Learn how to prioritize tasks, and master your to-do list with proven tips and practical steps to boost your productivity and regain control of your time.
Picture this: You’re staring at your computer screen with a cup of coffee in hand. Your calendar is packed to the brim, and your responsibilities are overwhelming. You need a game plan to tame the to-do list.
As an Independent, feeling swamped by work can often be traced back to ineffective task prioritization. Navigating your responsibilities is often challenging when you work for yourself, especially if you don’t clearly understand what’s most important. Tackling work without a solid action plan is a chaotic approach that chips away at productivity, negatively impacts time management, and raises stress levels.
So how do you prioritize tasks to get (and stay) ahead? Look no further than this in-depth guide to task prioritization. We’ll take you through the best ways to prioritize tasks and tips for prioritizing. We’ll also explain how to weigh urgency and impact, leverage prioritization frameworks like the Eisenhower Matrix and ABCDE, and use powerful tools to streamline your workflow and rise above the mayhem. You’ll regain control of your day in no time.
What does it mean to prioritize tasks? ⌨️
Prioritization is deciding when to complete tasks based on their importance and urgency. It’s identifying what needs to be done first (and second and third), with a clear understanding of each task’s impact on your overall workday and daily and weekly goals as a freelancer. Effective prioritization allows you to manage multiple projects and focus on tasks that significantly and positively impact your business.
Prioritizing tasks allows you to take control of your work and hone your self-management skills. It’s a structured approach that lets you avoid feeling like you’re constantly racing against the clock, trying to juggle everything simultaneously. Prioritization strategies cut through the noise, helping you work smarter, not harder, boosting productivity and reducing stress.
8 steps to prioritize tasks successfully 💻
When it comes to task prioritization, taking it one step at a time is the name of the game. From jotting down essential items to using prioritization frameworks and tools, these comprehensive steps will help you determine what’s most important to maximize your productivity, rock those project deliverables, and scale your business:
1- List all your tasks 📝
Create a comprehensive list of what you need to accomplish. This includes anything and everything, from drafting a project plan in Microsoft Excel to calling a client or colleague, sending invoices, creating wireframes, or designing promotional materials. Ensure you don't leave anything out to get a complete picture of all your responsibilities.
2- Understand the impact 🧲
Which tasks are critical? Assess the potential impact of each one, asking yourself which tasks will significantly advance your project or drive your business forward and which ones can wait without causing any issues. Use the descending order approach, and move high-priority, goal-affecting tasks to the top of your list. This way, you also know the tasks that can go on the back burner.
3- Evaluate the urgency 💣
Determine the immediacy of each task by considering the deadline and whether or not it’s essential to maintain excellent client relationships. For example, if a client is upset or unhappy about something to do with your work, addressing that concern is paramount.
4- Use a prioritization framework 🪜
Frameworks like the Eisenhower Matrix exist for a reason. This framework categorizes tasks based on urgency and importance by dividing each into four quadrants:
- Quadrant 1: Urgent and important
- Quadrant 2: Important but not urgent
- Quadrant 3: Urgent but not important
- Quadrant 4: Not urgent or important
Work on tasks that are urgent and important first.
You can also try the ABCDE method, which grades your tasks from A (top priority) to E (bottom priority). Another technique called Eat the Frog focuses on completing the most unpleasant tasks first, while Binary Comparison compares two tasks at once.
5- Delegate where possible 🔦
As an Independent, your time is precious. To free up time for critical tasks, outsource less-important work to others, such as a team member, employee, or contractor. Delegating plays an important role in time management and prioritization.
6- Plan your time ⏰
Assign specific time slots in your schedule to prioritized tasks. Time blocking (or time tracking) helps you stay focused on important tasks and helps prevent lower-priority tasks from encroaching on that time. Try using a project roadmap for more efficient time tracking.
7- Revisit your list regularly 📑
Priorities constantly shift, and this is especially true in freelance settings. Consider your overarching long-term goal and review your to-do list regularly to add and remove tasks, reassess tasks’ urgency and impact, and adjust your priorities as necessary.
8- Use tools 🛠
Use productivity tools to organize your work. From simple note-taking and list apps to project management platforms like Asana, these tools help you track tasks, deadlines, and progress for projects and see what you've delegated. While completing everything all the time is impossible, these tools help you avoid wasting time.
Tips and tricks to prioritize your tasks as an Independent 🗃
Prioritization is a powerful skill for freelancers that simplifies your work process, streamlines your to-do list, and promotes work-life balance. The following six strategies align with the unique challenges of freelancing, offering actionable insights to help you avoid missed deadlines and procrastination:
- Break large projects into smaller chunks: Split substantial tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces to tackle, and assign some to others, if possible. This helps you make consistent progress without feeling overwhelmed.
- Practice the two-minute rule: David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology states that if a task takes two minutes or less to complete, do it immediately. This reduces to-do list clutter and makes you feel accomplished quickly.
- Use your most productive hours wisely: At what time of day are you most productive? Identify your most productive hours, like early morning or late at night, and complete your most important tasks during this time. This also reduces potential errors as your attention is top-notch.
- Eliminate distractions: We live in a world where smartphones are extensions of ourselves, and it’s easy to get sidetracked during the workday. To focus appropriately during working hours, create a distraction-free environment by turning off social media and other notifications and silencing your ringer. Leverage your smartphone’s features to your advantage, and turn work mode on. Your phone will automatically turn off all unimportant notifications.
- Set clear deadlines: What’s a task without a deadline? Avoid letting projects drag on (and procrastinating on completing work) by establishing firm due dates for assignments.
- Don’t forget self-care: Organizing tasks by priority helps avoid burnout. Add breaks, exercise, and personal time to your schedule to maintain a healthy, energizing work-life balance.
Promote your freelance services on Contra 🧮
Laser-focused concentration on your freelance work is achievable when you effectively manage your priorities. Tracking and completing tasks according to priority helps you navigate your workload efficiently and provides clarity and focus, helping you feel less overwhelmed while you impress your clients.
If you’re ready to take your freelancing to the next level, consider Contra for Independents. On our platform, you can manage and promote your services commission-free and find work with clients all over the globe. To connect with like-minded Independents, join our Slack channel. And for small business tips and tricks, browse our blog today.