Setting Priorities

Your day has begun. How should you choose where to begin with your To Do List?

The simplest way to set priorities is to use the Most Important Tasks (MITs) method from Zen Habits.

Next simplest: The 1 – 3 – 5 Rule from the Muse: 1 big thing, 3 medium, 5 little.

Julie Morgenstern’s Return on Investment:

  • Deadlines
  • Estimated time
  • Steps to results

Alan Lakein’s ABC Method:

  • A-important tasks that contribute to goals MUST do
  • B-moderately important SHOULD do
  • C-least important COULD do

Stephen R Covey’s time management matrix (Also Known as the Eisenhower Box):

  • Quadrant I (important and urgent): appointments, deadlines, repeating tasks, recurring and routine tasks – Do It!
  • Quadrant II (important but not urgent): goals, planning, exercise, personal development, and relationship building – Plan It!
  • Quadrant III (urgent but not important): distractions, interruptions – Decrease It!
  • Quadrant IV (not urgent and not important): other time wasters like social media – Drop It!

A time audit shows how you really spend your time. Understand the value of time and plan to use it well.


Do It Now

Ask which tasks…

  • must be done right now?
  • will fit the amount of time available now?
  • will fit the amount of energy available now?

Plan It!

Decrease or Drop It

  • can be diminished, delegated, or deleted?

See 10 minutes 10 questions for productivity

Learn more about how to use time productively with the free Time Management 101 tutorial.

When nothing is urgent, look for The Sweet Spot. Tasks that have high impact and require low effort provide a quick win. Plan for tasks that have high impact but require high effort by breaking them down into smaller steps. Of course, some worthwhile goals do require effort and even pain and sacrifice. Remember the Economy of Goals which means that goals are more likely to be accomplished if the benefits outweigh the resources that are required to obtain it.

Focus on Values

Perhaps one of the best ways to set priorities is to maintain a focus on the values that are your guiding principles with a value statement that clarifies what you do and why.


Remember the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule.

Jim Temme in the book “Productivity Power” says that we spend about 80 percent of our day working on job description activities (what I think of as repeating tasks) that yield only 20 percent results. The challenge is to use the remaining 20 percent of discretionary time on goal-related activities that yield 80 percent results. See more about the Pareto Principle at Measuring Productivity.

Use time chunking, time boxing, or time blocking – see and entrepreneur. David Seah’s tools are all about keeping on task too. Using a timer increases awareness of time passing by and focuses attention on high priority tasks.

Always ask: “What is the best use of my time right now?” -Alan Lakein

I seek to create order from the chaos of complex information. Join me at the Daily PlanIt to gain insights, inspiration, and information to increase skills for a better life. I unlock the power of teaching reading with phonics in the pursuit of literacy at In my spare time I explore books and movies, often choosing titles available on both screen and page.

Posted in productivity
15 comments on “Setting Priorities
  1. Nice wrap-up of prioritization techniques. I tried most of them and my favorite one is the 50-30-20 rule, described by Steve Pavlina in

    Best Regards.

  2. sw4spi says:

    For time management and success I haven’t found a better book than “Eat That Frog”, by Brian Tracy. It is compact, lightweight, practical.

    Great tips and it helps you to refocus. Thanks for the tips. Keep them coming. – Scott at

  3. Jamie says:

    Hi!. Thanks for the info. I’ve been digging around for info, but there is so much out there. Yahoo lead me here – good for you i guess! Keep up the great information. I will be popping back over in a few days to see if there is any more info.

  4. […] Set priorities and act. Make changes and add incoming tasks to lists as needed. […]

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  10. […] you study productivity, you will learn about a key concept:  Stephen R. Covey’s Time Management Matrix, also called the Eisenhower Matrix. The four quadrants show different possibilities for time use. […]

  11. […] that you want to accomplish. Maybe you want to focus on Stephen R Covey’s Quadrant II of the Time Management Matrix: things like creative thought, planning, relationship building. Perhaps there are small Daily […]

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