Time. Our most precious commodity and one we should value above all else.

When it comes to optimising our time, even the most planful and experienced time managers sometimes need to remind themselves of the most effective tips for prioritising actions, tasks and activities in our ever hectic work and private lifestyles.

So what are some of the most effective tips for prioritising?

Effort Return Matrix : Draw a 2×2 box grid and on the horizontal axis write Effort. On the vertical axis write Return. Rate (from 1 low to 10 high) each of your actions or tasks according to the amount of effort required to complete them. Also rate them (from 1 low to 10 high) for the amount of value they add to achieving your higher goals. Then place each into the grid in a relative position. Those actions towards the top left corner of your grid are your key priorities because they are highest value for lowest effort. Those towards the lower right corner of your grid are priorities you should leave until last because they are lower value and require significantly more effort.

Must Should Could and Now Soon Later : These are simple and quick tools for assessing the relative merits of a number of tasks. Be honest with your answers and you have a quick method of prioritisation. For each task ask yourself if you must do it, should do it, or could do it. Each Must task must be completed. Each Should, should be completed if you have time, and each Could is unlikely to ever happen unless you miraculously find some bonus spare time! Now for each of the Must tasks, which must happen, decide whether the task should be completed Now, Soon, or Later. Now really does mean right now, Soon means the task is relatively important and Later is one that Must happen but it’s not a top priority right now.

A third technique for prioritising and helping you to make decisions about the relative merits and value of each of the tasks you are considering above is to work with the Pareto Principle, sometimes called the 80/20 Rule. This tool correctly reminds us that 80% of the value we will get from our activities comes from just 20% of those activities. Keep this in mind when you are rating each of your tasks above and especially those Must/Should decisions. Keep it simple, don’t over-think and then get to work on completing those top priority, urgent and important tasks.