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The Accidental Manager Best Practices Blog

Best Practices For Success at Work and at Home

October 7, 2007

The “Top Five” List

There are a number of Very Good techniques for prioritizing tasks. Today we will discuss the “Top Five” technique for managing your tasks

You build your top five list by listing items in the order of their importance. You work on the first item in the list until it is done, or until you can’t do any more work. You then go to the second item on the list. Work on the second item until it’s done or you can’t do any more work. Then go to the third item, and repeat the process. Refuse to do tasks out of order unless you are directed to do so.

How do you decide the relative importance of items? Two methods are shown below. NOTE: Sometimes your boss will reorder your priorities. Your boss may know things that she/he can’t tell you, or they may just have a different view of life.

1. One method of choosing the most important task is to determine which task will have the most negative impact soonest if it is not completed. The second most important task will have the next highest negative impact soonest if it is not completed.

2. If negativity is not a factor, or a minor one, a “best value” approach may be used. The most important task is the one which gives the highest payoff per hours invested. Example: Fifty minutes spent working on Task A saves $1,000 or generates $1,000. Ten minutes spent working on Task B saves $400 or generates $400, then Task B should be done first. Task B is worth $40 per minute, and Task A is worth $20 per minute.

It’s a good idea to put notes next to your Top Five tasks that describe the reasons for your decisions. It is also a good idea to keep a notebook or print out your dated daily lists so you can review your decisions and see how they could be improved over time.

An example of a daily list is shown below:

    1. Complete specifications for the changes to the monthly report – Tom called and said no one else can start work until this is done.

    2. Select vendor for new software – there may be a long lead time and the department will not be able to process next quarter’s results without it.

    3. Meet with Ms. P. about her performance review – the review is overdue and she’s a good worker.

    4. Have facilities turn the team’s three cubicles into one big cubicle for the new team – they have asked to be in a common workspace so they can coordinate better; they keep pushing for it, though they are performing well in their separate cubes.

    5. Workforce survey for HR – they are calling every day and the survey was due last week, but the downside is just an e-mail to my boss and I’ve told him why the survey will be late.

If you do nothing else but this, you’ll have made your own “Best Value” decision. Most people find they receive a great deal of value from the 5-10 minutes they spend creating a “Top 5” list every day.

Is this a habit you’d like to pick up? Send an e-mail to with”Top Five” in the title and we will send you some more helpful hints.

Wishing you success in your career, at home, and in your life!


Copyright (C) 2007 The Accidental Manager Irvine, CA, USA

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