“How do you prioritize your work” is a common interview question that is often asked by hiring managers to understand your prioritization techniques and time management skills. This question will often be asked when you apply for high-stress positions. A potential employer wants to know how you manage daily tasks and meet deadlines, and that you won’t need much oversight.
Here are 11 great answers that show you can prioritize tasks effectively and complete them on time.
5 Tips for Your Answer
Following these tips will demonstrate strong workload-management skills in your next interview.
- Always discuss a multi-step prioritization method.
- Discuss the use of a master list to keep track of important tasks.
- A good answer will state that your top priorities are the most urgent tasks that contribute to the company’s main objectives.
- Show that you are flexible, can take on new tasks and adapt to unexpectedly difficult tasks.
- Discuss planning for the next day and using time management to ensure the completion of your different tasks.
5 Mistakes to Avoid
It is a good idea to avoid these common mistakes to leave a good impression on your interviewer.
- Don’t talk about being spontaneous or planning “on the go.”
- Don’t appear self-centered, e.g., show that you will not simply leave work at the end of your workday if you are behind.
- Don’t hesitate when answering, as it may look like you are making up an answer.
- Don’t forget to include time management as part of your answer.
- Don’t make up an answer. You should have real prioritization skills to bring to the job.
11 Best Example Answers to “How Do You Prioritize Your Work” Interview Question
Example #1: Prioritizing Tasks in Stable Work Environments
I approach my tasks each week with the intention of delivering maximum value for the company. I use the Ivy Lee method to manage top priority tasks for each day. I also use a project management tool to track long-term goals, and I ensure that I have completed my important goals at the end of the week. I’m careful not to get distracted from my six daily tasks for the day. However, I adapt when new high-priority tasks arise.
Key Takeaways: This answer discusses the use of a specific method, differentiates short-term and long-term goals, and also highlights adapting to unexpected tasks.
Example #2: Prioritizing and Changing Workloads
The first step to managing tasks is to create a daily task list of all tasks I need to complete for a given day. I tackle the bigger tasks during the quietest time of the day and work the lowest priority tasks around busier periods. I try to schedule additional time so that I can address new issues as they are brought up by team members. I work to complete the most urgent tasks first and transfer incomplete items to the following day.
Key Takeaways: This answer demonstrates the ability to prioritize in a busy work environment and build adaptability into your daily planning.
Example #3: Prioritizing Tasks as a Team Leader
At the start of the day, I create a list of key action items, ordered according to the company’s goals and the urgency of each task. As a team leader, I must make sure the team can complete the number of tasks assigned in an efficient and timely manner. I delegate tasks to different people throughout the team based on their strengths. If I allocate a work project to a team member, I also remove other duties to give them time to manage their workload effectively.
Key Takeaways: This is a good answer for managers and team leaders as it shows an appreciation for managing not only your work but that of your entire team.
Example #4: Eliminating and Delegating Unnecessary Tasks
The first thing I do is to look at the complete picture and then consider a given task in context. I apply an Eisenhower matrix and use it to consider the importance and value of each task. I work hard to eliminate as many tasks as possible, which reduces the amount of time wasted overall. I then try to delegate as many remaining tasks as I can. Of what is left, I determine what absolutely must be done today and their order of urgency. I complete as many of the remaining tasks as possible on the same day and defer any incomplete ones to another day.
Key Takeaways: This answer discusses the importance of tasks in the big picture and removing unnecessary tasks to increase productivity.
Example #5: Prioritizing Tasks Based on Importance
My prioritization approach is the ABCDE method. It is an effective way to manage tasks when there is not a lot of time available.
- A is for tasks that are top priority, time-critical tasks.
- B is for must-do tasks that are not time-critical.
- C is for non-critical tasks to do if time permits.
- D is for delegating any tasks that are not the best use of time.
- E is for eliminating any tasks that provide no value to the company.
