Administrative Assistant Tips

How to Prioritize Tasks

Task prioritization and effectively managing to-do lists are essentially skills for success. We offer six steps to prioritize tasks efficiently.

Time is the most precious commodity for any administrative assistant.

How to Prioritize Tasks

There never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete the tasks and projects collecting dust on the top of your desk. But managing your time means working smarter - not longer. In other words, you need to learn how to prioritize.

For many assistants, learning how to establish and maintain priorities is the single most effective way to increase their performance in the workplace. Although it sounds simple, there is more involved with prioritization than deciding what to do next. Successful prioritization requires the execution of a carefully designed plan. Here is a step-by-step approach to help you get started . . .

Step 1: Make a List

The first step in prioritizing your tasks is to make a to-do list. For the next seven days, this list will be your primary touch point for completing tasks and assignments in the workplace. Many people find it helpful to start by writing down all of their pending projects in no particular order. For now, the important thing is to just get them on paper and to consolidate all of your little lists into a single, comprehensive to-do list. Multiple lists are not an option!

Step 2: Establish Due Dates

Beside each item on the list, write down its actual due date. Don't establish due dates based on when you would like to have them completed. Instead, write down the date when the task is actually required to be completed. If you are unsure when a particular task is due, do a little research before you rank them in order of importance.

Step 3: Assess Interdependent Tasks

Once you have ranked your tasks by due date, the next step is to decide which - if any - of the tasks on your to-do list significantly impact other people's to-do lists. For example, if the accounting department is waiting for your department's expense account figures so they can close out the month, you may want to consider moving it up on the list, even if it's official due date is further out.

Step 4: Consider Consequences

Not all tasks are created equal. You may find you have tasks due immediately that have minimal consequences should you decide to put them off for a few extra days. On the other hand, you may also have tasks with extremely significant consequences that aren't due until next week. In that case, the smart move might be to put off the tasks with limited consequences so you can get started on the highly important tasks right away.

Step 5: De-Clutter the List

Most to-do lists are cluttered with relatively small tasks that require little time, but collectively feel like a ton of bricks hanging over your head. Every now and then, it is useful to talk a half-day to de-clutter the list. By checking off a large number of little things on the list, your time will be freed up to concentrate on the things that are most important.

Step 6: Reassess

Priorities change constantly in a busy workplace. As a result, you need to constantly reassess your to-do list to keep up with your changing priorities. Once a day is probably too often, but a weekly reassessment of your priorities is not unreasonable.

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Do you have any additional tips on how to prioritize tasks? If so, we'd love to hear them.

  • Tom posted on 1/4/2010
    This was very helpful. I always forget that the due dates I would like to see are not the actual due dates most of the time. Another suggestion is to be realistic. Be careful when accepting tasks if you cannot honestly complete them effectively in the amount of time given.

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