A tell-tale mark of an effective project manager is in their ability to prioritize. A project manager’s prioritization skills impart effects on their leadership, their team’s effort and engagement, as well as the overall success of their projects. For a lot of us, one of the biggest challenges to becoming effective as a project manager is having to consistently and accurately prioritize the work that needs to be done. It’s very easy to be too focused on the “bigger picture”, which can manifest as every task in your project list being assigned the highest priority - this only spells confusion for you and your team, and ineffectively prioritizing or delegating the tasks to get to the finish line can spell disaster.
In order to help make sense of the mess and begin managing your team’s workload to hit deadlines, here are some simple procedural steps to prioritizing projects that have a lot of moving parts.
Get all of your tasks into one place
Compile a standard to-do list of everything you have on your plate - don’t worry about priority or order yet, just get everything in one master list. Whether that’s pulling tasks from e-mails, voicemails, post-its, or your calendar, having everything in one place is critical. Using an app like Viewpath can help you centralize miscellaneous data into one spot. That alone is going to make your life easier.
Separate urgent from important
The next step is to separate any tasks that need immediate attention. This is the type of work that, if not completed in the next few hours or by end-of-day, will have severely negative consequences (such as a missed client deadline). It’s likewise important to see if there are any high-priority dependencies that rely on you finishing up a piece of work now.
Next, look at your list of remaining work and identify what tasks carry the highest value to your business. You essentially want to recognize which types of tasks have top priority over the others.
For example, clear your inbox and reply to emails before collecting from the mailbox; answer support tickets before tweaking your PowerPoint presentation... you get the idea. Something to be mindful of in this process is to consider how many people are impacted by your work. In general, the more people involved or impacted, the higher the priority should be.
Sort by effort requirements
Start on whatever task(s) you think will requirement the most effort to complete - productivity experts often endorse the tactic of starting the lengthier task first to make the rest of the work a breeze. However, if you feel like you can’t focus on your more-involved projects before you finish up the shorter tasks, then by all means - shrink that list down by tackling the easy stuff. It can be motivating get your feet wet by checking the small tasks off your list before taking on the bigger ones. Take a look at the Pareto Principle which reminds you to focus on the 20 percent that matters. ... Those 20 percent produce 80 percent of your results.
Be pragmatic and adaptable
Uncertainty and change are inevitable. Know that priorities and expectations will change, and often when you least expect them to. Regardless, be able to adapt and overcome - you can’t let changes that occur beyond your control affect your ability to get things done. Your circumstances may have changed, but your mission has not. You have to keep moving forward, even if it requires pivoting your strategy.
Trim the fat
You probably can’t get to everything on your list in a day. After you prioritize your tasks and have a good sense of the time and effort involved to get them done, focus on the priorities that you know you must and can complete for the day and same the remainder aside for another day. As you continue, you'll get better at estimating the effort involved. Then, take a deep breath, and get started.
Using project management techniques and tools help give us a bigger picture of what needs to get done and shows us how to get there. You may put all of your faith and reliance into these tools and skills, but even the most organized project manager won’t get far if they can’t effectively tackle the day-to-day tasks that ultimately lead to the job getting done. Being able to effectively tackle you and your team’s daily roster of tasks allows you to “walk and chew gum” at the same time as a PM – something that is surprisingly hard to come by. Whether you’re new to project management or a seasoned veteran of the field, develop and master your craft in both of these areas and you’ll see massive benefit to your productivity.