As a leader on ConsumerAffairs’ content team, I get requests from across the company that are all considered top priority. One of the challenges I face is figuring out which requests are “need to haves” (such as creating content that will generate revenue) and which ones are “nice to haves” (like creating content that will get shares on social media but won’t directly impact revenue).

Knowing which tasks need my team’s immediate attention, which ones we can add to our ongoing queue and which ones we can delete altogether is crucial to my ability to prioritize effectively.

Here’s how I prioritize work for myself and my team when everything I’m handed is top priority:

  1. Keep a running list: I have a running spreadsheet of all the different project ideas I have that I either came up with myself or that I have received from different members of the company. Maybe you prefer to keep a written list somewhere. Either way, I find that writing things down in one place is the best way to keep track of ideas. I’ll make a note of what the idea is, where it would go on our website, who made the request and what the company ROI is (revenue-generating, social sharing, internal goals, etc.). I’ll also note if I need additional support from other teams to accomplish the task since that might affect the project's completion date. This list is my go-to when it's time for quarterly planning.

  1. Consider the business impact: There are a lot of things that I want my team to accomplish. I want us to become better writers and thinkers. We need to make more of an effort to learn how other teams work and learn from their processes. But ahead of all that, we need to create content that helps the business. So when I’m creating priorities on a quarterly, monthly, weekly and even daily basis for myself and my team members, I prioritize anything that will immediately impact the business’s bottom line first. This frequently means moving things around in our team calendar as new projects pop up and older ones become less important for one reason or another.

  1. Make time for that smaller stuff: You’ll never find yourself with time left over for all of those little tasks you want to do but don’t necessarily need to do for the business. You need to fit those tasks somewhere into your planning to make sure they get done. These tasks can get moved around as more urgent tasks come up, but include them in your planning so that they get done eventually. For instance, each of my team members has a professional development goal they work on throughout the quarter. It could be something as simple as reading a book on writing strategies or tuning into a couple of webinars on SEO strategies. While they don’t have a direct, obvious impact on the business’ bottom line, these tasks are still important because they help my team become better at their jobs, so I work them into our quarterly prioritization.

How to know what is the most important and most urgent

There are a few strategies out there that can help you decide what’s the most important and most urgent task on your to-do list. The one I like best is the Eisenhower matrix. I like this for its simplicity and the fact that you can do it for every aspect of your life.

This matrix works by breaking your tasks into 4 categories: Important/urgent, important/not urgent, not important/urgent and not important/not urgent. The goal is to help you identify the tasks you need to accomplish first, which tasks can be on hold for a little bit, which tasks you can delegate and which ones you can eliminate completely.

Here's how it might look for my day:

There are a few things to keep in mind as you create your matrix:

1. Priorities will change, so to be most effective, you should create this matrix on a weekly (or even daily) basis. As you get into the habit, you'll find that this is an easy way to make your daily to-do list.

2. Your "important/urgent" tasks are the ones that you absolutely need to accomplish for the day/week. There will be negative consequences if you can't complete everything that's in this quadrant.

3. Tasks you mark today as important/not urgent" will eventually need to move into the "important/urgent" category if they aren't completed.

4. You can delegate any tasks from your "urgent/not important" box since these are tasks that don't require your specific expertise to complete.

5. Your "not urgent/not important" box is where you can make cuts - this box will eventually be empty because anything in it is a distraction. Knowing where you waste time in your day is an important part of becoming better at prioritizing.

You're never going to accomplish everything you set out to do if you can't get rid of things that aren't important. To be successful as a leader, you need to recognize what is and isn't important and urgent. Using a tool like the Eisenhower matrix can help you make sure your team is hitting deadlines while still accomplishing all of those smaller but important goals you've set.