August 3, 2017
"I'm Too Busy!" - How to Prioritize Tasks For Your Career

I’m busy. You are busy. Everyone is busy. Somehow, in a world where technology is plentiful and countless apps, gadgets and tools have been created to make life easier, the sheer volume of work doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all. UGH.

It doesn’t matter how much you love your job; when it’s 11 AM on a Monday morning and you are already overwhelmed, it’s time to take a new approach. Over the years, I have attempted a variety of ways to dig out from this hole. My colleagues love to tease me for the “old school” paper method I’ve created. Yeah, I’m the one who carries around a new Moleskine notebook each month, with my calendar for the day printed on one side, and my to do list on another. It’s provincial for sure, but the point is, it works for me to stay both organized and prioritized.  

Why bother? Because understanding how to prioritize will ultimately play a major factor in the success of your projects, team, and leaderships.  

I’ve got access to some of the greatest applications to aid me in doing my work, but ultimately they are only as good as the person using them. For example, if I enter everything into my to-do list as of critical importance, it’s unlikely I’m going to make a dent. So, if everything seems to be on fire, how does one prioritize?  Take a read below and apply, and hopefully, you can not only dig yourself out of the hole but also reduce your stress about the sheer volume at the same time.


Invest a bit of time in capturing all of your lists and projects. I tend to do this on Sunday nights before the week starts, so I have a good grasp on where my energies need to go, and a plan for how I can tackle the week. List it all. At this point, don’t try to organize it; just document it all.


Review your list and determine what is urgent, vs. what is just important. By urgent, I mean it must be done over the next several hours, or by end of day. Having troubling determining? Consider your most urgent work as that which will suffer negative consequences if it doesn’t get done - like a missed customer deadline, or expectation set with your boss.  Realistically, this should only be a handful of things. Also, take the time to determine which of these items you can power through on your own, and which have dependencies. Sometimes, you are reliant on others to complete your work; other times, they might be waiting on you. Ensure you think through all of this as you categorize your work.


We all want to think that our work is adding incredible value, but the reality is, not all things are created equal. As you review your list of categorized urgent vs. important work, next assign a value to it. This will help you to determine what becomes the highest priority, versus that which isn’t as critical.  Perhaps client work takes priority over internal work. Maybe team reviews take priority over reading industry articles. While doing this assessment, consider who is impacted by your work as well. Typically, the more people it affects, the higher the priority it will be.


You’ve listed it all out, bucketed into what’s absolutely urgent and what’s not, and assessed a value to each. Now what? Assign each an order. Some people tackle the big things first, as they often take the most effort. Others prefer the satisfaction of being able to cross a few smaller items off their lists to gain momentum. Choose what works for you; just make sure you’ve budgeted time for all of it.


We all have meetings and other items we must navigate throughout the day. The trick is to block off that time to tackle your urgent items and a few of your important ones each day. By assigning each chunk of work a time slot, you will likely find it much easier to make some serious progress.


Organization and planning are great...until something pops up that completely throws a monkey wrench into your well thought through plans. You can plan for this too!  How? That calendar mentioned above?  Block off a chunk of time during the day to tackle just that. If a truly urgent project took over, you’ll find yourself with a bit of time left over in your day to make some incremental progress on your originally identified work.


Finally, say you follow all this advice, and you are feeling really organized. Great!  However, the reality is you still probably will never complete everything on your list. Get comfortable purging things off the list, or pushing them out a bit. Personally, I go through this exercise every morning, and highlight three items I MUST get done that day. While there is a host of other work that needs to get done, I feel good knowing I accomplished at least those three most urgent things on my list.  

And then I do it all over again.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.