The Simple 3-Step Process to Master Project Prioritization

Macgill Davis

Do you ever feel like there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done?

This is a common problem for people who have a lot of responsibilities. Juggling work, family, and social obligations can be challenging, especially with additional stressors like trying to improve your productivity.

Learning how to prioritize projects can help you manage your time more efficiently and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Project prioritization techniques can also help you to better understand how to set goals and achieve them.

There are many different ways that people can prioritize their projects. However, there are three simple steps that everyone can follow in order to master project prioritization. In this guide, we will teach you how to prioritize your projects and tasks in order to get more done in less time.

What Is Project Prioritization?

Project prioritization: entrepreneur looking at a notebook

In today's productivity-oriented workplace, there's a lot of focus on tasks. We use tools for task management and task tracking that constantly alert us, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed

When every project request and deliverable seems urgent, how do we decide what’s the most important? This is where project prioritization is essential.

Whether you’re working on a solo project or on a project with multiple stakeholders and decision-makers, prioritization can help you organize your tasks and projects by classifying them according to their importance. How you determine the relative importance of a task or project depends on what prioritization criteria you use. 

Some questions you might ask yourself when considering importance levels are:

  • Is it essential to the completion of the project?
  • Does it contribute to project success metrics?
  • How long do you have to complete the task?
  • When is the final project deadline?
  • Do you have all of the skills and resources needed?
  • Are there any risks involved?

Once you rank projects and associated tasks according to their importance, you can choose which ones to tackle first and in what order. This can be accomplished with a project management tool or software, or by using handwritten methods, such as planners, calendars, or priority matrices.

No matter which method you choose, prioritizing will help you determine your most important projects and tasks. By setting priorities, you will be more efficient in your time management and increase your productivity.

Why Is It Important to Prioritize? 

Everything can seem urgent when juggling multiple tasks and important projects in your workflow. But in reality, when everything is treated as a priority, nothing gets prioritized. Your focus is spread thin, deadlines pass by, and project success rates get derailed.

Prioritization is an essential aspect of a project management workflow. By defining and clarifying strategic goals and priorities, you'll be able to make better decisions and communicate them more effectively to the rest of your project's team. When everyone is on the same page, success rates are improved.

In addition to increased project success rates, prioritization has other benefits. The project prioritization process:

  • Identifies key tasks: Without organization, you might spend time on unnecessary tasks or projects. Prioritization helps identify which items are crucial for success.
  • Supports timely progression: Essential tasks are more likely to be delayed if they aren't given high priority, negatively impacting the project. By prioritizing tasks with deadlines in mind, you can create an efficient timeline for completing assignments on time.
  • Utilizes resources more efficiently: The project prioritization process promotes resource allocation optimization and eliminates time and money wasted on tasks that aren't essential for success.
  • Reduces risk: By identifying the risks associated with each task, you can take steps to mitigate those risks so that they don't negatively impact the project.

Knowing how to prioritize projects is a crucial skill for anyone who wants to be successful in their personal and professional life, and these are just a few of the reasons why learning the project prioritization process is so important.

Prioritize Your Projects and Tasks in 3 Simple Steps

Project prioritization: entrepreneur writing on a notebook

When you understand the concept and importance of prioritization, it's time to learn how to do it. It can be difficult and even overwhelming to prioritize projects, especially if you’re a beginner at time management or task management, or if your project prioritization process has to be reworked. This simple three-step methodology to prioritizing tasks will help ease the process.

Step 1: Define Your List

The first step in the project prioritization process is defining your priorities. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it's important to take the time to sit down and create a list of what matters most and what needs to be accomplished. 

What are your goals? What needs to be done in order for you to achieve those goals?

Start by brainstorming a list of all the projects and tasks you need to complete. There are several ways to accomplish this, including:

  • Making a to-do list in writing
  • Adding entries to a digital calendar
  • Keeping a paper planner with a list of projects and tasks
  • Entering tasks in your task manager

Once you've gathered all the monthly or weekly projects and tasks you need to do, you can start to narrow it down.

Step 2: Identify Immediate Needs

The next step in the project prioritization process is identifying the immediate needs. These are the important projects and tasks that you must complete right away to ensure success. 

Creating a priority matrix is an effective way to identify the relative importance of tasks and rank projects that need the highest priority. A matrix is an interactive grid with labeled sections that serve as categories to classify information. One of the most popular and simplest prioritization matrices is the Eisenhower Matrix. 

The Eisenhower Matrix, also called the Eisenhower Box or time management matrix, uses a simple two-by-two grid to rank projects and tasks by relative importance and urgency. To use the matrix, assign the projects, jobs, and activities on your list to one of the four quadrants, as follows:

  • Urgent/Important: These tasks need to be done as soon as possible and are directly related to the project's success or your overall goals. They are considered a project priority.
  • Not Urgent/Important: These tasks don't need to be completed immediately but are still important for the project's success. This section should contain most of your tasks.
  • Urgent/Not Important: These tasks need immediate action, but they aren’t necessarily a project priority or don't have a high impact on the project's success. These can likely be delegated.
  • Not Urgent/Not Important: These tasks don't need to be completed immediately and don't directly impact the project workflow. These tasks may be able to be eliminated.

The Eisenhower Matrix is helpful for organizing lists to identify basic tasks and important project priorities. By sorting your workflow responsibilities using a prioritization matrix, you'll get a pretty clear sense of their relative importance and which individual projects and tasks you’ll need to focus on first. 

Step 3: Set a Timeline

The final step in proper project prioritization is setting a timeline. Having a carefully ranked list alone doesn't guarantee success — you need a detailed action plan. 

Creating a timeline ensures that you'll work on the most important tasks first and complete them within the required timeframe. This will minimize the risk of things falling through the cracks and allows for some flexibility in your schedule. You can also see how much time you have left to finish each task and project, which can help you streamline and prevent burnout. 

There are many formats you can try to set timelines for your tasks. You can use techniques like a Gantt chart or time mapping. Other techniques include adding project, task, and subtask due dates to your project management software, setting calendar reminders, or using an Excel template for tracking. You may find that a combination of a few of these works best for you. 

When creating a timeline, be sure to:

  • Include deadlines for all deliverables
  • Work backward from the deadlines to create milestones
  • Block out time for each task in your workday calendar
  • Add buffer time in your workflow in case something comes up
  • Assign deadlines and responsibilities to team members, if needed

Once you've assigned deadlines to each task, be sure to review and adjust top priorities as needed. You should also build in some flexibility to accommodate for additional urgent tasks and unexpected delays.

Make Prioritization a Priority

Effective project management requires setting priorities, identifying immediate needs, and creating a timeline. Learning how to prioritize projects can help you keep your focus on the most significant projects and tasks first so you won't get overwhelmed or fall behind schedule.

Time tracking with Rize is another way to better focus on your priorities and improve productivity. The Rize app helps you identify how you’re spending your time and how deep your focus is. Based on your personal data, you can optimize your workday and better manage your projects. Try Rize free for 14 days, with no credit card required.