Have you ever sat at your computer, staring at the screen, wondering what you should do next? You have a full plate of actions, activities, and tasks to accomplish, but you have no idea which one to do first. In truth, not all tasks are made alike, and if you don’t know how to prioritize tasks, you could be forcing yourself to work hard and not smart. Here, you’ll learn how to determine which tasks are more important than others and how to implement Hive tools to ensure that those tasks get done.

Am I working hard or smart?

Working hard might feel productive, but sometimes, you could be trudging through work without getting much done at all. Working hard without getting much done is a byproduct of busy work, defined as a repetitive, tedious, inconsequential task that feels laborious. Some say that the difference between busy work and “real” work is passion and that if you have a passion for more mundane tasks, you won’t feel like you’re working hard on hardly anything.

But the reality is that rolling a boulder up an endless hill all on your own has you grinding your teeth more than it has you on your grind.

While you might think that the happiest people are the ones with the best time management skills, there are psychological reasons that people gravitate towards working hard rather than working smart. Studies report that people are happier when they believe themselves to be busy, even if they’re forced to be busy, or their own goals are created simply for the sake of being busy. Even if people know how to prioritize tasks, they might not want to in order to keep maintaining the illusion of productivity, as it keeps them happier in the short run.

How do I know what’s important?

It’s okay to admit that you like to be busy, and it’s even more admirable to admit when you don’t know what counts as busy work and what constitutes smart work.

1. Organize by effort

To learn how to prioritize tasks, you’ve got to know what tasks you’ve got to do in the first place. Hive can help organize these tasks with personal to-do lists containing private actions made just for you and your needs. Take down everything you need to do ­– from the most boring, mindless activities to brainstorming solutions to bugs in your company’s software. Then, comb through your tasks, and use these questions to determine whether or not they’re high on the priority list:

  • Will there be consequences if I don’t get this done soon?
  • Are other people relying on me to get this done? Is this as important to my teammates as it is to me?
  • Is the deadline flexible?
  • Can someone else do this task faster than I can?
  • What would happen if I eliminated this task from my to-do list?

Then, you can add priorities to the action cards affiliated with your to-do list. You can even customize your priority list with names and colors so that you can have more options than just low, medium, or high priority tasks.

You may also find that some tasks can be cut from your to-do list if the consequences are limited, or a teammate might be able to complete them faster and more thoroughly. Don’t be afraid to prioritize by delegating, as you can then focus more on the tasks that actually matter.

2. Automate your busywork

Next, take a look at that to-do list you just made, and make a mental note of items that have been on it for longer than two weeks – things you’ve started to tackle but can’t seem to finish. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to prioritize tasks like these, ask yourself:

  • Why is this taking me such a long time?
  • Is this a task I don’t want to do? Do I dislike the task, or is it not in my skill set?
  • Will this task take me longer than it would take someone else?
  • Have I shared my feelings about this task with anyone?

If a task has been lingering on your to-do list for a while, chances are that you might be unconsciously avoiding it using methods such as prioritizing other less critical tasks or multitasking as you’re doing the task.

Multitasking can be a huge impediment when you’re thinking about how to prioritize tasks, as you might get started on one thing but be either too bored or too distracted to continue it. Research notes that shifting set can cause continual lapses in productivity; if you’re interrupted as you’re attempting to get a task done, it takes an average of 23 minutes to complete the task that interrupted you, even if it’s something as simple as scheduling a Zoom meeting, emailing another team to check-in, or

If you find high-priority tasks consistently interrupted by administrative housekeeping, Hive has a solution. Automated tasks are actions triggered by certain conditions, meaning that you can change an action’s assignee, move an action into another status, or move action cards to another project seamlessly. That means that all the little things on your to-do list are eliminated, leaving room for more important tasks.

3. Task and time management

Finally, if you’re still having trouble after listing, prioritizing, and automating, maybe it’s time to look at how you’ve been spending your time to find the gaps in your workflow. For visual people, Hive’s integrative platform has room for both your Gantt charts and your Kanban boards, which can fill you in on how long you’ve been spending on specific projects.

If your problem revolves more around the hours you’re spending on a project than the days, Hive also has a time tracking tool to let you see discrepancies between estimated time spent on a project and the actual amount of time the project took. You can add time categories to this tracked time, link them to action cards, and add a description of what you worked on to see if you’re prioritizing tasks in the right way.

Hive recently added a feature in which your teammates can hold you accountable by tracking time on behalf of other users. While this works well with those outside your organization, it also is effective when used in a teamwork session, just in case you feel stuck and need a fresh pair of eyes to examine what you could be doing differently.

Hive is the world’s first democratically built productivity platform. Learn how we can help you, here.