s your ONE thing.
Do it. Work on it till it’s done. Then repeat the exercise and pick off number 2.
2. Use a decision matrix…
A decision matrix is a 2 by 2 diagram that helps people visually prioritise tasks.
The most common variant (also called an Eisenhower Matrix) plots “Importance” against “Urgency” to give a grid that looks something like this…
On this chart I’ve used virtual post it notes to plot 5 tasks (A, B, C, D, E) across the 2 dimensions and 4 different quadrants (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4) of the grid.
Here’s how to handle each quadrant:
- Do now – Do Q1 stuff ASAP, it’s urgent and important;
- Delegate – Ask other people to do these when Q1 is empty;
- Do later – Get on with this stuff when you’ve delegated Q2; and
- Delete – Don’t do this stuff, ever.
Pro tip: You can use other dimensions like “Ease“, “Cost” or “Impact” depending on what’s important to you. Just make sure you adapt the axes so the best options always land in the top right hand corner.
3. Use a ranking algorithm…
Ranking algorithms are like decision matrices but they let you prioritise across as many different dimensions as you like.
To set one up…
- List whatever task you’re prioritising in the first column of a table;
- Add a column for each dimensions you’re prioritising against;
- Give each task a 0 (bad) – 10 (good) score across each dimension;
- Add the ranks together to come up with a total score; and
- Take action on the highest scoring task.
Here’s an example for 3 items ranked across 3 different dimensions…
Fun fact: I use a variation on this technique to rank TAoL’s book recommendations.
The great thing about this technique is you can use real numbers to determine your scores across each dimension. To do so, simply decide on a scaling factor that converts your original data into a score out of ten.
You can make this conversion linear, logarithmic or any other function in between. There’s also no need to stick to a 0 – 10 scale. You can even just rank all the items within each dimension and add the ranks up to get to a score.
And that’s it!
Three quick ways to prioritise no matter how complex the problem.
My advice? Don’t overcomplicate things. Trust your gut when you can.
And if you’ve followed these steps and you’re still not taking action, go download the free chapter of TAoL’s productivity primer for some help beating procrastination.