We all use to-do lists, so we can keep focused on what needs to get done. But how do you determine what should be on your to-do list? Some people list just the top 3 – 5 priorities that the company or department is facing on any given day. Some prioritize short term objectives and/or long term objectives. I want to briefly share my own recommendation as to how to prioritize a to-do list. It’s a riff on the old 80-20 rule.
The 80 -20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, is a rule of thumb that states that 80% of outcomes can be attributed to 20% of all causes for any given event. Put another way, you’ll wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. In business, the 80-20 rule is often used to point out that 80% of a company’s revenue is generated by 20% of its total customers. Or that 80% of the vital contributions to a company is performed by 20% of the employees. Therefore, the rule is used to help managers identify and determine which operating factors are most important and should receive the most attention, based on an efficient use of resources.
Keep in mind that prioritizing tasks is slightly different than prioritizing projects. In general, projects are things that you are going to work in parallel during the week, so the project priorities help you decide which projects to work on, as well as how much time to devote to them.
On the other hand, you normally work on tasks for a given project sequentially. You work on the most important thing first until completed, and then you move on to the next most important thing, and so on. Task priorities help you decide the ordering of tasks within a given project.
When I put together or update my to-do list, I generally have two columns. In the important (must focus) column, I’m thinking about what tasks (the 20% which will account for 80% of my results) need to be prioritized. These can be simple things or they can be big-picture tasks. But the bottom line is that these few to-do items will have the greatest impact on my business. I keep another list or column for the day-to-day tasks and chores and scheduling that I know I need to keep track of, which is the essence of what a to-do list is great at organizing.
So, take time when you make up your daily to-do list – ask yourself, what key tasks (that take up 20% of your time) should you tackle to get the most impact on your business outcome (the 80% results that will enhance your bottom line).