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9 best practices to prioritize work with your team
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9 best practices to prioritize work with your team

Discover nine best practices for how to prioritize work for your team, improve productivity, and avoid burnout.

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So it’s Monday morning and you’ve got a task list as long as your arm. Everything seems important and you don’t know where to start. Feeling overwhelmed, you start checking email instead, thinking to clear a few and make progress that way. Trouble is, for each one you send, you get a reply that you have to deal with. 

By lunchtime, you still haven’t made a start on your to-do list and have no chance of hitting your productivity targets. 

The ability to prioritize is a critical skill for any employee. Yet, too often, we waste time being reactive, instead of consciously prioritizing. When your team isn’t hitting KPIs or meeting deadlines it could be a sign they’re overwhelmed with tasks and need support with prioritization. But learning to prioritize work isn’t just about telling them what to do and when: You need to equip them with the skills and information they need to understand what’s important, not prioritize for them. 

In this post, we’ll look at how to prioritize work for your team so they understand their role in achieving business goals and can make better decisions. Let’s dive in. 

Get clear on priorities and workload. 
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The challenges of prioritizing work with your team

Before you can prioritize effectively, you need to understand what gets in the way of that. Let’s take a look. 

Understanding what’s really important 

Prioritizing tasks involves figuring out which are most valuable compared to others, but this isn't always clear. Plus, their value can change based on factors like project objectives, customer needs, company values, deadlines, etc. That means you need to know what matters most to your project, team, customers, and business—and factor in other people’s priorities. For example, you might decide that fixing a website bug that’s driving users crazy is more urgent than a new, in-demand app feature to drive conversions. However, your boss may have other internal or long-term priorities that matter more to them, so they could pressurize you to move those up instead.   

Seeing the big picture 

Sometimes, it’s hard to prioritize daily tasks because information is siloed or poorly organized, limiting your ability to see the big picture and how individual tasks fit into it.  

Imagine you’re working on that new feature. The marketing department has valuable insights on customer preferences, but it’s stored in a database you can’t access. That means you need to wait for them to share the insights to get crucial information that could influence which subtasks to prioritize, hampering your ability to respond to market demands and meet business goals. 

Expecting the unexpected 

Project needs change, deadlines get moved up, and backlogs build up, throwing a wrench into your carefully weighted priorities. For example, if a key stakeholder requests a sudden change in direction, you’ll need to quickly reevaluate which tasks can be shunted so you can accommodate them. 


Sure, you’re the team lead, but handing down tasks without involving your team in the process can lead to resentment and misunderstandings. It also limits their ability to understand where they fit into achieving project goals, making it harder for them to prioritize. Excessive hand-holding also prevents them being autonomous and taking ownership of their work. It also eats into the time you have for high-level decision making and strategizing.  

How to prioritize work with your team

Now you know what to watch for, let’s see how to effectively prioritize work with your team. 

1. Set clear objectives and review them regularly with your team 

Having clear goals is the number one determiner of productivity for high-performing tech teams, not least because you can’t prioritize unless you know what’s important. Here’s how to get clear on what you’re trying to accomplish:  

  • Establish clear objectives. These should align with overarching team, project, and company goals. Define what success looks like, whether it's increasing sign-ups, driving adoption, or reducing churn, so you know what to prioritize. 
  • Get stakeholder input and buy-in. Get input and build alignment with higher-ups to understand business goals, better allocate resources, and avoid surprises down the line. When leadership agrees on what you’re trying to achieve, it also puts you in a better position to push back on requests that could distract you from those goals.   
  • Involve your team in prioritizing. Unproductive team members are 2.8 times less likely to know their goals than those who have clarity, so you should revisit objectives regularly and involve them in prioritization.  For example, instead of dictating tasks, hold a team meeting to discuss priorities each week, fostering buy-in, ownership, and accountability. Teams that discuss goals weekly or bi-weekly vs quarterly are 2.7 times more confident about hitting them. 
Graphic showing relationships between productivity and employee clarity on goals
The more often you discuss goals, the more empowered teams feel to achieve them. 

Once you have a clear picture of your goals, you can move on to deciding how to achieve them.

2. Differentiate impact from effort and urgency from importance

Often, urgent but less important tasks get done first because, well, they’re urgent. Similarly, it’s easy for everything to seem important and, therefore, urgent. 

You see where we’re going with this? 

