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Knowing how to identify priorities at work and being able to pivot project resources to make sure they are addressed is a vitally important skill for any project manager. This workload prioritization can spell the difference between project success and failure, with the speed at which information is fed into the decision-making process and those decisions executed a telling factor.

There are several ways that can help you learn how to prioritize and also shift focus to make the most effective use of your and your team’s time. Here are a few of them:

  1. Put together a comprehensive list. Gather every task that you have before you, large or small, in one place. Until they are all on the same page it won’t be possible to fully understand the amount of work required and if working from different task-planners, one’s mind can become lost between the different objectives it is trying to work towards.
  2. Identify priorities by allocating value. Not all tasks are created equally, some are less important than others but might take less time. The important thing is to be able to learn how to prioritize and work on your most important items when you’re at peak productivity. Some items, such as meeting client deadlines or funding applications can have extremely negative consequences for your project if not given the priority they deserve.
  3. Be clear about your capabilities. There is no point setting out an extensive and finely-honed to-do list if you know deep inside that you won’t actually be able “to do” the list. Workload prioritization means understanding what you and your team are capable of and how long tasks will take. Otherwise, when goals aren’t met, or team members are stressed or working late to keep up with an unrealistic schedule, your project could become derailed through team breakdown or client disappointment. Don’t try to impress other stakeholders, project success is more important than, briefly, seeming like you are far faster than other project managers.
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  5. Be prepared for change. Flexibility is something that can be difficult to incorporate into your workload prioritization. It essentially means that something has occurred which hadn’t been foreseen or at least fully accounted for and direction needs to change. Some don’t like to change tack mid-project because they see it as an admission of fault, some people would even rather see a project continue into failure than alter the course they had set out in the planning stage. Being flexible should, however, be understood for what it is, a brave ability to see which way the wind is blowing and adjust course so as to benefit the whole project.
  6. Cutting tasks loose. Part of being adaptable to the present needs of a project is having the strength to jettison tasks or work that is slowing a project down or whose value doesn’t align with that of the project’s resources. To identify priorities and to learn how to prioritize those that will lead to success, a good project manager must also be able to spot those that are unnecessary or of little value to the goals that have been set.

Assessing and addressing your project’s needs and available resources is vital if you want to learn how to prioritize the multitude of various tasks a project contains. Though many of us would always like more time and resources to finish our projects “perfectly”, these items are in finite supply. Thus, understanding how to identify priorities and shift resources to their most appropriate use is a valuable skill in any project manager’s repertoire.