Prioritize your IT tasks and finally conquer your to-do list

It's easy to feel overwhelmed by a growing to-do list of IT tasks, but there are easy ways you can decide what to tackle first and what can wait.

In IT, time is your most precious asset. It's irreplaceable, but it's something we take for granted on a daily basis. Managing our time and ourselves is extremely important in the world of IT.

We all have the same number of hours in each day, but the thing that sets true IT professionals apart is how they spend those hours. Periodically ask yourself, "am I making the best use of my time right now?"

If you apply the 80/20 rule to managing your short-term and long-term tasks and projects in IT, the 20% of the time you spend planning a project will be worth 80% of the value of the project. And time management experts say one minute of planning saves five minutes in execution -- a 500% return!

The more time we spend planning and prioritizing what IT tasks need to be done, the better and more foolproof our work becomes. But how do you determine what's important? To some people, rolling out an enterprise resource planning system upgrade will be the top priority. Some will have to complete a pressing security assessment. Others may need to take some courses and become Microsoft Certified Solutions Experts to help with a network overhaul.

We all have the same number of hours in each day, but the thing that sets true IT professionals apart is how they utilize those hours.

To determine what matters, there are some high-level questions you can ask yourself regarding specific IT tasks and projects:

  • What's the payoff to your team once this project is complete? What about the payoff to yourself?
  • What's the risk to the business if I put the project off?
  • Will I save the business money if I get started sooner?
  • What's next once these IT tasks are accomplished?

Look at each task and project and determine what category it falls into:

  • Must be done now, and if it's not, there will be consequences
  • Can be done later, but if it's not, there will be consequences
  • Can be put off indefinitely without any consequences

You'll likely discover that most of the items that can be put off indefinitely merely exist to cause stress. They could go away and there would be no impact on your IT job or business. If you have some of these items on your to-do list, consider getting rid of them all together.

Prioritizing and working on the things in IT that matter most requires strong organizational skills and self-discipline. This means you'll need to exit your email/calendaring system, turn your phone ringers off and stick to your schedule.

You also have to learn how to say no. Of course, you'll need to empathize with others regarding what IT tasks and projects need to be done, but, as long as you're working in the best interests of the business, don't be afraid to be stingy with your time.

Starting today, put first things first. As difficult as it can be, taking the time to properly prioritize your IT tasks is something that will help you rise to the top of your IT career. In fact, by focusing on two things -- your communication skills and your time management -- you will become an extremely valuable person to your IT business and your customers. It's simply a matter of choosing to do it and then disciplining yourself week after week to make it happen. If that's not a priority, I don't know what is.

Follow SearchWinIT on Twitter: @SearchWinIT.

About the author
Kevin Beaver has worked for himself for more than 11 years as an information security consultant, expert witness, and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic LLC. He specializes in performing independent security assessments revolving around information risk management and is the author/co-author of many books, including The Practical Guide to HIPAA Privacy and Security Compliance and Hacking For Dummies.

This was first published in April 2013

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