How to Prioritize Your Work Day When Dealing with Competing Projects and Deadlines

Office desk

For those of us who work in an office environment, prioritizing our daily projects can be difficult task. Last-minute requests seem to fly at us from all corners. Deadlines are always on the horizon. And that’s not even including our day-to-day routines!

So how does one prioritize in the middle of the office storm? Consider trying the 6-point checklist below.

1. Glance at your to-do list

This is the first thing you should do when you arrive to the office. Look for any scheduled meetings or impending deadlines. Doing so will help you psychologically prepare for the day ahead.

Nothing helps declutter the mind more than a daily to-do list. If you haven’t used a to-do list before, then now is the time to start. You should try to keep your list as simple as possible, highlighting meetings, deadlines and projects.

2. Check your messages

After you look at your to-do list, you can then move on to checking your phone messages, emails and mail. You don’t have to answer all of your messages at this time; however, you should pay special attention – and respond – to all messages coming from your managers or involving money and emergencies.

Read this article I wrote on how to manage your emails.

I like to refer to this period of the day as “communications time”. It’s the one period when I’m responsive to all emails and phone calls. As soon as it ends, I turn my mind away from my inbox and focus on the day’s next challenge.

3. Take care of any hard deadlines

Now is the time to take care of any deadlines that are due on that day or the next day. You want to take care of these impending deadlines first thing in the morning. Nothing says incompetence more than failing to meet a project deadline.

Though it’s important not to miss any deadlines, you should be able to differentiate between a soft deadline and a hard deadline. Soft deadlines are often self-imposed and flexible, whereas hard deadlines often come from the top and have legal/financial implications. I touched on the subject of soft and hard deadlines in a previous article, which you can read here.

Once you complete your project, you can wipe the sweat off your brow, walk to the water cooler and then return to your desk for the next step.

4. Round out your daily routine

All of us have assignments that we need to complete on a daily basis. These tasks are not as pertinent as tackling a project that’s due in a couple of hours. However, they are still important to your job and should not go ignored.

A person’s everyday routine depends largely on their work function. For a public relations manager, for example, a typical routine most likely includes media monitoring, whereas cold calling and networking are essential for someone in sales.

5. Work on impending deadlines

After you have finished your day-to-day routine, you can move on to tackling lower-priority assignments or projects with far off deadlines.

By this time in the day, and given the low urgency associated with the task at hand, you may find it hard to get started. If you encounter this problem, I recommend you try doing a warm up first. That is, set your timer for 15 minutes and do only the work at hand during that period. There’s a good chance you will want to continue your work even after the alarm goes off. And if you do want to stop, you can feel good about getting at least some work done.

For more information, check out my article on the 15-minute writer’s workout, which is based on the same concept.

6. The cool down

Like a seafarer who’s been riding the waves for months, you finally see land on the horizon. The workday is coming to an end.

You can use this time to work on something you enjoy. You can also check your emails one last time. Or clean your desk. Talk to colleagues. Before you know it, it’s time to say goodbye.

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John Gilson