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Time Management Series Part 3 - The ABC System

Time Management - The ABC System for Prioritising

Note: This post follows on from the previous posts "Time Management Series Part 1 - The Time Management Grid" and "Time Management Series Part 2 - The Time Management Filter". If you haven't done so already, you should read these posts first.

Now that you have your list of things that you need to action, the next step is to prioritise these.

Prioritising is simply giving one task priority over another depending on the urgency and importance of the task.

A tool that can help us do this is the ABC System.

Top Priority (A):

The tasks categorised as “A” are the top priority items.

Usually these must be completed urgently and are very important tasks. Most often these are tasks that fall into Quadrant 1 of the Time Management Matrix.

These tasks must be completed; they usually have deadlines and consequences associated for non-compliance.

Some examples include:

  • Getting back to a customer;

  • Completing a report for the board meeting;

  • Important deadlines; and

  • Emergencies and crises scenarios.

Second Priority (B):

The tasks categorised as “B” are the second priority items.

They are important and should be done, after completion of all “A” tasks. Most often these are tasks that fall into Quadrant 2 of the Time Management Matrix.

These tasks contribute to performance, productivity and relationships but are not urgent and do not have critical timeframes.

Some examples include:

  • Conducting or attending training;

  • Team building activities;

  • Planning and preparation; and

  • Strategising or planning sessions.

It normally helps to try and complete at least one B type task a day if possible.

Third Priority (C):

The tasks categorised as “C” are the third priority items.

They are neither important nor urgent (although sometimes they may seem urgent). Most often these are tasks that fall into Quadrant 3 or 4 of the Time Management Matrix.

These tasks should not dominate your day and should be completed only if all “A” and “B” tasks have been completed.

Many of these tasks can be delayed, eliminated, renegotiated or delegated.

How to Use the ABC System:

  1. To work out your priorities using the ABC System, start with a list of everything you have to do in a day.

  2. Work through this list and place an A, B or C next to the item according to the ABC System.

  3. If you have multiple items in each category you should then further categorise them using numbers. For example A1, A2, A3 and A4.

Tips for Setting Priorities

When setting priorities, ask yourself:

  • What will contribute the most to my management objectives?

  • What will contribute the most in helping me/the team reach mine/our goals?

  • Will this impact service standards if I don’t act?

  • What is the best thing for team morale and productivity?

  • What are the potential consequences of non-completion?

  • Do I need further information before I can act?

  • Will the problem solve itself?

  • Whose priorities are more critical?

  • Can I complete a number of things at once by grouping them together?

  • Is now the best time to work on a task?

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