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Having a prioritized task list can improve time management by taking the guesswork out of deciding how to spend your time and where to direct your energy. If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do, check out these tips on how to prioritize your tasks.

Commit to Your List

Even the most organized to-do list won’t help productivity without commitment. Take time to choose the best way to store your list, whether on paper, in an online document, or via an app like Microsoft OneNote. The important thing is to keep it somewhere that’s easily accessible. The advantage of a cloud-based app like OneNote is that your list will be available on all your devices, with changes made from one device automatically synchronized to the others.

The Importance of Prioritization

Prioritizing tasks in your to-do list helps ensure that you’ll get to look at the most important ones first. As less-important tasks sink to the bottom of the list, you may want to re-evaluate their value compared to all the other demands on your time. Instead of feeling guilty that you never get around to something near the bottom of the list, give yourself the freedom to remove it from the index altogether. Prioritizing tasks helps you focus on what really needs to get done.

Before you can prioritize, you need to understand your goals—things you want to achieve today, this week, and in the future. Your most important tasks are those that help you meet these goals. Take a few minutes to write down your goals so you can keep them in mind when creating and sorting your to-do list of actionable tasks that will help achieve your goals.

3 Ways to Prioritize Your To-Do List

Once you understand your short and long-term goals and have a list of actionable tasks, you’re ready to prioritize.

First, add these key pieces of information to each item on your list:

  • Due date or deadline
  • The time required for completion
  • Importance on a scale of 1 to 3 (or whatever scale you choose)

As you’re processing your list and deciding how long each task will take, apply the 2-Minute Rule. Productivity expert David Allen described the rule in his bestselling book Getting Things Done. If an action can be completed in two minutes or less, do it immediately instead of spending time organizing and reviewing it on your to do list.

After completing and removing short tasks from your list, you can try one of these popular methods for prioritizing the remaining tasks:

Relative Priority method 

This method ranks all your tasks according to the importance rating you assign to it. So if you use a scale from 1 to 3, all the tasks assigned a 1 would be most important. One problem with this method is that you could still end up with a large number of important tasks to complete, so you will need to weigh all the tasks with the same rating relative to each other to decide which to finish first.

MITs (Most Important Tasks) method 

Also known as the Ivy Lee method, this prioritization technique has you focus on three to six of your most important tasks each day. You are still free to work on other tasks, but your primary focus should be on your MITs.

Priority Matrix method 

Used by President Dwight Eisenhower and described by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this method has you draw a square and divide it into four quadrants. The two top quadrants are labeled Urgent/Not Urgent; the bottom two are labeled Important/Not Important. You decide on a quadrant for each task on your to-do list. Those that fall in the Urgent & Important quadrant become the top priority, while those in the other quadrants may be deferred, delegated, or removed from the list.

Like any new skill or habit, putting the techniques described here into practice takes time and focused energy. The return in time management benefits and in the feeling of accomplishment in checking items off your to-do list make it well worth the effort.

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