Task Prioritisation

Learn how to prioritise tasks with the Eisenhower Matrix to get an overview of what to work on next when everything feels important.

Once you have written down all tasks and commitments, the next step is to categorise them based on the Eisenhower Matrix. This will help you get to an actionable list that follows priority of projects and fits the available working hours.

Eisenhower Matrix

A helpful model to categorise tasks is the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s used to distinguish 4 categories:

Quadrant 1: Important & Urgent

Tasks that need to be done right now. A colleague standing at your desk with a request, an urgent email coming in or a chat message you want to respond to. If you start your day by reading your email, this is the quadrant you’re working on.

Tasks that are important & urgent need to be done as soon as possible, but should be prevented from working in Quadrant 2 more often.

Quadrant 2: Important & not-urgent 

Tasks in this quadrant are most beneficial to achieving the company goals and to make progress in your career as a marketer. Tasks include learning new skills, improving a process and drafting a marketing strategy. If you don’t execute these tasks, they will become urgent in the future.

Tasks that are important & not-urgent need to be scheduled to do them.

Quadrant 3: Not-Important & Urgent

Tasks in this quadrant are urgent, but not important to you or your role. Let’s say an ad has been disapproved and needs to be changed quickly. You receive the email, but you’re not a designer so you forward the email to a colleague. It’s urgent to forward the email, but not a task for you to perform.

Tasks that are not important and urgent should be delegated to someone else.

Quadrant 4: Not-Important & Not-Urgent

Tasks in this quadrant are distractions & time-wasters. Tasks include reading newsletters, reading the news, having a long brainstorming session on a topic that we’re not implementing this quarter. With constant distractions from notifications, email, chat and colleagues walking in, it’s nearly impossible to get things done.

Tasks in this quadrant should be avoided as much as possible.

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Apply the Eisenhower Matrix to the Master List

Now that you know what the difference is between the 4 quadrants, let’s put them into practice. To prioritise everything on the master list, I recommend using the Eisenhower Matrix. To clarify, this exercise is meant to map all tasks on the important/urgent scale which is different from the Project List in the previous chapter.

Map all tasks on the 4 quadrants. Do it quickly and don’t think about it too much. You can always change things later.

Once you’ve made the list definite, it’s time to take action.

Minimise distractions & time-wasters from Quadrant 4

Remove as many meetings from your calendar that don’t fit your goals, projects or tasks. Send a friendly email and explain why you’re not joining the meeting anymore. Read the guide on how to minimise distractions.

Remove as many tasks from this list by simply deleting them and deciding not to do them. Add them to a Not-To Do list if you want.

This enables you to make time to extinguish fires.

Make time to minimise Quadrant 1

Schedule half a day (tomorrow or the day after) to solve issues and to prevent problems. 

Taking the time to make things in order is sometimes called a firebreak. It’s a way to pause work and all incoming tasks, so you have time to prevent the pile of tasks from becoming larger.

This is your opportunity to take a break from running from meeting to meeting and from task to task. Turn off your phone, chat, email and start working on the Quadrant 1 List from your Master List.

Solve the most urgent problem first and continue until the list is done. Deciding to not do a task is the quickest way to complete it. Does the problem really have to be solved? How bad is it if you just let it go?

Ask for help from colleagues if you’re stuck. It’s much quicker to solve a problem together.

Spend more time working on Quadrant 2

Start with the top priority recurring projects

If the ONE thing question didn’t bring clarity, see if you can start with the highest priority recurring project on your Project List. Starting with recurring projects means you have leverage in the future. The work you do today compounds into the next time you have to perform the work.

With time-wasters and the most urgent issues out of the way, you can start working on important and not-urgent tasks. The goal is to create time in your calendar to work on recurring tasks that are important and not-urgent.

Based on the Project List, you’ll schedule the important, recurring projects in your calendar. The time you have left will be used for important one-off projects. Once the important projects are completed, we’ll come back to the list and work on new projects.

What’s the first next action?

If you’ve added a list of successive tasks, it could be helpful to identify what the first action is you can take. Find the First Action step and add it to the top of the list. You want to start with that.

Schedule a recurring time-block in calendar for important tasks

The Project List & Master List are combined in this step. First, check what the most important recurring project is. Add a recurring time-block in your calendar as a placeholder to perform this work. This helps as a reminder for yourself (and your colleagues) and prevents people from scheduling meetings with you.

