Set Priorities

Set Priorities with The OnTask

Have you ever found yourself staring blankly at a long task list? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It can be really difficult to tell which tasks are more important than others.

Did you know that 41 percent of tasks on to-do lists never get done?

This probably happens for two reasons:

  1. You’re so busy ‘multitasking’ that you never actually complete most of the tasks.
  2. Priorities may shift, which is a natural part of business, and life. Procrastination probably plays a role in this as well, but hopefully not to the point of never completing the task.

Setting priorities is the first step to a productive day. The OnTask can be a really helpful tool to help you identify and accomplish your most important daily tasks. Here a few ways to use the OnTask to identify your priorities and avoid falling into the 41-percent trap.

Ditch the Long Task List; Start with Your Top 3 Priorities

While having a master task list is helpful, research shows that focusing on your top three priorities is more productive. Long task lists can make you feel overwhelmed and unmotivated, which leads to less productivity. But that doesn’t mean you should set the three easiest tasks as your priorities for the day.

There are three things you should look at to determine your most important priorities: deadline, effort, and impact.

Effort = Time and energy

Impact = Intended outcome

Deadline = Due Date

The deadline is a good place to start since it often causes the greatest sense of urgency. The tasks with earlier deadlines should take priority over task that aren’t due till the end of the week.

The next factor is effort. Effort is often misjudged. Ever leave something for the last minute and realize you should have left 5 hours instead of 1? You need to think about the realistic time and energy that will go into each task so that you can determine its importance. You also need to consider effort when you are planning your schedule. You shouldn’t set three daily goals that all require 7 hours of time. Also consider your mental effort. If one task is very tedious, you might want to complement it with a creative task to stay energized.

Next, you should consider the impact of the task. Impact can mean different things, but you can usually figure it out by asking these questions.

  • How will my organization be impacted by this task? This questions gets at the purpose of this task. Will it generate sales? Will it please a client?
  • Is anyone waiting on this deliverable? Maybe other people can’t start their work until you complete this task. Or maybe a client needs to share it with their boss.
  • Is anyone excited about this deliverable? Maybe your boss is anxiously awaiting a report. Maybe a client is really excited to see your presentation. Just because someone is excited to see your work, doesn’t mean it’s the highest priority but it can tell you something about the impact of this particular task.

In general, any task that will have a high impact on your organization should be prioritized over tasks that will have little or no impact.

These questions can help you figure out if these tasks should be high priority based on how the outcome will impact your organization, clients and colleagues.

When you’re setting priorities, it's also important to think about how one day's tasks can impact the next day. Let's say it's Monday. If you have a lot of meetings on Tuesday, you might have to prioritize tasks that are due Wednesday on Monday.

Once you narrow your task list down to your top three priorities, you simply write each priority on one side of the OnTask.

It’s best to do this first thing in the morning so that you can start your day with a strong sense of what you need to accomplish. Place the OnTask on your desk so that your main priority is facing you. This will help you maintain focus.

Once you complete one of your top priorities, you can erase it from the OnTask and add another one. Then rotate to your 2nd highest priority. This way there are never more than three tasks in front of you as you progress through your day.

Have any questions about setting priorities? Feel free to send comments, questions and feedback to