CPD - The importance of prioritisation in learning

CPD - The importance of prioritisation in learning

31 Jan 2023

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The need to prioritise effectively is necessary throughout work, learning and wider personal life in order to accomplish everything that we need to. The following CPD article looks to define what prioritisation is, including the best techniques and skills needed to prioritise, and how work and learning can be prioritised effectively.

What is prioritisation?

Prioritisation is assessing the relevant importance or urgency of assigned tasks. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of prioritisation is “to organise so that the most important thing is done or dealt with first.” Prioritisation requires planning and effort to decide what requires handling first and creating an order for doing things. Prioritising tasks involves establishing and following criteria to help determine and differentiate between high priority and low priority tasks. Prioritisation leads to the development of effective time management and good organisation.

Why is prioritisation important?

In the first instance, establishing priorities is necessary and important in order to complete everything that needs to be done. It ensures that the tasks fundamental to achieving overall goals are fulfilled when they need to be. It also gives clarity to workload and responsibilities and avoids drift and procrastination. Prioritisation helps create focus which in turn avoids stress – without the focus of prioritisation, tasks can be delayed, time can be lost and deadlines missed, which increases individual stress and a sense of no control.

Effective prioritisation has also proven to increase productivity and performance in the workplace as individuals feel more confident and effective. Employees with good prioritisation skills will be better equipped to make strategic decisions and develop time management skills (read our article on good time management).

Time management skills can lead to a better work life balance as they encourage smarter working, with an understanding of the time needed to complete tasks, rather than letting time drift and waste with no focus. Proper prioritisation ultimately creates more free time or time to focus on other work.

Importance of prioritising tasks effectively

What are prioritisation skills?

There are several core skills and techniques which could be considered to form the basis of effective prioritisation:

To do list – The simplest and most useful aid in prioritising is writing a ‘to do’ list. Seeing tasks written and in list form immediately creates focus and clarity. It gives a feeling of control over workload when tasks are identified in a list. There is also a sense of reward as tasks are completed and removed from a list, increasing motivation and confidence. Even before identifying priorities, putting tasks in a list generates a positive response. 

Align with overall goals and objectives – The most fundamental key to successful prioritisation is to align given tasks to wider goals and objectives. This means establishing which tasks are most important to the overall goal. This could be an individual goal or the goal of an organisation. For example, an individual working in sales may prioritise the closure of a sale with agreed revenue before following up on new leads – the overall goal here ensuring increased revenue for the organisation and a recognition that this task currently has the most value towards this goal. A clear understanding of overall goals makes identifying priorities easier. There is more on the importance of goals and goal setting in our previous article here.

Measure activity – It is beneficial to quantify how long individual tasks and activities take. The more understanding of specific timeframes for tasks, the easier it is to know how to prioritise them. The focus on quantifying time also helps look for improvement – a task may be wasting time or could be completed more efficiently. A simple example is an email template. If it becomes apparent through measuring activity that many email responses are repetitive, creating a template can help speed up the process and allow time for other priorities.

Difficult tasks first – Although it is not always applicable, generally if tasks are competing for priority, it is advisable to complete difficult or more time consuming tasks first. It is a natural instinct to want to complete easier tasks first but if difficult tasks are delayed there is the risk of increased stress later on and potentially a misallocation of time and failure to meet deadlines.

Utilise teamwork – It is important to understand the value of the team when available, and be open to help from others. It may be that some less priority tasks could be passed on to others or are tasks that would be more suitable for others to complete. Good prioritisation is also about learning to identify what you don’t need to do.

Follow The Eisenhower Matrix – There has been much study and thinking on how best to prioritise and many useful tools developed to aid prioritisation, and one of the most popular and commonly used is The Eisenhower Matrix. This model for prioritisation was established by the former US President Dwight Eisenhower and subsequently named after him. It was displayed visually as a four quadrant box with each box containing an important or urgent definition which could be applied to a task. Urgent would include things like calls and emails that need responding to, whilst important would relate to overall goals and mission. Tasks are assigned to a relevant box and the matrix breaks down as follows:

  • Urgent and Important: Do these tasks as soon as possible
  • Important, but not urgent: Decide when you’ll do these and schedule it
  • Urgent, but not important: Delegate these tasks to someone else
  • Neither urgent nor important: Drop these from your schedule as soon as possible

Although not applicable to all tasks or circumstances, this model is a useful reference point and tool for understanding how to prioritise effectively.

The Eisenhower Matrix

How do you prioritise your work and learning effectively?

The basics of good prioritisation also apply to learning and Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Fundamentally, as with all prioritisation, it is important to engage in learning that aligns with wider goals and ambitions. An individual may have an interest in a subject, but if this does not support their career goals or life plans there is the risk of quickly losing motivation as it lacks overall relevance.

There is also the need to find the balance between work and learning. Be realistic and prioritise whether learning can be achieved in conjunction with work. A training course, for example, may offer huge value to an individual, but it may not necessarily be the right time in terms of current workload. It would be better to wait for the right time rather than engage with additional learning but fail to complete it or lose interest because of too many other distractions.

Time management is also essential in gaining value from any learning. For example, it would be more beneficial to specifically allocate 2 hours every weekend to reading relevant industry articles rather than trying to fit this in ad hoc when there may be less focus and engagement. There is also the risk of losing interest or discarding learning if there is not a commitment to a specific timeframe. 

However, it remains important to understand the potential value of learning and CPD. CPD can help develop skills that specifically aid prioritisation and productivity, but it is also at its core about the commitment to lifelong learning. Active engagement with CPD can develop the habit of learning, meaning it becomes a positive and a normal priority, naturally balancing around other commitments. CPD also offers flexibility in that it recognises all forms of learning – reading relevant literature or listening to industry podcasts is valued along with in person training, so has the capacity to fit in with other priorities. (Learn some of the benefits of CPD).

Where can I find CPD courses in effective prioritisation? 

If you are looking to learn more about effective prioritisation, please visit the CPD Courses Catalogue where there are numerous of courses and events specifically focused on prioritisation, organising your workload and time management. There are thousands of courses across industry sectors which will benefit wider learning and Continuing Professional Development. All the certified training has been reviewed and recognised as meeting the required industry standards and benchmarks.

Become a CPD accredited training provider

We hope this article was helpful. Established in 1996, The CPD Certification Service is the world’s leading and largest CPD accreditation organisation working across all industry sectors. If you wish to provide training courses, workshops, eLearning and virtual events that may be suitable for Continuing Professional Development, please contact our team to discuss in more detail. 

Alternatively, if you are looking for a free online CPD record tool to help manage, track and log your ongoing learning, as well as store your personal training records and attendance certificates in one simple place, go to the myCPD Portal page.

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