My Dirty Little Task Management Secret

Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I have a little problem with my task list.

I use Hiveminder for managing my tasks, and am pretty organized when in comes to creating tasks and getting them done. A big part of why I love Hiveminder and prefer it over other task management systems is because I make heavy use of prioritization…if you define “heavy use of prioritization” as someone who marks everything as urgent.

About a week ago, I noticed that my task list had this distribution for prioritization: 95 percent “highest,” 4 percent “high,” 1 percent “normal,” and no tasks at all at the “low” and “lowest” priorities. Is this because I am so important that everything I do is of the utmost importance? I wish that were so, but no. It’s because I’m not being realistic about my prioritization. That’s my dirty little task management secret.

It was when I wished that I had an option for  an “ultra-high” priority for a task that I realized I really needed to make some changes in how I prioritize my task list. It’s not that I didn’t have a process for task prioritization; it’s just that my process didn’t work.

Before

Here’s the process that I was using up until today:

  • “Highest” priority: Anything that clients pay me to do (this should be the first red flag).
  • “High” priority: Things that are important, but don’t generate direct revenue (blog posts, side projects).
  • “Normal” priority: Something I would like to get around to eventually.

I also noticed that many of my “highest” priority tasks were getting moved to the following day because I had more of them than any one person could possibly complete in a single day. A side effect of this prioritization is that I never knew what task to tackle next, which is why I needed to start a separate “next three things” list. (As an aside, I find the “next three things” list to be pretty useful, so I might keep using it even after I get used to my new task prioritization scheme.)

After

My new way of looking at task prioritization is as follows:

  • “Highest” priority: Anything that absolutely must be completed by the end of the day.
  • “High” priority: Paid client work or projects where people are counting on me for a deliverable that should be completed today if possible.
  • “Normal” priority: Paid client work or projects where people are counting on me for a deliverable.
  • “Low” priority: Non-urgent tasks that don’t generate direct revenue and don’t impact the work of others (personal blog posts, personal side projects)
  • Lowest: Something I would like to get around to eventually.

I’m already struggling with marking tasks as “low” and “lowest” priority, but I will continue to work on it. The real test will be to see whether I can achieve and then maintain a distribution for task priorities that looks more like a nice, smooth bell curve , instead of a pointy hockey stick.

What tips and tricks do you use to prioritize your tasks?

Photo by Flickr user martinroell used under Creative Commons.