Back to blog

How to Prioritize Tasks: Finding the Right Methodology

Does every task feel like it should be first? Learn how to prioritize tasks effectively with six of the most popular task prioritization methods.

Motion Blog
at Motion
Oct 5, 2023
Table of contents

No one means to be disorganized. No one wakes up and says to themselves, “You know what? I feel like missing some deadlines today.”

It just happens.

And when every task feels like the number-one priority, it’s no surprise that organizing your to-do list can feel impossible or that your schedule is becoming more unmanageable by the second.

Prioritization methods can help you conquer these challenges. They tell you what’s important and show you what to do with the things that aren’t.

In this article, you’ll learn how to prioritize your seemingly never-ending list of tasks using six popular task prioritization methods.

What do you need from your prioritization method?

As with most things, there’s no one-size-fits-all regarding task prioritization methods. Different methods work best for certain jobs, groups of tasks, teams, or work styles.

Different prioritization methods also use combinations of the following factors to help you rank your tasks:

  • Time sensitivity and urgency: Are you working around a deadline? Will delaying the task lead to consequences?
  • Dependencies: Are other people unable to work until you’ve completed the task? Do you need to complete one task before starting on another?
  • Available resources: Do you need to wait for more resources before you can start a task? If you delay a task, will the resources run out before you get started?
  • Importance or impact of task: How much value will your task add once you’ve completed it? How many people will the completed task affect?
  • Effort required: How difficult will it be to complete the task? Will you need a high energy level or mental capacity to complete the task?

You might focus on only one or two of these factors when deciding how to prioritize your tasks. Or, if you have a larger project, you might need to work with them all. Ultimately, the best prioritization method will take into account the factors that apply to your or your team’s workflow.

6 of the best task prioritization methods

To reap the benefits of task prioritization, you need to be able to choose the best prioritization technique for your needs.

The following six prioritization strategies balance different factors to weigh tasks according to their urgency, importance, difficulty, or number of people they’ll impact.

1. Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix (also known as the prioritization matrix), designed by Dwight D. Eisenhower, balances urgency and importance to rank tasks and clear busy calendars.

Eisenhower matrix

Urgency refers to how soon a task needs to be completed before you miss a deadline or run into trouble. Importance refers to how valuable a task is for you, your team, or the company at large.

Comparing these two factors creates four categories for organizing your tasks. It then gives general instructions for how to handle the tasks in each category.

  • DO – Urgent and important: These tasks are of the highest priority, so you should do them immediately or as soon as possible. Examples of highest-priority tasks include those with imminent deadlines.
  • SCHEDULE – Not urgent, but important: These tasks should be done after you’ve completed the urgent and important tasks or scheduled into the next convenient time slot. Examples of high-priority tasks include business calls and personal tasks, like health checkups and exercise.
  • DELEGATE – Urgent but not important: These low-priority tasks should be done last or delegated to other members of your team. Examples include long-term projects, non-urgent emails, or administrative tasks.
  • ELIMINATE – Not urgent and not important: These tasks aren’t directly related to your projects, are a waste of your time and effort, and should be removed from your daily list of to-dos.

Pros of the Eisenhower Matrix:

  • Dividing tasks into the four categories is quick and easy.
  • It helps avoid the mere urgency effect, which describes how people tend to prioritize urgency over importance.

Cons of the Eisenhower Matrix:

  • It doesn’t consider task dependencies.
  • It can be difficult to quantify importance.
  • If you have many tasks in each category, it’s hard to prioritize them further.

You should use this method if:

  • You only have a few tasks to work on.
  • You tend to favor urgency over importance, and you want to balance these factors out.

2. RICE prioritization

The RICE prioritization method assigns numerical values to four factors that describe your tasks. You then calculate a RICE score for each of your tasks and prioritize those with the highest scores.

The RICE acronym stands for the following:

  • Reach: The number of people affected by the task
  • Impact: The potential benefit or value of the task
  • Confidence: How confident you are in the methods or data you used to determine the reach and impact values
  • Effort: The number of resources and amount of time you need to complete the task

To learn how to choose values for each factor, read our guide to RICE prioritization.

Calculate each task’s RICE score using the following formula:

Rice prioritization calculation formula

‎Pros of the RICE method:

  • It’s a structured and quantitative method.
  • It removes biases and subjective opinions, relying on measurable factors instead.

Cons of the RICE method:

  • It doesn’t consider task dependencies.
  • It can be difficult to quantify qualitative factors, such as user experience.
  • The values assigned to each factor may differ from person to person.

You should use this method if:

  • You and your team have a standard scoring method.
  • You’re working with easily measured qualities, such as the number of clicks on a website link.
  • You’re not working on tasks that depend on each other.

3. MoSCoW

The MoSCoW method was originally created to prioritize the potential features of a product during its development. It’s been adapted to apply to task prioritization.

The MoSCoW method prioritizes the tasks that are most important and impactful for your clients and business. It divides tasks into four categories:

  • Must have: These tasks are essential for other projects or employees.
  • Should have: These tasks are important but not mandatory. Not completing one of them won’t do any damage to the business, but it will cause frustration and irritation until it’s done.
  • Could have: These tasks aren’t essential, but they’re nice to do eventually. Not completing one of them has a small impact on your team, clients, or business.
  • Won’t have: These are tasks that aren’t needed. They don’t have enough value to prioritize, so you can either put them on the backburner or drop them from your to-do list entirely.