To avoid misdirecting your energy toward tasks that don’t actually move the needle, you need to learn to understand their value, like this:  

  • Assessing impact vs effort. Instead of task-centric, think outcome-centric. Bigger, more complex tasks may seem to have more weight, but you should evaluate them not on what’s involved, but rather on the impact for your project, customer, or business. Is it game-changing or just marginal? Will it reveal critical information or are you just checking a box? What’s the cost of not doing it? Regardless of size or complexity, prioritize activities that deliver the most value by driving essential outcomes or advancing key initiatives. Similarly, if you have to choose between deliverables for two clients, think about which is more understanding and flexible. And whose business matters most to yours. 
  • Urgency vs importance. When everything seems equally important, narrow it down by focusing on the results you want to achieve. Work that demands immediate attention and contributes to overarching goals should come first, followed by whatever’s important but not time-sensitive. This lets you maintain a balance between short-term needs and long-term objectives and avoids the trap of prioritizing based solely on looming deadlines. For example, if you’re weighing up fixing that bug vs. developing the new feature, remind yourself of the overarching goal. If that’s reducing churn, the bug is a top priority. 

You also need to forward-plan and be mindful of the impact on others: If the whole design team is blocked waiting for you to give feedback, you may need to prioritize that over your own tasks. Similarly, if you need to collaborate on a minor task, you may need to give people some notice, maybe get the ball rolling on that before other, more important, tasks.  

3. Use prioritization frameworks and methodologies 

With the above in mind, frameworks help take the guesswork out of task prioritization and make it easier to stay aligned with business goals and allocate resources. Here are a few to try: 

  • Eisenhower Matrix. This categorizes tasks into quadrants based on urgency and importance, so you can decide what to tackle now, what to delegate, reschedule, or shelve.  
Four quadrants of the Eisenhower Matrix
Matrices like the Eisenhower help you prioritize visually by putting tasks into categories. 
Source: Eisenhower
  • Ranking or scoring. Useful when grooming your product backlog, this involves assigning a unique number to each item, encouraging stakeholders to prioritize objectively, rather than everything being equally important or urgent. 
  • Business value matrix. To prioritize large-scale work, break it into its component parts and assign a number to each task. This should be in line with how much it contributes to creating value for the business, for example, by boosting retention, improving UX, etc. Then, calculate the overall score for each task or feature. For example, a business like Amazon whose model is to maximize customer lifetime value will prioritize retention and repeat business. However, a gaming startup with a single high-value, one-off transaction may be more concerned about winning new customers.
  • Effort Value Matrix. This categorizes features from your product backlog into high-value, low-effort (low-hanging fruit or quick wins like a simple bug fix), high-value, high-effort (big projects and strategic initiatives like a site redesign), low-value, low-effort (easy but not offering a ton of value), and low-value, high-effort (aka time sinks).  
Effort value matrix
The Effort-Value matrix lets you get clear on what’s really worth working on.
Source: BlinkLane Consulting
  • Get Things Done. This system involves capturing and recording items that need your attention; clarifying whether they’re actionable (if not, put them on hold); organizing them by creating tasks or reminders; reflecting, reviewing, and updating them regularly; and, finally, engaging with them (or, as a well-known sneaker brand might say, “just do it”). 

4. Break down large tasks or projects  

Breaking large tasks or projects into smaller, more manageable components makes it easier to prioritize them. This is because you're creating a roadmap of actionable steps that move you toward your overarching goal. For example, Agile methodologies focus on delivering large or ongoing projects through shorter, iterative sprints. This also has the advantage that you don’t commit to too much upfront and can pivot as projects, markets, and customer needs change. 

Imagine you’re tasked with the gargantuan task of overhauling your company's website. By breaking it into steps like updating content, redesigning layouts, and optimizing UX, you can identify which tasks are most urgent, important, or valuable and which will require collaboration. 

5. Don’t spread yourself too thin

Part of prioritizing is knowing when to focus on the One Thing that’ll move you toward your goal. And since you can’t do everything, that means knowing your limits. Pick a certain number of critical tasks per week so you know what to focus on each day and don’t get overwhelmed. If you’re working for more than one boss or on multiple projects, you’ll need to negotiate with and get alignment between them, so you can prioritize. Where possible, you should also delegate tasks according to your team’s capacity and individual competencies. For example, if you’re facing multiple project deadlines, prioritizing one key task per day and delegating non-core tasks lets you keep things moving without getting burned out. 

6. Communicate clearly

Prioritization relies on making informed decisions, so you need full visibility of business goals, workloads, and workflows. Break down team and information silos and establish clear communication channels so information can flow and everyone has a holistic understanding of what’s important. To do this:

  • Create open lines of communication with stakeholders. For example, a regular meeting, feedback form, or Slack channel. This lets you gather input and build alignment on objectives so you can negotiate priorities based on a shared understanding. 
  • Share the why. When team members understand project goals and their role in achieving them, it’s easier for them to identify tasks to prioritize. 
  • Be transparent and proactive about communicating delays or changes. If you’re faced with multiple deadlines you can’t meet, be proactive about telling stakeholders before it becomes a problem. 
  • Use information sharing and document management systems. Share all essential information about the project, stakeholders, and business goals in a central location that everyone can access. For example, a Notion wiki or your dedicated Switchboard project room. This avoids information being siloed in email or Slack threads. 
Switchboard room with apps and docs.
You can pull up any app or file in your Switchboard room with a simple copy-paste and it’ll stay right where you left it. 