Examples: Funnel Analysis, Google Ads budget check last week, email list unsubscribe rate check.

Define the #1 important task

Once you’ve arrived at the Important Tasks, you still might have some uncertainty on where to begin. This might be the case if you have identified multiple Projects and added the Tasks to the Master List.

What’s the ONE Thing?

Once you have a list of all the important tasks, you might still have some unclarity. In Gary Keller’s great book “The ONE Thing” he helps to bring laser-focus to the next task.

Gary asks the question:

“What’s the ONE thing - that by doing it - will make everything else easier or unnecessary?”

Use this question to identify what the first thing is you should be working on. If that doesn’t work, you can use the ABCDE method to rank tasks in order of priority. Rank the tasks within Quadrant 2 on the order of priority. Start working on task #1.

Execute the Most Important Task

Create a focussed environment to execute the most interesting task. This is the ONE task that will push the entire project forward. SO don’t get distracted by notifications, emails or other distractions.

Start the day with 1 Quadrant 2 Task

Every day new issues come up and that’s OK. If you want to make long-term progress and impact on the organisation, I recommend working the first 2 hours of the day on Quadrant 2 tasks. Work ahead, have time. The goal is to work on preventing the fires from next week from ever happening. What do you need to work on to make everything run smoothly?

Once you come online after 2 hours, there is enough time to extinguish fires and solve issues.

Quadrant 3: Delegate tasks as much as possible

Enable your team to make decisions independently. Learn how to communicate better and to steer on outcomes and deliverables, not micro-management and task-control. This step doesn’t apply to most marketers, so I’ll skip it in this guide. 

Daily prioritisation of tasks

Prioritise tasks only you can do

When prioritising tasks, you should also consider how important your tasks are to the tasks of your co-workers. If you’re the only person on the team that can execute a task, you might be the bottleneck for someone else. It’s a team effort, so unblock team members to create leverage and get more done as a team.

You manage expectations in a better way and help your colleagues to achieve their goals at the same time.

Prioritise by focus: Maker vs Manager

Most people have better focus and attention at the beginning of the day. Use this to your advantage, by scheduling work that requires a lot of thinking capacity in the mornings. Minimise distractions and set up a big block of time, so you can work uninterrupted on the ONE thing first thing in the morning.

Schedule a block of uninterrupted time in the morning to focus on the Most Important Task from the short list you’ve made in the Eisenhower Matrix. This is called a Deep Work block. Deep work is an uninterrupted block of time with full focus and no distraction where you get your best work done.

Managing conflicting priorities

When deadlines of two projects clash, communicate upfront and as quickly as possible. Let your team or client know that it’s impossible to complete within the deadline. The sooner the better, because there are still opportunities to adjust to meet the deadline.

Make a decision on which project is more important. If you have to decide, which one should be finished first? Use the ONE thing principle.

If you can’t decide, you can ask for help from a colleague or the client the project is for. Sometimes deadlines can be moved, or the task can be broken up in 2 parts so you can still deliver something instead of nothing.

Communicating with the client or team is key, because they might have more information.

Also consider if moving the tasks is blocking other people. If your completed task is the input of a colleague, they might get into trouble. It’s better if they know this upfront, so they can swift prioritise as well.

And lastly, ask for help. You don’t have to do everything on your own. Ask for help to offload some of the tasks to a coworker, so you can finish the project in time by working together.

Conclusion Priority Management

Managing priorities well is a skill that will take many years to acquire. Understand the different layers of prioritisation:

  • Outcome / Goal
  • Deliverables / Assets
  • Projects
  • Tasks

When you are uncertain about something, move up a level in the hierarchy above to give you clarity. If you’re unsure if you should work on something: remember you can always say ‘no, not right now’ and move a project or a task back to the backlog, or delete it all together.

Adding priority will save you a lot of time, because it means saying no to unimportant tasks. It’s hard to say no. But saying ‘no’ to unimportant things is the only way to make time for things that matter.

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About Ewoud

Ewoud Uphof

Ewoud Uphof is an experienced Growth Hacker, certified funnel optimiser and investor.

In the past decade he has co-founded multiple companies. As Head of Growth he has helped grow 50+ companies ranging from start-ups to multinationals. He has worked for Camptoo, NU.nl, Sophia Mae, Koffievoordeel and many more.

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