Database Star

Practical advice for database developers

priority of workA major part of becoming an effective worker is to learn how to prioritise tasks. We’ve all been in situations at work where we have had a lot on our plate – where it seems like there’s too much work and not enough time to do it in. The best thing to do in this situation is to determine the priority of work. In this article, I share a few techniques you can use to work this out.

Know What Your Workload Is

The first step to set a priority of work is to actually know what your work is. It might seem like a good idea to keep it in your head, but that can cause extra stress and the potential to forget things is high. I recommend writing them down.

Make a list of all the tasks you need to do. List tasks for the day, the week, and however long into the future you’d like to go or that you’re feeling overwhelmed for. It doesn’t matter how or where you write them, as long as it’s accessible – pen and paper, text file, Outlook tasks, Excel file, or something else. Writing them down is the important step.


Eliminate Unimportant Tasks

So, you now have a list of tasks that need to be done. Great! One way to reduce the amount of tasks to do is to eliminate the unimportant ones. You can eliminate them by either delaying them to another point in time (for example, if you don’t need to make a specific phone call for two weeks, then put it down for next week instead of today). If it’s not that important to your major tasks, then you might not even need to do it – and can even cross it off your list.

If you’ve been keeping lists for a while, and there’s a task or two that are on the list and haven’t been done for a while, consider whether it’s really that important. If it is, keep it, if not, then remove it. It’s also a great way to save time.


Get The Urgent Tasks Done

The more urgent a task is, the earlier it needs to be done. Sounds self-explanatory, right? What I mean by this, is that if something needs to be done right now, and something else can wait another hour, then do the one that’s due first. Of course, this will depend on how long each task takes and who is asking for them, but it’s another thing to consider.


Finish Tasks Before They Become Urgent

Even better than the previous step, finish tasks before they become urgent. If you have a document to finish before Thursday 5PM, and it’s Monday now, try to get it done as soon as you can – and don’t start it at Thursday 4PM! This will not only reduce the stress you have on this work, it will also send a good impression to other workers and free up your time to get other tasks done.


Determine The Issuer’s Priority Of Work

A lot of the tasks you receive might be from other people asking you to do them. A good way to attach a priority to all of your work is to determine the priority of work for whoever gave you the task. If it’s something they’re waiting for right now, then it’s pretty important. If they can wait a day, or a week for it, then adjust accordingly. It’s good to find out when they would like it by, as well as when they need it by – often they are two different times.


Think Of The Bigger Picture

It can be hard when you’re getting all your work done to think of the bigger picture. Sometimes when I’ve been overwhelmed, it’s helped me to take a step back and think, “What’s the big picture here? Why am I doing this?” If your role involves system support, thinking of the big picture might make you realise that resolving a single user’s problem is more important at the moment than finding out a better way for the system to perform a process – as it may have more impact to the department that they work in.

This is especially important if you’re working on multiple projects.


Determine The Benefit If The Task Is Done

Another way of determining the priority of work is to think of the benefits that completing the task will bring. Will it make lives easier? Will it allow people to make important decisions? Will it improve a system or get a project back on schedule? This is another factor to consider which order you do tasks in.

Writing the benefit down, or even just giving it a number or rating, will help when comparing tasks.


Determine The Impact If The Task Is Not Done

Similar to the above point, another thing to consider is the impact of the task if it isn’t done. Will a system experience more issues? Will a project be delayed? Will another manager have a negative opinion of you or your team? Will people be relying on the wrong information to make decisions? Will money be lost? These are all examples of things to consider as impacts of not performing as task, and are important in determining your priority of work.


How Long Will The Task Take?

The final tip, and possibly the easiest thing to use in determining the priority, is the length of time it will take to actually do the task. Writing and sending an important email may take five minutes, proofreading a test document may take half an hour. You may be able to write that email, get it sent, get it out of the way, and leave yourself free to focus on reading the document. Alternatively, you may want to read the document now, and leave the email for a time when you only have five minutes spare.

I follow the Getting Things Done method, where if a task takes less than 2 minutes, I do it right away. So, if it’s a short task, you should consider this.


I hope these tips have helped you consider things you haven’t thought of before, and to help determine your priority of work. Do you have any other things you consider when determining what to do next? Post them in the section below!


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