How to Prioritise Work

How to Prioritise Work

Every business leader is invariably faced with the fact that there are more things to do than the time available to do them. It is also true to say that not everything to be done has the same level of priority. This article makes suggestions about how to prioritise work to have the greatest positive influence on your business.

Table of Contents

How to Prioritise Work Decision Tools

Gut Feeling

The most highly tuned “tool” that an experienced business leader has is their “gut” feeling. There is a lot to be said in favour of listening very carefully to these signals. Perhaps one thing to keep in mind is that, if you are currently experiencing a problem, it may have been your “gut” that got you there in the first place.


One step, beyond using just your own intuition, is to have a brainstorming session with several people. If you do this, try to mix up the:

  • Level of experience
  • Types of professional experience
  • Diversity of age and gender

When doing brainstorming sessions, any business leader needs to be aware of the impact the HiPPO effect has on decision making. Essentially, if the most senior person in the room speaks first, or often, less senior people may tend to follow that lead. The most important aspect of brainstorming is to get a wide variety of opinions before you start to cull them.

When brainstorming, one also needs to be careful of achieving what is called “the average effect”. In any group there will tend to be a few opinions on either end of the spectrum and the majority of people will be in the middle. It is often true to say that outlying opinions can offer break through solutions as they are “out of the box”.

Analytical Tools to Prioritise Work

There are more analytical ways of how to prioritise work problems. For example, if your problem is to choose the best vehicle from a huge range, you can use a tool like weighted scores to make a well-balanced decision.

This technique works out what the most important selection criteria are (and gives them a score) and how well each of the possible solutions ranks on each of those criteria (and gives them a score for each weight). When these scores are multiplied together and added up, they give a fairly objective result. You can do this yourself or with a brainstorming group. For more, read the article on weights and scores (link above).

How to Prioritise Work Criteria

Address Life Threatening Issues First

When presented with a range of things you could do, if any of them address situations that threaten operations or the existence of your business, they would likely rank very high as the first thing you should do.

As an example, if you have a cash flow crisis and cannot pay your bills and wages as they fall due, this would be a situation that threatens the very existence of your business. You should prioritise this work before you spend your time looking at less impactful things that you could alternatively do.

Go For The Impact

All things being equal, you would choose the next task to do based on its impact on your business.

Impact can be whatever you choose to rank highly. Early on in your Sustainable Business Journey, this might be sustainability. But later it might be growth, lifestyle or exiting your business.

Rapid Bottom Line Boosters

Some things that you do can have an instantaneous impact on your profitability. Unfortunately, many of them can be done only once or not very frequently.

One of these is to implement a cost reduction program. Once costs are stripped out of the business, they are removed entirely from the Profit calculation. So, normally close to 100% of the cost reduction is added to your Profit. Clearly this cannot go on indefinitely. Ultimately, the biggest way to reduce costs is to close the business; and that is not a very satisfactory outcome!

The second example is an increase in Price of the products you sell. A European example of 1,000 businesses showed that a 1% increase in Price led to an average of an 11% increase in Profit. Again, because Price is increased without any other changes, the impact goes directly to the bottom line.

The impact of either a Cost reduction or Price increase will be greatest if you use the 80/20 Rule. Saving 10% of your largest costs will have a greater impact than 10% of your smaller costs. Increasing the Price of your 20% bestsellers will have a greater impact than increasing the Price of the 80% of products that do not sell as well.

Sensitivity to Change

There is a method known as “Sensitivity Analysis” which gives solutions on how to prioritise work.

What this does is test what change will happen in (say) your Profit if (say) your Price is increased by 10%. If you look at a number of the elements that makeup your business, for example, Price; Inventory Costs; Labour Costs; Marketing etc. and apply this test to each of them, you will find the one that has the greatest impact. This is the one that you should focus on first.

You can also learn more about this, and see it at work, in the introduction to the 12Faces Optimise100 Campaign in the example in the Case Studies. Read about our ChangeBoard tool for Sensitivity Analysis in the article: Sensitivity Analysis: Experiment with Changes to Your Business.

Undertaking a host of these comparatively small changes can have a surprising compound interest outcome. If you can improve some element of your business by about 10% each week, that element would be 100% better in just 7 weeks. This is the effect of Compound Interest on growth. Go to the article: How to Take Advantage of The Compound Interest Accelerator.

The 80/20 Principle

We are firm adherents to the concept of the 80/20 Principle. This compelling tool argues that you should focus on just the 20% of things that have the greatest impact rather than focusing on the 80% that have less impact. If you follow this discipline, you will be 16X better off for no extra work. You can read more about the 80/20 principle in several of our articles. Go to the article: SM2.0: 80/20 Sales Growth; Double Sales, Triple Profits.

The Use of the Eisenhower Matrix For Prioritising Work

The name Eisenhower Matrix comes from reference to the General, later President, Eisenhower. He talked about dividing the things to be done into 4 groups:

  • Important Urgent
  • Important Not Urgent
  • Unimportant Urgent
  • Unimportant Not Urgent

By then focusing on the Important Urgent before the others, you will be making most use of your time. You can read more on using the Eisenhower Matrix for Time Management in the article: How to Use Time Management Skills Tools.

Prioritise Work by Focusing on Your Constraints

If you consider an hour glass, no matter how much sand is above the pinched waste, there is nothing that you can do to make the sand flow through the hour glass any faster.

By definition, there will be some part of your workflow that is the Constraint in that workflow. No matter what you do either side of the Constraint, that workflow will not be executed any faster. For more on this very important tool read how the Theory of Constraints impacts your business.

When looking for the next problem to work on, take a moment to consider the Constraint in your workflow in your business. If there are no more pressing problems demanding your attention, working on the Constraint will, by definition, improve every aspect of your business below the Constraint.

For example, in your Sales Funnel, assume your Constraint is the person who phones potential clients to convert them to the Sale. By definition, you cannot make more Sales until this Constraint is relieved. Therefore, it may be that you focus on how to make this person more efficient, or consider increasing the number of Sales people that you have.

Wrap Up

We have discussed several ways to prioritise making a choice of the next things that you should work on in your business. We have loosely ranked them in the order of their importance. Starting with the most critical (life threatening) and moving to the least critical, but important, streamlining your business by focusing on your Constraints.

Share this post

Leave a Reply

error: Content is protected !!