With so many variables at play during our working day, compounded by interruptions, unexpected work or requests for help, even the most organised individual can at times find themselves at odds about what needs done and when. You’ll be acutely aware of what your priorities are but what happens when something gets added to your plate of equal urgency and importance to your existing priorities? How do you know which of your competing priorities is the real priority? Not knowing can lead to feelings of distress or exacerbate the stress you may already be experiencing.

Figuring out which task or deadline takes precedence over others can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re trying to work that out on your own. In the absence of being able to confer with a manager, colleague, or client, employing a prioritisation method can save the day (and some sanity) when your once manageable to-do list or schedule becomes unmanageable.

The beauty of prioritisation methods is that they are generally a quick exercise to undertake and can be amalgamated into your to-do list, work calendar/diary or other organisation tools you use to manage your workload. There are many methodologies out there, but here are a few that we have used in our wellbeing workshops which participants and colleagues have found beneficial.

Eisenhower Matrix

Also referred to simply as the prioritisation matrix, this method was designed by Dwight D. Eisenhower and looks at balancing the urgency and importance of tasks to set priorities.

How to use it

Draw a vertical line with a horizontal line through the middle, and label the axis as pictured.

Refer to your to-do list or list of competing priorities and place each task/priority in one of the four quadrants based on their level of urgency and importance.

A top tip is to ensure there are no more than ten items in quadrant 1 or 2 – if you exceed ten in a quadrant, consider asking for help whether that be delegating tasks to others, arranging more time to complete tasks/extend deadlines, or any other appropriate but supportive solution to reduce the demand on you (where possible).

 

ABCDE 

This method grades tasks by level of importance, where A is very important, and E is not important. The idea is that you work on A and B tasks first, then see to C tasks, and only work on D and E tasks if you have the time and energy – if you don’t, these tasks should be delegated or deleted.

How to use it

Looking at your to-do list or list of competing priorities, review each and assign a letter between A and E using the key below:

‎A – Very important: tasks that carry a lot of value for your team, service or organisation.

B – Less important: tasks that add a small amount of value to your team or service but aren’t urgent or essential.

C – Enjoyable: tasks you find pleasure in doing and don’t need much motivation to complete.

D – Delegate: low-value tasks that you could delegate to a colleague if you run out of time before getting to them.

E – Eliminate: tasks that add no value to your team or service and aren’t essential or useful for your organisation and thus have the lowest priority.

                                 

Mind Space

This is a slightly different approach to prioritising which takes into account the weight of tasks on your wellbeing. It asks you to consider how much ‘space’ a task takes up in your mind, with the biggest space users being the tasks/priorities that are causing you the most worry or distress. The bigger the space in your mind a task takes, the higher a priority level to assign it.  

How to use it

Draw a triangle, circle or square – it could be any type of shape – and take a moment to acknowledge the tasks at the forefront of your mind. Don’t look at your to-do list or calendar, you want to focus on what’s there floating around your brain taking up precious space.

Once you have identified five or so tasks/priorities, draw a line or use a circle to designate a segment of your chosen shape to each task. The segment or circle you give to each task should be representative of the stress or worry it is causing.

If you know that tasks are equally urgent and important, this can be a way of knowing which one to tackle first to alleviate its strain on your wellbeing.

Using a prioritisation method as a team exercise is a great way to build individual and collective understanding of what should be considered urgent and important. For the exercise, make a list of common tasks or situations the team encounters, and work together to agree and assign urgency and priority. If team members are all on the same page with prioritising, it can enhance team cohesion and workload management. 

Any time, task, or prioritisation methods you apply to help manage your workload can help you move the mountains you need to. They can make work feel more manageable and give you a sense of control which goes a long way to supporting your wellbeing at work. However, if you are struggling with your workload, talk to someone about it: seek help. You may be used to moving mountains day- in and day-out but getting help could present you with a path through the mountains and avoid the heavy lifting – mountains are very heavy after all.