I use a few different criteria for prioritizing my tasks in my day to day activities. As stuff comes in I use a modified version of the 4 D method.
For this example I will talk about email, but it works for other things too. Once I open my email, I’ll scan my inbox and then apply the D’s in this order:
Discard/Drawer – Based on sender and subject I can eliminate a number of emails from my inbox. Maybe it is junk and can be discarded. Or maybe it is something I want to keep for reference but don’t need to do anything with, then I can put in a ‘drawer’ or another folder other than my inbox for future reference.
Do – If something can be done in about two minutes or less, just do it. Why put it off and let things pile up? That just causes stress and mental load. Do it now and move on.
Defer/Date – If it is something I need to do, but will take more time I add it to my task holding area for later consideration. If there is a due date I will add that as well.
Delegate – Is this something that someone else should be doing? If yes, send it along to the proper people.
Once I have processed my incoming information, it is time to prioritize. I like to use an Urgent/Important matrix to help set priorities (you may have seen this called an Eisenhower Matrix, or seen something similar from Stephen Covey). The idea is that tasks can be placed on a matrix based on whether they are important or not, and urgent or not:
You do need to be honest with yourself. Not everything can be urgent and important equally. So the tasks that are most urgent and important would go first, down the list. As you plan out your day based on your prioritized list it is important to remember that you may have more tasks than possible to complete in a day. Do not add them to today’s task list, but rather keep them in a separate holding area list. That way they are easily accessible if you finish all your scheduled tasks early, but they aren’t hanging out on your main list stressing you out.