How to Prioritize Work Efficiently – Most Popular Techniques | Method, Tools, and Philosophies

Picture this: it’s the start of the workweek and you are inundated with different tasks that need to be done, but have no idea what to start on first.  

If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar situation, you are not alone.  According to McKinsey, out of 1500 executives who were surveyed, only nine percent of them were ‘very satisfied with their time allocation.  Moreover, learning how to prioritize work efficiently is critical to their success.  

For example, Velocity reports that salespeople were able to manage to convert 15% more clients by using the tips and techniques below to make their day more efficient and productive.

List All Your Tasks

In order to be able to prioritize all your tasks, you first need to identify them.  Take a moment and either use pen and paper or some online tool like Chisel, take stock of all the things that have to be done in the given timeframe that you are trying to prioritize and create a master list of everything. 

Since tasks can come from a variety of different places, make sure to check all possible sources including, but not limited to email, communication apps like Slack, and any paper notes you may have left yourself earlier.  

Once this is done, you can begin analyzing them in order to determine how to go ahead and prioritize your tasks.

Pick a Strategy

Now that you have everything listed out, now is the time to pick a strategy for attacking the tasks on your to-do list.  If you are just planning things out for yourself or trying to prioritize unrelated tasks we recommend sorting them into 4 distinct categories:

Do Tasks:  tasks that should be completed now.

Defer Tasks:  Tasks that can be pushed off till later.

Delegate Tasks:  Tasks that can be assigned to someone.

Delete Tasks:  Tasks that are unnecessary.

Do Tasks are generally tasks that should take less than 2 minutes to complete.  The reason we complete these tasks immediately is because it takes more time and effort to schedule and complete these tasks than it would be to just finish these tasks right now.

Delegate tasks are generally tasks that, while you could do them, are not the best use of your time because of other more important responsibilities that you have on your plate. 

If you do decide to delegate tasks, make sure to keep track of the progress on them and ensure that no one is getting blocked on their completion.  

A good way to do this would be to schedule a reminder or a meeting with the person that you delegated the task to. 

Delete Tasks are tasks that have been on your list for a while but you know that you will never get to them because they are not important or you just don’t want to prioritize them. 

If there is a task that you feel guilty for putting off and you know that you won’t complete it because you don’t want to, just remove it from your list for the time being.  If you want, you can maintain a separate list for these types of tasks.

If you are managing a project with various members, we recommend choosing either a Waterfall or Agile prioritization methodology

Waterfall prioritization is focused on having all documentation for a project upfront so that everything is kept manageable and everything is done in a specific sequence. 

Agile prioritization, meanwhile, is focused on breaking things down into specific features and tasks and assigning them to different people.  

Once this step is done we can now look at the different ways to prioritize the tasks that you have left on your list.

Prioritization Methods

Below you can see various different prioritization methods and determine which one works best for you.

Eisenhower Prioritization Matrix

File:7 habits decision-making matrix.png

The Eisenhower Prioritization Matrix tries to divide tasks into four distinct categories based on two different axes: importance and urgency. 

Tasks that need to be done soon or are overdue are tasks that are considered urgent. 

Important tasks are up to you to determine, but a good metric to use is a task more of a nice to have done or essential to get work done. 

Once you have the matrix constructed, picking tasks with high urgency and importance, high urgency and low importance, high importance, or lower urgency, and finally low urgency and importance become much easier.  

Kano Model

Another popular model for prioritizing features is the Kano Method.  The Kano method was invented by Japanese Researcher Noriaki Kano.  The Kano method effectively states that you can divide features into five different categories based on their relative importance to customers and the effort required to implement them.  Once this work is done figuring out what should be prioritized becomes much simpler

The four categories are: Basic (threshold), Excitement, Performance, Insignificant, and Reverse

Basic (threshold) features are those that comprise your minimum viable product.  

Without these sorts of features, your product would not meet the basic threshold to be competitive in the marketplace.  

For example, if your product was building a messaging app and you could not send pictures over your messaging app customers would be very upset as this is a basic feature that every customer would expect and yet having this feature would not provide customers with satisfaction since it is the bare minimum they expect.

Excitement features are those that customers do not expect to have in your product and thus including them makes them excited and sets you apart from the competition -in the marketplace.  

These can be features that the customer did not even realize were possible in the product and thus if these features were omitted, customers would not be dissatisfied.  

