Everything’s No. 1! How to Get a Handle on Prioritizing Jobs

We’ve all been there: Just when you think you’ve finally gotten ahead of your list of tasks, an avalanche of new requests hits your desk. All are due ASAP, and each has been identified as a high priority. What do you do? Where do you start?

You’ll need to have a clear understanding of your tasks before you can begin to prioritize them. If a task or request isn’t clear, take the time to flesh it out. You won’t be able to estimate the time it will take for a task until you have a full understanding of the request.

Does this task require input or additional information from others?
Do you have everything you need to get started?
How long will it take you to complete once you have everything you need?
Instead of simply adding a name for the task (“T-shirt for company Christmas party”) to your list, take a minute or two and flesh it out as best you can:

T-shirt for company picnic, June 20. 300 shirts. Ladies’ S, M, L. Men’s S, M, L, XL. Need 3 men’s XXXL for the yetis on web team. Jpeg of design to shirt vendor by May 15.

It sounds small, but this simple step will save precious time that would have been spent digging through emails for details when you’re ready to start on it.

And Now, This

Once you have a clear understanding of the particulars for each job, their dependencies and due dates, summarize that information in a list and forward it to all involved parties. This enables your requestors to confirm or amend their jobs as well as their importance and due dates. It also gives them (and your manager) transparency into what you’ll be working on in the coming days or weeks and the order in which they’ll be completed.

Two Birds, One Stone

Now, take a look at your list from high up. Are any of those requests complementary? If you’ve been asked to come up with a lead-generation activity for the month along with email and social media marketing, for example, roll it all into one. Create a white paper on a certain topic, then offer it via an email campaign and promote it on social media. The content you use in your white paper can easily be incorporated into your emails and social media posts (as well as home page content and, if you’ve got the money, display advertising). Boom!

Help! I Need Somebody

Don’t be afraid to ask someone on your team — or even outside it — if they can help with some of the grunt work on a task. A second set of eyes to proofread, an extra set of hands to assemble trade show gift bags, or someone to verify and test email sends can free up hours of precious time.

Clockwatching, a.k.a. The Pomodoro Technique

Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique is a riff on the Law of Diminishing Returns. Operating on the principle that the quality of your work declines after a certain period of time, the Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to limit your work to 25-minute intervals. When the bell rings, it’s time to stop and take a break before returning to your task. Cirillo used a tomato-shaped timer in college, which is how the technique got its name. Give it a try and see if it allows you to work more efficiently.


Nobody ever got fired for over-communicating, so make sure you’re keeping everybody in the loop regarding what’s happening and when they can expect to hear their task has been completed. You don’t need to send daily updates, but it’s a good idea to let stakeholders know when you’ve reached key milestones. This also offers you a chance to give them an early heads up if something’s going sideways or if you’re at a standstill due to factors beyond your control — whether it’s the web developer, the print shop or Shelly in accounting.

Many of these techniques rely on open channels of communication and positive relationships with your co-workers. You probably spend more time with your co-workers than you do with your family, so establishing and maintaining a healthy rapport with them is key. Even Shelly in accounting.