How to prioritise when everything seems urgent.

Girls in Work

How to prioritise when everything seems urgent.

We've all been there when an emergency request lands on your desk right in the middle of completing another deadline. Or when a meeting gets re-scheduled for this week instead of next and you panick that you simply don't have the time to go to the meeting and get things done. Or, simply when your manager fills your to-do list and tells you that everything is a priority. No matter how well we try and schedule meetings, projects and to-do lists, you can guarantee that there'll always come a time when everything needs to be done at once.

So, how do you prioritise when everything seems urgent? Here are some of our tips.

Ask your manager.

Our first tip would be to ask your manager if they have any tasks that they have at the top of their own priority list. Which of the ones they have given to you would they like completed soonest? Are there any that they can tell you are more important than the others? Explain that you've sat down and tried to to strategise your time, but that you simply don't have the capacity as you're only one person. Sometimes, it may be that they just haven't realised the time it would take, and they can sit down with you and help.

It's also a good idea to give your manager a heads up whenever you have a lot going on in these situations. It's better to manage their expectations early on than to promise the world and then underdeliver because you simply didn't have the time in the first place!


Do the thing with the tightest deadline first.

This may seem a bit obvious, but if you aren't getting any other guidance, do the task that is due the soonest. Even if it may take longer and there are more smaller tasks you could complete in the same amount of time - if it's due the soonest, do it. That way, once that particular task is out of the way, you can then focus on the rest and you know exactly how much time you have left.

Urgent vs Important.

There is quite a difference between urgent and important, and people can often confuse the two - particularly when delegating tasks to other people. Some of your tasks will be urgent, and some of your tasks will be important. If a task is urgent and important, do that one first. However, if a task is important but maybe not as urgent as you first thought, that one can probably wait and be shuffled a little bit further down your to-do list.

What's the value of your tasks?

You can look at the value of your tasks in two different ways.

  1. How many people are going to benefit from it?
  2. How much money is it going to earn the business?

So, if there's a group of people that are going to be impacted or will benefit from you completing a task sooner, that task is going to have a higher value than doing a 'quick favour' for just one of your colleagues.

Also, if your work is split between client and internal work - the chances are that the client work is going to be the chargeable work that is going to make the business money, and so from a value perspective, this is the work that you should prioritise.

Remain flexible and adaptable.

Even at this point, when you think things couldn't get any more hectic... they could. So, it's important to realise that even if you've drawn up the best schedule and to-do list, the chances are that just when you think you've got your priorities in order, something else will be added to your list! So, don't schedule all of your time. Try and still leave yourself a 'buffer' for any other unexpected work that comes in.

Ask for help.

And finally, don't be scared to ask for help. We are all only human, and we're only one person. There's only so much we can take on, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with asking colleagues, team-members, or even your boss for your help. It's better to ask for help than to struggle and run yourself into the ground and for all of those plates that you're trying to keep spinning to come tumbling down!