Having a product with good exciting features and then being able to market them can provide you with an important competitive advantage, however, finding these features can be a challenge in and of itself.

Performance features are those that the customer does expect and not having them would lead to dissatisfaction for the customer.  

The difference between performance features and basic features is that when performance features are implemented well the customer will view this favorably.  

A good example would be when creating an account for a service online every website would require you to have some mechanism to log in but if a product supports multiple single sign on options that would be viewed favorably.

Insignificant features are those that will have little impact on the satisfaction of a user regardless of if they are implemented or not.  

These are features that should be cut if need be due to the extra time it will take to implement them with no.  

A good example of an insignificant feature would be something like changing the name of an email from a customer from dear customer to dear name as a customer is unlikely to care if the email names them specifically if it is an email that was sent out in mass anyway.

Reverse features are features that are not beneficial to the customer, but do come up from some limitation while implementing another feature and it impedes the customer experience.  

If you are uncertain about how a certain feature will be received by customers you can perform user research to get a better understanding of your target audience.  

A typical survey to try and understand the Kano model, otherwise known as a Kano Questionnaire, from the customers perspective, would be try and ask how satisfied a customer would be if they did or did not have a specific feature in the product.  

Buy a Feature

One fun collaborative way to try and prioritize features is the Buy a Feature game.  The premise of the game is simple.  

List out all the features that need to be prioritized and assign them a specific cost based on the amount of time/effort they will take to complete.  

Then give yourself and or your team a certain amount of money and buy the features that interest you. 

 A good amount of money to have for the game would be about a third to half of the cost of all the features in the game.  

The benefit of this activity is that if there are features that are too expensive for a single individual to purchase they can discuss and collaborate with other members of their team in order to figure out what they all truly value for the benefit of the product as a whole.  

Moreover, this is also useful for involving stakeholders by allowing you to gain feedback on what they value as well.

Speed Boat

Another fun collaborative game that would be effective when trying to prioritize features is the speedboat game.  

When trying to find issues and gaps in a product, sometimes people tend to sugarcoat the issue causing the discovery of these sorts of issues to take longer than one would expect.  

The speedboat game works as follows: Tell the people involved in playing the game that the product you are building is like a speedboat, however, it is being held back by various anchors.  

The anchors are made to represent the issues and current frustrations in the product.  

Ask the people playing the game to note what the anchors are and how much faster the speedboat would be going if the anchors were not in the product.   

Once you take stock of all the anchors and speed you can try and prioritize the ones that have the largest impact on the user experience.

The reason why this method works well is because it gamifies the process of identifying the weakness of a product, which circumvents the typical issue of people sugarcoating their experiences/problems.

This exercise can also be incredibly useful when you have a group of users perform the activity as they are the people who are most likely to use the product on a consistent basis and thus are the most intimately familiar with it.

Rank tasks relatively

Let’s assume that you have 5 different tasks that need to get done.  Rather than trying to judge tasks against certain criteria, it may be easier to just compare them to each other in order to determine which to do first. 

This may be especially helpful if everything is important and urgent, but if you prefer doing one task to another, you can rate it higher relative to other tasks in order to be more productive.

In situations where you are ranking tasks relative to one another, we recommend trying to use a kanban board since they make it easy to reorganize the relative importance of different tasks that you have at hand. 

Focus on a single task.   

Sometimes when you have a lot on your plate it can be overwhelming.  

In order to combat this paralysis, we recommend picking a single task on your list and dedicating the day to it. 

This has the benefit of giving you the feeling that you are making progress on the task at hand and thus being productive since you have less to worry about for the time being.  

Regardless of which prioritization method(s) you choose to use, by far the most important thing is to make sure that you consistently update the metrics that you use to make decisions.  

Ignoring new information/updates to the product as a whole can drastically change how various features should be prioritized and as a result the work that you are doing may not be as efficient as it could be.  Once you begin to get into this rhythm, determining what features you need to prioritize will never be easier.

What Tool Helps With Prioritization? 

Organizing your work efficiently is a difficult task. 

With the huge number of tasks you have on any given day, it’s hard to know what should be prioritized and when. 

This blog post was meant as an introduction to some different techniques for how best to prioritize your work so that you can spend more time producing value rather than organizing what needs done first. 

We don’t want you fighting with this all by yourself – we’ve got tools too! Chisel will help you make sense out of sticky feature requests and prioritize every step of the way. 

Crafting great product requires great tools. Try Chisel today, it's free forever.