There will always be more items on your to-do list than you can ever complete. You don’t have infinite time or resources. It’s frustrating and stressful, but you just have to admit it’s simply not possible do everything you’d like to in the time you have. Prioritizing is the only solution.

If you don't consciously set priorities, you let whatever comes up determine how you'll spend your time. You can work very hard without accomplishing much that’s important. Setting priorities forces you to evaluate each item on your task list and make a conscious, thoughtful decision about what’s the best thing to do. By clarifying your priorities you’ll actually accomplish more in less time. You’ll work smarter instead of harder.

There’s a well-known concept that supports this, called the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Rule. The general idea is that 80 percent of our results come from 20 percent of our efforts; 80 percent of our income comes from 20 percent of our clients, etc. In countless ways, most of what we do each day has little impact on our lives and a few things have major impact. Therefore, you want to focus 80 percent of your attention on the 20 percent of things that make a difference. The trick is to identify the most important 20 percent that should be your priorities!

Over the years, experts have devised a number of strategies commonly used to help identify priorities. Here is just one you may want to follow:

1. “Covey Quadrants” System

This was created by Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s based on evaluating the importance of a task versus its urgency. An issue is important if it helps you achieve your goals. It’s urgent if you must do it immediately or you can’t do it at all. Tasks are categorized by being placed in one of four quadrants:

Q I Important & Urgent QII Important, but Not Urgent

QIII Urgent,but not Important QIVNot Important & Not Urgent

Items in QI are tasks are very important to achieving your goals and have a deadline that must be met immediately.
QII tasks are also projects that are important to achieving goals; however, deadlines and consequences aren’t breathing down your neck this minute. This remoteness can make it easy to put these tasks off; so it’s important to keep them moving or urgent problems may arise and shift them into Q1.
The items in QIII and IV are the day-to-day busy work that can consume great amounts of time if you’re not paying attention. When some things aren’t going to get done because your workload exceeds the hours in the day, these are the things to let drop.
The tasks in Quadrants I and II are the ones you should spend most of your time on.

2. “A-B-C” System

This is a simple and direct way of prioritizing:

“A” High Priority Tasks
Immediate or critical “must-does”
Task requiring special effort or concentration
Stressful tasks
Vital to the needs of your customer or business associate
High positive or negative consequences

“B” Medium Priority Tasks

Everyday, routine work
Need to do, but not critical and can be postponed if necessary

“C” Low Priority Tasks

Low priority paperwork, reading
“Nice to do” if you get the time
Let’s face it; many of these just won’t get done

You can further prioritize within categories, such as A-1, A-2, B-1, B-2, and so forth. In truth, most “C” tasks remain forever undone simply because you can’t get to them, but as long-range goals come into view, some may graduate to “B.”

3. “Value vs. Effort” System

With this system you evaluate the value of the task versus the time and effort required. Those tasks with a high reward to effort ratio rise to the top of the list and those with a low reward drop to the bottom. Ask yourself these questions:

1. What’s the value of this task on a scale of 1 - 10?
2. What’s the level of effort required by this task on a scale of 1 - 10?
3. What’s the value compared with the level of effort?
Rank according to the degree to which the level of value exceeds the level of effort. For example:

Task Value Effort Difference Priority Rank
1 10 10 0 2
2 4 5 +1 3
3 6 10 +4 5
4 1 3 +2 4
5 10 4 -6 1

Author's Bio: 

Internationally known organizing and time management expert Elaine Quinn has worked with hundreds of small business owners and work-from-home solopreneurs for more than 10 years. She helps them organize their offices, desks and files; set goals and priorities; and increase their overall productivity.

A work-from-home professional herself, Elaine knows just what it takes to help you get better organized, stay energized and motivated, and get things done in your workspace. If you love working from home, and want more information on topics that will help you, get your FREE copy of her e-book, "15 Ways to Save Time and Trouble for You and Your Business" at her website,