June 2023 Membership Matters: I’m Just Too Busy, Part 2: Task Prioritization

Membership Matters by Jason S.A. McDonald, CPD, FASPEWelcome to part 2 of our series about being just too darned busy. Whether we are engineers, designers, manufacturers, reps, contractors, inspectors, or any other ASPE member type, our time is often spent juggling an array of tasks. From solving complex technical problems, managing project deadlines, and reacting to fires to engaging with multiple stakeholders and staying on top of industry innovations and trends—the list is seemingly endless and can be quite overwhelming. With only so many hours in a day, task prioritization becomes an essential tool to enhance productivity, efficiency, and job satisfaction. Let’s try to understand the art of prioritizing tasks.

The Engineering Perspective on Task Prioritization

In the plumbing engineering world, prioritization is the process of strategically arranging tasks based on their criticality, impact, and urgency. It’s about allocating resources effectively to achieve optimal results. Given the complexity and interdependencies of tasks, effective prioritization can significantly boost our productivity and the project’s success.

Why Should We Prioritize?

Projects often involve a multitude of tasks with varying degrees of complexity and urgency. Attempting to tackle all tasks with equal emphasis can lead to inefficiency, missed deadlines, and burnout. We don’t like (nor do our employers) missing deadlines! We ALSO don’t like burnout!

Task prioritization enables us to focus our time and effort on tasks that are crucial to the project’s success. It provides a clearer picture of what needs to be achieved, helping us navigate our workloads more effectively, reduce stress, and improve overall project management.

Techniques for Prioritizing Tasks

Several strategies can help us prioritize our tasks effectively:

  1. The Eisenhower Matrix: This tool classifies tasks into four categories based on their urgency and importance:
    1. Urgent and Important
    2. Not Urgent but Important
    3. Urgent but Not Important
    4. Not Urgent or Important

This matrix is particularly useful in engineering projects, helping to distinguish between what needs immediate attention and what can be scheduled for later.

  1. The Pareto Principle (80/20 rule): This rule proposes that 80 percent of project outcomes can come from 20 percent of the efforts. Identify these high-impact tasks and prioritize them.
  2. Risk Assessment: Risk can be a significant factor affecting a task’s priority. Tasks with high risk or those impacting safety should always be given top priority. We can also look at the construction schedule as a risk. Trying to minimize the risk of delaying construction schedules is a big reason engineers and designers want to review requests for information (RFI) and submittals quickly.
  3. Critical Path Method (CPM): Widely used in project management, the CPM identifies the longest stretch of dependent activities and measures them from start to finish. This method helps in scheduling and coordinating task-specific timelines effectively.

Overcoming Prioritization Challenges

Prioritization can be complex due to the technical nature of tasks, their interdependencies, and the risks involved. It can be difficult to judge a task’s importance or urgency. The temptation to multitask may also interfere with prioritization efforts. However, these challenges can be overcome with a consistent, disciplined approach to prioritization, aided by effective use of the right tools and techniques.

“Fires” do arise, however, and often at the most inopportune times. The ability to pivot and put these fires out while still keeping a watchful eye on other priorities that may be affected is not easy for everyone. If you struggle with this, consider talking with a coworker or manager who might have dealt with something similar before. In other words, if you need help, ask!

Mastering the art of prioritizing tasks is a vital skill for ASPE members. It leads to better time management, reduced stress, increased productivity, and successful project outcomes. Prioritization is not about doing more; it’s about focusing on what matters the most in an effective and efficient manner, setting the stage for success.

In our next article, we will look at what to do when it seems that EVERYTHING is a top priority.

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