7. Be flexible 

Projects, timelines, and deliverables change and unforeseen roadblocks can arise, so yesterday’s carefully prioritized task list may be irrelevant today. That means you need to be flexible enough to adapt on the fly. For example, if beta testing feedback reveals users are confused by your UX, you’ll need to fix it before you can move on. 

Recognize the inevitability of curveballs and keep reminding your team of the overarching goals. This will make it easier for them to handle unexpected changes and pivot when needed.

8. Use technology for efficient task management 

The right tools are essential to put much of our advice into practice. For example:

  • Project management tools. Platforms like Asana, Trello, or Jira let you break down projects into their component tasks and organize them into workflows with assignees and due dates. Kanban boards allow you to visualize dependencies and what everyone’s working on so you can anticipate blockers or delays and redirect efforts as necessary. Visibility also promotes accountability, which helps team members to prioritize. 
  • AI-powered task managers. With automated task allocation, workflow management, and smart scheduling, these take the legwork out of prioritization and reshuffles. Predictive analytics also provides valuable insights into what might go wrong based on historical patterns and real-time data.
  • Online collaboration platforms. Switchboard lets you organize everything and everyone in one central space where you can share, explore, and work side by side on apps, documents, and files. That means you have all the information you need at your fingertips, without digging through folders. You can also create dedicated meeting rooms, set up polls, and leave comments on anything in the room to discuss priorities with stakeholders and your team. 
Switchboard comment thread on a PDF.
Start a comment thread anywhere in your Switchboard room to communicate in context. 

9. Avoid procrastination, distractions, and multitasking 

Essential or high-impact tasks may be challenging, taking you out of your comfort zone and leading to procrastination. And then there’s the daily clamor of notifications and emails that create a sense of urgency. This means it’s tempting to deal with them first, even if they don’t really help move the needle. 

To avoid this, learn to recognize when you’re procrastinating or mistaking quick wins like answering an email for actually making progress. If something is important work, set it as priority number one and get to it, logging out of email or chat and silencing notifications. Eliminating these distractions also helps avoid unproductive multitasking and context-switching between tools and tabs, which prevents you from getting into a flow state. 

Finally, encourage people to block time for deep work and foster an asynchronous work culture where it’s ok to get back to someone later. You should also empower them to set boundaries, say no to low-priority tasks, or negotiate workloads and deadlines. 

Pro tip: Switchboard saves your work, so you can catch up, leave feedback, and communicate on your own schedule. Missed a meeting? No problem: catch up with the room recording or ask Switchboard AI to summarize room activity.
Switchboard room with app and chat.
Switchboard lets you communicate in a variety of ways in real time or async.  

Prioritization: Do it with your team, not for them 

Effective prioritization requires you to be aligned on goals and know how each person and task contributes to achieving them. To do this, you need to communicate with stakeholders, involve your team in prioritizing, and evaluate tasks based on impact, urgency, importance, and effort. Creating an asynchronous work culture and encouraging people to block focus time, eliminate distractions, and avoid multitasking also empowers them to take control of their time. 

By applying these best practices, you enhance your team’s ability to identify and focus on the most important tasks, leading to improved productivity and better management of workloads. 

You also need to use the right tools to get visibility on goals and workloads. When you use Switchboard as the base of your tech stack, you can pull up all the tools and information your team needs to make decisions, plan workflows, and agree on priorities—without ever leaving your dedicated room. 

Get clear on priorities and workload.
Switchboard keeps everything–and everyone–organized in rooms, so it’s easy to see what you need to do next.  
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about how to prioritize work for your team

What’s the difference between urgency and importance?

Urgency means something is time-sensitive or and needs immediate action due to deadlines or external pressure. Importance means a task contributes to achieving high-value or long-term goals. Balancing urgency with importance is essential for effective task prioritization. 

How can I improve my prioritization skills?

To improve your prioritization skills, distinguish urgent tasks that demand immediate attention from important tasks crucial for long-term success. To do this, you can use prioritization frameworks and  project management tools to get visibility of workflows, so you can see what to move forward with first. 

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Get clear on priorities and workload.

Switchboard keeps everything–and everyone–organized in rooms, so it’s easy to see what you need to do next.