6 Steps to Prioritize Tasks and Meet Project Deadlines at Work
You know that feeling, at the beginning of a project? The excitement, the shared sense of vision, the determination to deliver an excellent result, the absolute conviction that your team will finish on time? It’s great, isn’t it?
Then there’s the feeling of not delivering what you promised when you promised it. Your customers are upset, your team is demoralized, and you’re left wondering what happened to all that great energy and excitement. Kind of a bummer.
Why does this happen so often?
Why your team doesn’t meet the project deadline
It is important to meet deadlines and a number of factors contribute to why a team doesn’t meet project deadlines which leads to project failure, but common reasons can be broadly divided into four categories:
1. Poor communication
It may sound cliche, but effective communication in project is key. No matter how well-planned your project or how enthusiastic your team, if communication is bad, you’re going to have major issues.
Most teams could use a combination of improved interpersonal skills and updated tech, but there’s no question that poor communication derails many projects.
2. People problems
Whether it’s customers or upper management or that one person on the team who’s always grumpy, every project has some people problems. Sometimes improving communication can alleviate people’s problems, and sometimes you have to find other solutions.
When it comes to your team members, you can provide training opportunities to raise skill levels and facilitate conversations that improve relationships.
3. Faulty processes
Repeat after me. “I will never begin another sentence ‘but we’ve always…’!”
Some of your organization’s processes are in place because they’re time-tested and nearly flawless. But some of your processes are outdated, and they’re holding you back which causes project delays. Examine why things are done in those specific ways.
Gather data from past projects and use that information to discover weak spots. Then be bold and make changes to faulty processes.
4. Unclear and incorrect priorities
Lack of well-defined goals and measures is a major contributor to project failure, accounting for 37% of failed projects according to one Project Management Institute survey. But what can you, as the project manager, do about it? Quite a bit.
How to prioritize project tasks and meet deadlines
When you don’t prioritize tasks, your team ends up working on an ad-hoc basis. This creates an illusion that everything is important and urgent, which is a recipe for failure. Knowing what to tackle first helps you and your team in many different ways:
- An increase in productivity
- Stay on track
- Manage time more efficiently
- Meet deadlines
Let’s take a look at some of the tips on how to effectively prioritize project tasks at work:
1. Create a list of tasks
First things first! With the help of task management, create a list of the tasks involved in your project if there are multiple tasks to prioritize. You can always go back and add more as the project unfolds, and you may need to create sub-tasks later if it turns out some of your tasks are too complex. Don’t worry about that now. Just get the essential information out there.
2. Look into the Eisenhower matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix, also known as the Urgent-Important Matrix, helps on how to prioritize urgent important tasks based on their levels of urgency and importance.
Tasks fall into one of four categories:
- Urgent and important–these are tasks you should Do immediately.
- Not urgent, but important– these are tasks you should put on your Schedule and commit to doing.
- Not important, but urgent– these are tasks that need to be accomplished soon but could be done as well or better by someone else. You Delegate them.
- Not urgent and not important– these are tasks you could probably Eliminate altogether. Don’t waste any of the team’s time on these tasks.
You can draw out a chart like the one below, or just visualize the quadrants as you think about each task on your task list.
At the start of your project, you can use the Eisenhower Matrix to assess what tasks to do, schedule, delegate, and eliminate from your team’s perspective.
As you assign tasks to different team members, each person should chart their individual task lists on the Eisenhower Matrix, at which point you may need to reassign or reprioritize some tasks.
3. Identify your true priority with the Ivy Lee method
Ivy Lee was an American publicity expert, but the method that bears his name has to do with productivity. His five-step approach to getting more done is extremely simple, but don’t discount it. It’s been helping people cross items off to-do lists for over a hundred years.
- At the end of your workday, write down the six and only six most important tasks you need to accomplish the following day. (See your Eisenhower Matrix above for what’s both urgent and important).
- Rank the tasks in order of importance.
- When you begin work the next morning, give your full attention to the #1 task. Work on that task until it’s completed before moving to task #2.
- Do the same for task #2 and so on down the list. If you’re interrupted with a true emergency, get back to your task as quickly as possible.
- At the end of the day, make your list of six priorities for the following workday, carrying over any remaining items.
That’s it. Try the Ivy Lee Method for a week or two and see how much you can accomplish with this simple exercise in focusing.
4. Order tasks by estimated effort
Even with the Urgency-Importance Matrix, it’s sometimes hard to know which task to tackle first. What if several tasks seem extremely urgent and extremely important? Try ordering your tasks by the estimated effort it will take to accomplish them. Estimated effort is the total number of hours a project is expected to take.
Benefits of prioritizing and tackling the hardest (most time-consuming) tasks at the beginning of the day, you leave the shorter tasks for the end of the day when you may have more energy. Conversely, if you or your team function better later in the day than in the morning, you may want to reserve the higher-effort tasks for the afternoon.
5. Be agile
The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of ‘Agile’ is “marked by ready ability to move with quick, easy grace.” In project management, Agile is a methodology in which “an iterative and incremental approach to delivering requirements throughout the project life cycle,” according to the Association for Project Management. At the core, Agile project management projects should exhibit central values and behaviors of trust, flexibility, empowerment, and collaboration.
What does that mean for your team and the way you prioritize tasks at work? It means that your plan should be flexible. Establish priorities and work your task list, and then look for feedback– from both your team and your data– and be ready to adjust.
6. Be realistic
There’s nothing wrong with lofty goals, but never let ‘perfect’ become the enemy of ‘good’. Unrealistic goals can demoralize your team and short circuit your project. Make sure your goals are attainable within a reasonable amount of time and check in regularly with your metrics and your team to see if you need to reassess.
Prioritize tasks and meet project deadlines using technology
Prioritizing tasks and meeting deadlines is hard. You need project management software that can help you get organized, communicate, delegate, gather data, and more.
Kissflow Project is more than just project management software. It’s a complete digital workspace where you and your team can visualize your projects and clearly identify priorities. So you get more done and meet more deadlines. Start Kissflow Project for free today.