kanban board on a whiteboard with columns ideas, to-do, doing, and done

9 Top Prioritization Methods

Prioritizing tasks, while really important, is one of the most difficult things for many neurodivergent people to learn. When you have a pile of tasks to complete, you look at them and say, “They're all important!” And you don't know where to start, which can make you feel overwhelmed.

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The truth is, while all of the tasks may be important, they can't all get done at the same time. Something has to go first. How do you decide?

There are a plethora of prioritization methods out there. You just need to find the right one for you. You will see a lot of similar ideas.

That's because prioritization is all about figuring out the most important tasks.

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Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is the one tool that I probably recommend the most as a good starting place. This method has you looking at your tasks and dividing them into 1 of 4 quadrants based in importance and urgency.

Eisenhower Matrix - 4 quadrants quadrant 1 top left urgent and important, quadrant 2 top right not urgent but important, quadrant 3 bottom left urgent but not important, and quadrant 4 bottom right not urgent or important

Quadrant 1 – Important and Urgent: do these tasks first

Quadrant 2 – Important but Not Urgent: usually do these next

Quadrant 3 – Urgent but Not Important: often these can get delegated (but sometimes the urgency will push them ahead of quadrant 2)

Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent or Important: these are tasks we don't really need to do

When considering how important a task is, think about what happens if you don't do it. What are the consequences.

Likewise, things that are urgent are things that need to happen now. What happens if they don't happen?

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Eat the Frog/Worst First

We all have tasks that we dread. This prioritization method makes you do the thing you hate first. Look over your list of tasks and choose the one you're dreading. Then take that task and break it down into steps or smaller chunks.

Work through the steps until the task is complete.

Yeah, it's easier said than done. But if you get the worst task done first thing, the rest of your day will be easier, and you'll feel better.

frog, amphibian, animal

1-3-5 or 1-2-3 Method

This is a stripped down planning method that has you dividing your to-do list into Big, Medium, and Small tasks. You get to decide what constitutes big vs medium vs small.

For some people, making a phone call they've been putting off would be considered a big task (especially if that person has anxiety). It takes a lot of effort even if it doesn't take a lot of time.

For someone else, that phone call is a small task.

Don't beat yourself up for how you label your tasks.

Depending on how much energy and time you have, choose one of the 2 formats:

1-3-5: Choose 1 big task, 3 medium tasks, and 5 small tasks

1-2-3: Choose 1 big task, 2 medium tasks, and 3 small tasks

No matter what, you're always starting and finishing the big task every day.

9 top prioritization methods - image of a frog

Action Priority

Like many of the other prioritization methods, this one also has you looking at your task list and dividing the tasks into 4 quadrants based on the amount of effort the task takes and how much impact the completed task will have on your goals.

High Effort-High Impact: These are major projects that will move the needle forward to help you reach your goals.

Low Effort-High Impact: These are quick wins. They don't take a lot effort but they move the needle. I love quick wins (especially for my ADHD peeps) because they motivate you to keep going.

High Effort-Low Impact: These are hard slog tasks. They are tasks that don't really help you reach your goal, but sometimes, they need to happen. Think of the repetitive tasks that feel never ending (laundry, anyone?).

Low Effort-Low Impact: These are fill-ins. We can do these tasks when we don't have a lot of energy. However, you need to watch out that you don't automatically spend a lot of time doing these at the expense of doing the tasks that will help you reach your goal.

the letters ABC on a shelf outside

ABC Method

This prioritization method focuses more on the consequences of not completing the task. Let's face it, some of us are motivated by negative consequences, as in we want to avoid them.

A tasks: Must do – severe consequences if not completed

B tasks: Should do – mild consequences if not completed

C tasks: Nice to do – no significant consequences if not completed

Again, you get to decide what a severe consequence is. For some of you, letting someone down is a severe consequence because you feel guilty. For others, they can objectively decide that the person will get over the disappointment.

MoSCoW Method

This method comes from project development, but it can be applied to any task prioritization. For this method, you again divide your tasks into 4 categories:

Must do: these are things you have to get done

Should do: these are things that you should do (and future you will thank you)

Could do: it would be nice to complete these tasks, but it's not a big deal if they don't get done

Won't do: these are the tasks you aren't going to get to

This process works for minimum viable product. When you are looking at a huge project, what's the bare minimum that needs to get done? What would make you (or your team) happy and competitive with similar projects? What are some bells and whistles? What can you leave out?

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RICE Method

The RICE method also has you looking at the impact your task will have. Ask yourself the following questions:

R – Reach: How many people will be affected?

I – Impact: How much impact will the task have?

C – Confidence: How confident are you in your impact estimate?

E – Effort: How much effort is required?

This is just another way to think about impact and effort. This might be tough if you're not a good judge of how much impact a task has.

person working on laptop holding a black mug that has 80/20

The Pareto Principle

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of our success comes from 20% of our tasks. This prioritization method might be a little tougher because you have to really assess what tasks have the greatest impact.

  1. Identify key tasks: Figure out what 20% of your tasks have the greatest impact
  2. Focus on the high-impact tasks: Get these done first
  3. Minimize Low-Impact tasks: Put these last; only do them when high-impact tasks are done
kanban board on a whiteboard with columns ideas, to-do, doing, and done
Photo by geralt

Kanban Board

A Kanban board is a physical board, like a whiteboard or cork board. On it, you create 3 vertical columns: To-Do, In Progress, and Done.

Write every task you have on a small card and pin it to the correct column. Obviously, everything will start in To-Do. Choose the tasks you're going to work on and move the card to In Progress. When the task is done, move it to Done.

Kanban is a great way to have a visual, but many of you will still struggle with prioritization because you might start too many things and have a huge In Progress list, but nothing ever gets moved to Done.

Learning to prioritize will take time, especially if you've never really done it. You might have to try a few different methods to find the one that resonates with you. You have to be willing to stick with it for a while because there's always a learning curve. But once you start prioritizing your tasks, your overall productivity will go up and your stress will go down.

9 top prioritization methods - kanban board on a blackboard: to-do, work, done
9 top prioritization methods - wood blocks stacked that say phase 1,2,3
9 top prioritization methods image of an Eisenhower matrix

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