Moscow prioritization method

‎The four categories might feel similar to those of the Eisenhower Matrix, but the factors you consider are more focused on the task’s impact and value than its urgency.

Pros of the MoSCoW method:

  • It considers impact from the angle of usefulness for clients and business.
  • Its categories are intuitive, making it easy to explain your priorities to colleagues.

Cons of the MoSCoW method:

  • It doesn’t consider the urgency of tasks.
  • The impact level of a task can be subjective.

You should use this method if:

  • You’re choosing a feature to work on or implement into a product.
  • You don’t have multiple time-sensitive projects on the go.

4. Eat the Frog

The Eat the Frog technique comes from the famous Mark Twain quote, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.”

According to this method, you tackle the most important, complex, or difficult task (or “eat the frog”) first. Then, you move on to the simpler tasks.

Method Image alt tag: frog on a plate

‎Pros of the Eat the Frog method:

  • It’s a simple method that allows you to get going quickly.
  • Getting your most daunting task out of the way gives you momentum right at the start of your workday.

Cons of the Eat the Frog method:

  • If you have multiple complex and important tasks, it can be difficult to know which to work on first.
  • The most complex and difficult work isn’t necessarily the most valuable task for your team or business.
  • It doesn’t consider time sensitivity.
  • Prioritizing the smaller tasks after you’ve “eaten the frog” can be difficult.

You should use this method if:

  • You have a project or task that intimidates you so much that you’re struggling to work on anything at all.
  • You have a main project you should be focusing on, but you keep getting distracted with admin work.

5. ABCDE

The ABCDE method grades tasks by level of importance, where A is very important, and E is not important.

With this method, you work on the A and B tasks first, then tackle the C tasks you enjoy, and only work on the D and E tasks if you have time left over. Otherwise, you’ll delegate or delete these tasks.

  • A – Very important: These are the very important tasks that carry a lot of value for your team or business.
  • B – Less important: These are less important tasks that add a small amount of value to your team but aren’t urgent or essential.
  • C – Enjoyable: These are tasks you find pleasure in doing and don’t need much motivation to complete.
  • D – Delegate: These are low-value tasks that you could delegate to a colleague if you run out of time before getting to them.
  • E – Eliminate: These are tasks that add no value to your team and aren’t essential or useful for your business. They have the lowest priority.

ABCDE importance gauge

‎Pros of the ABCDE method:

  • It’s incredibly simple and intuitive.
  • It includes an enjoyment factor for bonus tasks, which can motivate you through trickier jobs.

Cons of the ABCDE method:

  • If you can’t see the big picture, it’s hard to accurately grade the importance of your tasks.
  • If you aren’t diligent with how you spend your time, you won’t get past the bigger, more important tasks.

You should use this method if:

  • You have the ability to grade your tasks’ importance objectively.
  • You’re good at managing your time.

6. Impact-effort matrix

The impact-effort matrix (also called the value-complexity matrix) balances the impact of a task with the effort required to pull it off.

It has the following four task categories:

  • QUICK WINS – High impact and low effort: These are tasks that are worth investing time and energy into because even a small amount of work is rewarded.
  • BIG BETS – High impact and high effort: These tasks are worth investing effort into carefully planning because they’ll have huge payoffs once you’ve completed them.
  • FILL INS – Low impact and low effort: These tasks are easy to implement, but they aren’t always worth your time and resources and might be distracting you from your big picture.
  • MONEY PIT – Low impact and high effort: These tasks are a waste of time and resources as they take huge amounts of work for little to no payoff.

Pros of the impact-effort matrix:

  • The effort metric considers skill level, labor, time, and resources.
  • It’s a simple method that allows you to get started quickly.

Cons of the impact-effort matrix:

  • Impact and effort levels are subjective and tricky to define.
  • It doesn’t take urgency into account.

You should use this method if:

  • You’re working in a team and want a quick, collaborative game plan.
  • You want to take resources into account while prioritizing.

Use digital tools to make the most of your prioritization method

You’ve got your priorities in order. So, now what?

You can make the most of your prioritized task list by enlisting the help of digital planning tools. Digital tools like Motion’s AI calendar can help you move from planning to action.

If you’re staring at an organized list of tasks and have no idea how to work through them, Motion’s intelligent calendar and scheduling tool could be exactly what you need.

Motion automatically plans your day by scheduling your tasks by deadline and priority level. All you need to do is input your tasks and calendar events, and Motion will create an optimized schedule for you every single day. Motion will also send a calendar reminder when a deadline is approaching or if you’ve overbooked yourself.

Keep your daily priorities in order with Motion

With practice, you’ll become better at knowing which tasks and projects will provide the highest value and should be your number-one priority. Having additional prioritization techniques in your arsenal helps you take control of your responsibilities at work and unlock impactful productivity.

Knowing how to prioritize daily and weekly tasks is the first step to tackling your to-do list. Managing your priorities is the next step on your road to success.

Motion makes it easy to keep your priorities in order by scheduling tasks in order of importance and priority. Once you’ve set an importance level, Motion uses the power of AI to create an optimal schedule for you to follow.

Try out Motion for free today.

Motion Blog
Written by Motion Blog