Prioritization is the act of ranking projects and tasks according to their importance and level of urgency. There are always multiple factors that affect how you prioritize a task or a project. You might give higher priority to an item because a key customer asked for it or lower priority to another item because it doesn’t directly tie to a larger goal or objective of your team.
One common way to prioritize tasks that you will likely come across in your management career is what’s referred to as the “Eisenhower Method” or “Eisenhower Grid”. Pioneered by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this method suggests that you rank your priorities into quadrants based on where they fall on the scales of urgency and importance.
The horizontal axis is “important”. The vertical axis is “urgent”. Anything in the top left quadrant (urgent and important) holds the highest priority. The top right and bottom left quadrants follow, and the bottom right quadrant contains items you should consider dropping off your to-do list.
Most people find that their major time management challenges are the tasks in the top right and bottom left quadrants. Items which are important but not urgent tend to get pushed aside for more urgent issues, and as a result they don’t receive the attention required until they suddenly become urgent (at which point it’s usually too late to do them effectively). This includes things like personal and professional development, or longer-term project work.
Items which are urgent but not important are often the things that take up the time you should be spending on the less urgent but more critical tasks. A false sense of urgency creates high levels of unnecessary stress within your team, and tasks that fall into this quadrant should be considered for elimination. These are challenging because they often come to you from other people or other teams. They look like quadrant 1 (important/urgent) issues, but when you dig into them, they are not actually aligned with your team’s goals, or with your priorities.
Obviously things which are neither important nor urgent should just get deleted, but sometimes they end up on on the to-do list somehow.
This framework can be useful both in analyzing team goals and priorities, and helping individuals understand how to leverage their own time. If you have a team member who is struggling with getting things done, it can be helpful to have them lay out their priorities on this grid. You can then adjust some tasks, remove some priorities entirely, and make sure that you both agree on what falls into the urgent/important quadrant.