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How to Prioritize When Everything is Urgent

How do you determine your priorities? Are you good at it or lousy at it? What could be more important than prioritizing well? If you prioritize well you'll:
  • Reach your goals
  • Make a good salary
  • Do whatever you want in life
  • Be more successful than the average person

    Prioritizing is one major key to the success at life, but how do you do it?

    Why is prioritizing so difficult?

    It's usually a conflict between short term and long term pleasure. Things you should do may not be that pleasurable or may be difficult. For example watching TV is easy, but try to create the next million selling device is hard and fraught with obstacles.

    Not having a crystal ball can also hurt how you prioritize.

    Small tasks before large tasks

    While starting out with my computer studies I learned how computers schedule print jobs. It turns out that if two jobs are printing and one has 5 pages and the other has 100, the computer will print print the 5 page job first.

    Assuming it takes one minute to print a page, the first person receives his output in 5 minutes and the second in 100 minutes. The average time to receive the output is 105 divided by 2 or 52.5 minutes.

    But if you print out the 100 page job first, then the first job prints in 100 minutes and the second in 105 minutes for an average wait time of 102.5 minutes.

    So as with printing Do Small Tasks Ahead of Large Tasks.

    Balance Your Time

    Now another issue with prioritizing is that I'll assume you can only do one task at a time. So if you have two tasks and one is to write a book and the other is to throw out the garbage, once again you should do the small tasks first or just make sure you allocate time for tasks you may not get to or might not enjoy. I'd recommend you do the tasks that you don't want to do first to get them out of the way. They'll be hard to get to and you may not ever get to them.

    Reaching Your Goals

    Now if you want to reach your goals then you'll have to spend time on those goals, so you first need to figure out what your goals are.

    A Little Each Day

    Plan your time to spend a little time each day on a major task that you want to accomplish. Say you want to write a book, then spend one hour a day on this task. You can work longer but make sure to get in your one hour.

    Too Many Things To Do

    Some people just have too many thing to do. For those people a few things to do are:
  • Focus on the important part of the task or a small deliverable part
  • Use the 80/20 rule to help find the most important part
  • Use a list that contains all the many important tasks you'd like to do and randomly select what to work on. Then work on it for some fixed time period of 15 minutes to one hour.

    80/20 Rule

    The 80-20 rule also known as the Pareto Principle basically says that 20% of the work gets you 80% of the results, so you should be working on the 20%.


    Often, bad habits can get you into trouble with prioritizing. Find ways to break these bad time consuming low return habits, like watching TV or sports.

    Big vs. Small Tasks

    One way to tackle big tasks is to break them into small tasks.

    Easy vs. Hard Tasks

    One way to tackle difficult tasks is to convert them into easier or more enjoyable tasks.

    Turtle Tasks

    The famous Aesop fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, is useful. The story is about a slow moving tortoise who races against the hare. The tortoise moves forward slowly but deliberately. The hare knows he can beat the slow moving tortoise so he naps during the race. He wakes up too late and loses the race.

    So a Turtle Task is something that you do that isn't quick but slow and takes longer than the fast method but in the long run you'll be ahead.

    Who's Important

    When your co-worker asks for help with his problem, you can be a nice person and help them but you should determine if this fits into your priorities. If your bosses' boss asks you for something then work on this first.


    One key to prioritizing is to be aware of deadlines. If you have a meeting in an hour and need to prepare for the meeting then the preparation becomes a priority.

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