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Three Tools to Prioritize Projects and Reduce Burnout

Your team is feeling burnt out. A handful of projects are dragging on with no end in sight, and you keep having to put other projects on hold. Tasks are piling up, and it seems like everything needed to be done yesterday.

Sound familiar?

This is one of the most common experiences our clients have when they first begin working with us; their team feels like they’re not getting anything accomplished, but are working harder than ever. They need better visibility on their most important projects – and they need it fast.

As a rapidly growing startup, we know how it feels to be drowning in projects and tasks. When our team is in the weeds, we take the same advice we give to clients: set up a simple priority system to get the visibility you need and boost morale.

There are a lot of ways to set up a priority system, but our team has a few favorites. Read on to learn our most tried-and-true prioritization methods, and how to put them to use.


Three Tools for Prioritization

#1 - Eisenhower Matrix: A popular method for discerning what matters most and what can wait, an Eisenhower matrix utilizes a four-quadrant grid that crosses urgency with importance. Here's how it works:

  • Do First: The top left quadrant is reserved for high importance, high urgency projects; use this for your most critical, time sensitive tasks and projects, for example, running payroll for your team or invoicing clients.

  • Schedule: The top right quadrant is for low urgency, high importance projects; this spot is reserved for projects and tasks that really matter to your team and company goals, but they don’t have a close or tight deadline. This is where you can catalog all those tasks and milestones that lead to the big, long term projects that your team is working on.

  • Delegate: The bottom left quadrant is designated for high urgency, low importance projects; this is a great place to list low effort tasks with impending (or past due) deadlines that need to be crossed off of your list. Sending an email that you’ve been putting off, or QAing a project for your team might live here. Think of this as your “quick wins”, or wrapping up things that are almost across the finish line.

  • Ditch It (aka "Don't Do"): The bottom right quadrant is a space to drop projects and tasks that are low urgency, low importance. This is a place for future-oriented tasks. We often reserve this category for internal processes that we’re slowly building, but don’t need to prioritize in the immediate future. Things like SOPs, creating evergreen internal materials, or following up with clients when we don’t have capacity to take on new projects.

Try it: Grab a wall and some sticky notes, or try a digital whiteboarding platform like Miro, and collect your team. Have everyone write down the projects and tasks that they’re working on, and then move the stickies into the appropriate quadrant. Once you’re finished, focus on the top two quadrants – divide the highest priority, highest urgency tasks among the team members who have the most capacity, and then follow up with the bottom two quadrants. Better yet, delegate those lower quadrants to a support team.

#2 - Impact / Effort Scale: This system also uses a quadrant approach, but instead of urgency and importance, it focuses on the effort a task or project will require, and the impact it has on the goal.

  • Quick Wins: The top left quadrant of this system is for tasks and projects that don’t take much effort, but have a big impact on your goals. These are perfect for team members who have very little capacity but could benefit from a quick easy-to-completable task.

  • Big, Important Stuff: The top right quadrant is for high effort, high impact projects. Like in the Eisenhower matrix, this is for projects that are going to take more time to complete, but bring a lot of value to your team or organization. To the best of your ability, spread these projects across the team, or assign a few people to collaborate on it.

  • Fillers: The bottom left quadrant is for low impact, low effort tasks and projects. Usually these are going to be tasks that just need to be crossed off the list, like writing an email.

  • Delegate or Ditch It: The bottom right quadrant is for high effort, low value tasks. Our best advice is to keep projects and tasks out of this quadrant. These tasks and projects are going to take tons of resources, but don’t make a big difference to your team or organization – so consider tabling them for now, delegating them to someone else, or shifting your strategy to make these tasks have a larger impact.

Try it: Similar to the Eisenhower matrix, work through this system with at least one other person – and we highly recommend this option for capacity planning. Get your sticky notes, place them in the appropriate quadrant, and then evaluate. How much capacity does your team have? Who can take on the low effort, high value projects? How can you distribute milestones and tasks related to high effort, high value projects? And what’s in that bottom right quadrant? Is there a way you can shift your approach so that task or project brings more value?

Pro Tip: We like that the “effort” part of this system addresses team capacity. With the Eisenhower Matrix you might have a project that is high urgency and high importance, but if no one on your team has time to allocate towards the project, then things need to be shuffled around. By using the Impact & Effort method, you can quickly assess what projects need to be assigned to someone with higher capacity, and what projects can be handed off to team members with less time available.

#3 - Top 3 Method: The Top 3 method serves as a quick, gut-check, big picture view of the most important projects. If our team is managing multiple different projects at once (and as a work management consulting firm, we’re always managing multiple projects at once) it’s helpful to zoom out and get a big picture view of what’s most essential.

We recommend use the Top 3 method alongside other prioritization systems, like the Eisenhower matrix or the effort/impact scale, to quickly determine what really matters, and then prioritize those most important projects first.

Try It: Zoom out and consider all of the projects that you and your team are managing. What are the three most important projects in your portfolio? What projects have the closest deadlines, or the biggest impacts? Limit yourself to only three.

Pro tip: Even if you’ve identified your Top 3, you might still spend time on other tasks throughout the day or week. Sometimes the highest priority is a high effort, long term project – but you still need to tackle some of your shorter term, low effort tasks while you work towards that bigger project goal. Keeping your highest priorities in mind can help you and your team stay aligned and on track to make progress on your objectives.


Prioritizing projects and tasks is an essential practice for reducing burnout and making expectations clear. With clear visibility on priorities, the entire team can spend less time trying to figure out what to work on, and more time moving the needle on their most important projects.

One last recommendation: celebrate the wins! If you and your team are managing multiple projects, those quick wins really help to boost morale and demonstrate that progress is being made, even in the busiest of seasons.

Ready to get clear visibility on your most important projects? Let us help! We can tailor your work management system to organize, prioritize, and streamline your project portfolio. So you can ditch the sticky notes and get back to work. Learn more about our work here.


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