In addition, when a new task arises, I consider its ABCDE rating, and I discuss it with my manager if it will force a critical task deadline to be missed.
Key Takeaways: A strength of this answer is that it stresses prioritizing based on task importance and deadline and managing competing priorities.
Example #6: Managing Tasks by Managing Time
I start task planning by recognizing that I only have limited time each day and that there are always enough tasks to fill a day. I look at my tasks and determine the most important. I then estimate the time required to complete each task properly. I can then prioritize the most important tasks that I have time to complete and assess which tasks fit into the time available. By doing this, I can communicate with my manager ahead of time and set realistic expectations for each day and week.
Key Takeaways: This answer shows that you only prioritize what can be realistically achieved and that you manage expectations, which is a critical skill in business.
Example #7: Prioritizing Sequential Tasks
I prioritize work based on the deadline and the impact of the work. If it’s a critical project with a tight deadline, then I’ll put it at the top of my list. And if the project has a large impact on our organization, then I’ll focus on that first as well. Other factors that come into play are customer satisfaction and how much disruption the project will cause if it’s not completed on time. A useful tool is to apply the bubble sort technique to arrange tasks in a sequential order to be completed.
Key Takeaways: This is a useful general-purpose answer. It highlights sorting work by deadline and importance, including the value to the company and the customer.
Example #8: Managing Time-Sensitive Tasks
I start each day by looking at my calendar and prioritizing the tasks that are due soonest. Then I’ll work on those tasks until they’re done. If any other urgent tasks come up during the day, I’ll address those as well. I work to reduce distractions and stay focused on my goals and keep my priorities in mind throughout the day. This helps me to stay productive and avoid being scattered with my work. At the end of each day, I take time to review the schedule for the following day to make sure that I always have a plan.
Key Takeaways: This answer is centered around always having a plan in place and working toward the most time-critical task at any given time.
Example #9: Managing Tasks Through Processes
I try to approach all my tasks with a system to ensure my work is consistent and to a high standard. I create a to-do list at the beginning of each week and plan out each day in advance. I make sure tasks are prioritized according to the organization’s objectives. I minimize distractions by time-blocking tasks such as emails, so they do not interrupt me. I only do valuable work. I do this by delegating tasks that others can do better and eliminating unimportant tasks. Finally, I regularly reevaluate my daily plan when new tasks arise.
Key Takeaways: This is a good answer because it shows you have a consistent and reliable approach that is both robust and flexible.
Example #10: Creating Adaptable Task Lists for Each Day
I am very good at prioritizing my work. I usually make a list of tasks at the beginning of the day and then order them by importance/deadline. I always try to finish my most important tasks first and leave less important tasks for later on. Additionally, I use time blocking techniques to help me stay focused on single tasks, which greatly improves my efficiency and quality. I also make sure to reevaluate my task list regularly and incorporate any new tasks that come up throughout the workday.
Key Takeaways: This answer highlights remaining flexible and effective while focusing on the key tasks for the current day.
Example #11: Prioritizing Value for the Company
To ensure I am always delivering meaningful, quality results for the company, I use the following steps.
- I make sure that for each day, I have a clear, achievable goal.
- I prioritize my tasks and duties with consideration of the company objectives and my team’s needs.
- I break down tasks so that I know how much time to allocate to each.
- I remove as many distractions as possible to allow me to do my best work.
- Finally, I try to look ahead and forecast potential disruptions as well as any other tasks that might overtake the current task in priority.
Key Takeaways: This answer focuses heavily on the management of time and creating task lists that use that time effectively. This is particularly good for organizations where quality is more important than speed.
The most important thing to remember is to discuss working from a priority list, starting with the highest priority tasks first and what you do if a higher priority task arises. Also, be prepared with different ways to respond if you are asked what you do if you need extra time. Finally, if the role permits, discuss leaving your cell phone in your desk drawer and other ways of removing distractions to focus on a specific task as a time-blocking technique.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.