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5 ways to prioritise your time

24th Jan 2017
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5 ways to prioritise your timeIs your to-do list spiralling out of control? Do you find it impossible to achieve much during your working day while others seem to accomplish lots more?

The truth is that some people are simply better at prioritising and managing their time than others. If you’re not one of them, the good news is there are lots of methods and tools out there that can help. We’ve picked 5 different ways to become a master prioritiser and manage your time much more efficiently. 

Ivy Lee Method

This prioritisation method has been around for more than 100 years and was the brainchild of productivity consultant and businessman Ivy Lee. But as well as being around the longest, his method is possibly also the simplest. Here’s what it entails:

  • Finish your working day by making a list of the 6 most important things you have to achieve the next day
  • Rank the tasks in order of importance
  • The next day, start by concentrating on the most important task. Don’t do anything else until it’s finished. Then move on to the next important one
  • Keep going, and if there are any unfinished tasks at the end of the day, include them on your list of tasks for the following day
  • Repeat daily

It may sound over-simplistic, but the fact that you limit yourself to 6 tasks (or fewer, never more) makes this method more effective than making a to-do list that goes on forever. However, if you have difficulties determining which tasks should have a higher priority than others, the next method may be helpful.

Time Management Matrix

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, came up with a time management matrix that uses 4 quadrants to determine the priorities of tasks, projects and actions. These quadrants help you prioritise according to importance and urgency. Here, tasks are important if they contribute to the achievement of your goals, while urgent tasks are ones that have to be done immediately. 

Imagine you have a grid of 4 squares (quadrants). At the top of the grid are the headings urgent and non urgent (each heading is above a single square), and along the left-hand side of the grid are the headings important and non important (each of these headings is next to a row).

Quadrant I

This is the top left square. In this square, write down tasks and responsibilities that are both important and urgent. These are the things you need to do straight away, such as tasks that have pressing deadlines, emergencies and last-minute preparations.

Quadrant II

This is the top right square, in which you should include tasks that are important but not urgent. These are the things that are necessary for you to achieve your goals, but don’t need immediate action.

Quadrant III

This is the bottom left square. This is for tasks that are urgent but not important. Since these tasks don’t help you achieve your goal, it’s a good idea to keep them to a minimum or try delegating them.

Quadrant IV

This is the bottom right square. This is for tasks that are neither urgent or important. Since there is no real value to completing these tasks, they are classed as time wasters.

By sorting the items on your to-do list into these 4 quadrants, it can help you decide quickly which tasks need your immediate attention.

Pomodoro Technique

This method entails scheduling 25-minute slots throughout the day, each followed by a 5-minute break (after 4 rounds of 25-minute sessions you should aim to take a longer break).

Simply make a list of tasks you need to do at the start of each day, then allocate each task to 1 or more 25-minute sessions, depending on how long you think each task will take (schedule more demanding tasks at the time of day when you’re most productive and mentally alert).

Set a timer when you begin, and commit yourself to working without distractions for the full 25 minutes. Read more about the Pomodoro Technique in our article Recharge your batteries the Pomodoro way.


You can also use a simple spreadsheet to help you manage your workload. The beauty of this method isn’t just that it’s uncomplicated, but that you can adapt it any way you wish. For instance, a to-do list template may include a task on each row, with column headings such as:

  • Project/task
  • Priority (high, medium or low, or a rating out of 5)
  • Value (how important is it – high, medium or low value?)
  • Skill level (easy, medium or difficult)
  • Status (Planning, pending, review, approved etc)
  • Other notes

You could also colour-code high-priority and high-value tasks, or rearrange your list each day in order of most to least urgent/important.

To-do list apps

There are apps for just about everything these days, and to-do lists and time management are no exceptions. Here are some you could try that are available for both Apple and Android devices:


TickTick allows you to organise everything from work projects to your shopping lists. You can even share your lists with others as well as sync them across different devices. The standard version is free, but you have to upgrade to a paid-for version if you want the premium features.

Google Keep

Google Keep is a free app that helps you make to-do lists, label and colour-code them, keep track of your tasks and tick them off when they’re completed. It also lets you store notes, photos and audio recordings that you may want to keep, plus you can sync and share your lists.


Todoist makes it easy to set up and manage to-do lists, as well as set reminders and deadlines for each. Its simple design is a key feature, along with real-time collaboration functions that allow you to share your lists and tasks with others. Another handy feature is sub tasks, which lets you break up big tasks into smaller chunks. As with TickTick, the standard version of Todoist is free. But if you want premium features such as the ability to upload files, photos and audio recordings, it currently costs £21.99 a year.

If your to-do list never seems to get shorter, your stress levels may well be going through the roof. Our free emotional support services are designed to help you cope when the pressure’s on. Whatever’s bothering you, we’re here to listen and provide support.

We also offer a number of free courses that you can take online or as a full day course at locations across the UK. For example, to help with stress at work, join us on our Building your resilience or Take control of your personal effectiveness courses.

For advice and information call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.