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A black sheet of paper with "Prioritization of Task" and "Urgent," and "Urgency" written on it in white marker.

Three Keys to More Effective Prioritization in the Lab

Being able to prioritize effectively leads to happier stakeholders, more satisfied staff, and higher lab performance

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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It seems that all labs face more work than they can comfortably execute. It’s all part of the “do more with less” environment. Because there is consistently too much work, prioritization is a key process to sort the different kinds of work, and to help get the most important work done. Being able to prioritize effectively leads to happier stakeholders, more satisfied staff, and higher lab performance. However, getting priorities right is a difficult and tricky process that requires a clear understanding of what is important, and the ability to concisely and clearly communicate the priorities to others. Here are three tips that will help you and your staff develop a prioritization system that will improve delivery and morale in your lab.

#1 – Decide what’s important

To use any prioritization system, you need to have an understanding of what is important. To really put importance into focus, rank your values as an organization. One version of importance ranking might look like this: safety, quality, cash flow, customer satisfaction, innovation, and timeliness. Once you understand what is important, you can start to prioritize the many activities required of the lab. Assigning a ranking to your values enables you to build a priority system that embraces those values and supports the culture you are building for the lab.

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#2 – Important versus urgent

Make use of the Eisenhower matrix, as described by Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is a 2x2 grid of high and low importance and urgency. Distinguish between importance and urgency. Do the high importance and high urgency work first. Schedule the high importance/low urgency work. Delegate the low importance/high urgency tasks, and ignore the low importance/low urgency clutter around the lab. Make sure the important things get done, and that the lab isn’t wasting time chasing urgency. Too much of what drains lab staff energy is really urgency, not importance.

#3 – First in-first out is not prioritization

Some labs use a first in-first out system for prioritization. Unfortunately, this is not a priority system. It is simply a time entry system. To be effective for prioritization, the system you choose must distinguish the relative importance of the work. While some claim that first in-first out is more fair, that is simply denying the use of importance to do prioritization.

Thanks for reading. I hope you can use this information. I am very interested in hearing from you. If you have feedback or comments on this set of tips, or suggestions for future Manager Minutes, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me at I’m looking forward to our conversations. Thanks.