Enough with the ASAP: How to effectively prioritize your tasks

by Christopher Cook

Being able to effectively prioritize tasks and meet project goals is a deal-breaker in project management. Are you falling prey to the ‘ASAP’ trap? 

We are all familiar with the story “The Boy Who Cried, Wolf.” If you are not, here is the cliff notes version:

A bored shepherd boy sat atop a hill, and to amuse himself, would cry “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!” Villagers scrambled to the top of the hill to find nothing was wrong as the boy cried from laughter.

Once the villagers went back down the hill, the boy once again cried out “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!” Again, the villagers run up the hill and see the boy laughing and no wolf in sight.

Finally, the boy sees a wolf. He screams “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!” This time, no one comes up the hill. When the sun sets, the villagers see the boy is weeping. He asks them, “Why did no one come up the hill? There was a wolf here and scattered the flock.”

An old man said, “Nobody believes a liar…even when he is telling the truth!”

Why did I regurgitate a story you are probably familiar with? Because every morning, Monday through Friday, I receive at least five to seven emails stating ASAP somewhere in the dialogue.

“We need the trash hauling bid ASAP.”

“Did the flooring contractor give you an estimate? We need that ASAP.”

“The toilet is leaking. We need someone to fix it ASAP.”

These are a few of the daily examples of everyone needing something done or submitted as soon as possible. To me, that implies a priority. This item needs to get done yesterday because it is so important. You receive enough of these, it becomes the boy who cried wolf.

It becomes difficult to tell who sees a wolf and who just wants to make you squirm. Early on, I was a villager. I would escalate every issue that came through by making phone calls and sending emails. I would get nervous about the outcomes and start to think houses are collapsing.

How to effectively prioritize tasks at work


After a few months of this, I became the villagers who did not respond (in a sense). Of course, I would respond with a comment or an update, but none of the ASAP emails have the same effect. The luster of the ASAP has worn off. It is like a person who curses all of the time. In smaller doses, curse words are necessary and impactful. In large quantities, it becomes white noise.

Whether you are the person sending the ASAP email or receiving it, prioritization becomes a…priority. Here are some ways to prioritize tasks and help the list of ASAP requests become organized and effective:

Write tasks down

Dry-erase boards may seem old-school and out of date but they have their advantages for writing down projects and placing priorities. Make readies are something we prioritize in the property management space. A tenant moves out, and the property needs to be ‘made ready for the next ones to move in.

Owners do not like vacant properties. The sooner a tenant moves in, the earlier the cash flow begins. The idea is to get these make readies done within one week. These items are ASAP. These can be moved to the top of the list.

Next, any items that may cause damage to the property are listed below make-readies. These items include leaks, appliances, and downed trees. These are also ASAP activities. If a tree has a branch leaning over the sidewalk, that needs to be removed before an injury takes place. A leak can start small and end terribly. We would rather handle it in its infancy.

In terms of prioritizing tasks, all other tasks do not qualify as ASAP items. Rank them however because they can be done in any order. For us, this saves time and energy towards items that tenants find important, but owners do not.

Weigh probabilities and impacts

Use a risk calculator for the chances the event will occur multiplied by the impact it will have on the project/property. Say a light bulb goes out. The probability of it causing damage to the property is low, and the impact it has on the tenant’s situation is low. Therefore, it can be done whenever. A time filler activity.

A water heater leaking without the water getting shut off is an ASAP activity. The probability of damage to the property is high, and the impact is even higher. If not shut off in time, carpets, walls, and flooring may need to be replaced.

Even within the ASAP category, you can rank the activities using this formula. Cleaning the house takes priority over putting the closet doors back on the tracks. Hauling the trash from inside and outside the home should be done before any flooring activities. Paint goes ahead of flooring as well. You do not want paint splatter on the new floors.

Cut the cord

Believe it or not but some of the activities you write down do not need to exist. Tenants will figure it out on their own. No one is going out to their property to plunge a toilet or change a light bulb. Someone might complain it is their only toilet or the kitchen light, but they are adults and can handle such requests themselves.

For the machine to move forward, not every activity needs to be performed to perfection. Sometimes, ‘good enough is just that, good enough. The dryer works for now but will need to get replaced eventually. That satisfies the owner in saving money and keeps the tenant happy in the meantime. Not the perfect solution but it works for now.

Cut the cord on non-ASAP activities and cut the cord on the perfection of the outcomes. If the owner is satisfied with the work and the tenant becomes quiet, the job is done. This approach is not the most optimistic, but you deal with tenants all day and see how chipper you are.


Consider the source. Most of the time you can decipher the message depending on who is sending it. An ASAP message from an owner carries more weight than one from a tenant. Even within the owner population, there are some who need more attention than others.

After a while, you figure out who actually sees a wolf and who wants the attention. The source plays an important role in the message. The subject is the next important piece. Some owners want work done that does not make sense for the season. Shutting down the sprinkler system in August is only going to hurt your property. Not an ASAP activity.

Do not be the person who cries wolf. Do not react like a villager to a person who cries wolf. Start to prioritize tasks and sift through the messengers. You will start to find more satisfaction in knowing you are doing the right things at the right times.




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