Is it common to assign a task's priority based solely on its due date? For example, is the following system valid for all scenarios?

Urgent = less than 24 hours
High = Not more than 24 hours
Medium = 24 to 48 hours
Low = within the business week
None = no set timeframe

Here's the question: is it not possible to have a High priority item that must be done on 22 December, 2012? So with this task, I'm assuming that the severity (impact) of it not being accomplished on that date is being taken into account when assigning it a priority of "High".

Hope the question makes sense. To make things simple, what factors determine a task's priority? Would it be:

a. Timeline
b. Severity
c. Both

Any other factors that should be taken into account to determine a task's priority?

  • 2
    What is the scenario where you would even prioritize your tasks? Sep 20, 2012 at 18:12
  • Priority is relative to the other tasks. Sep 20, 2012 at 18:13
  • 2
    Sure, but why would you need to do that? I cannot imagine a scenario why that would be important. Sep 20, 2012 at 19:49
  • 2
    I'm afraid there are some hidden assumptions here. Are you using any specific methodology? What is your definition of a “task”? Is it simply a to-do list? Nodes in a PERT? User stories?
    – MattiSG
    Sep 21, 2012 at 5:24
  • @MattiSG - that is a good guess. It is not a to do list, but tasks across various (and a large number of) projects with few resources. I've recently joined the firm and am trying to sort things out.
    – JohnJ
    Sep 21, 2012 at 14:27

5 Answers 5


Quick answer - task priority is determined by the order in which tasks have to be done to achieve the goal.

Longer answer - Going along with David's comments, I don't see where one task would be of a higher priority than another. This is going on the assumption that, if it's in the plan it's something that should/needs to be done, therefore it's equally important as the rest.

Some areas where you may need to rank tasks however would be where resources are concerned and overlapping due dates. That's where I see the ranking being used, but that would also form the basis for the prioritization.

If I have two tasks that are scheduled for the same time and the same resource, then I need to rank then to decide which one to do first. This 'might' be due to time (ie: one affects other downstream work), or it could be by duration (one will take a day while the other a week), or it could be deadline (one HAS to be done by 12/24). It could be due to a lot of factors. I think David's point though was that most of these factors should have been addressed in the initial planning.

The other instance where I see prioritization is with resources across projects. If I have a task scheduled for a week and another project has a task for the same week with the same resource, then some prioritization will have to happen. Again, ideally this would happen during planning (resource management), but it doesn't always.

The point being, the ranking/priority is going to be driven by a number of factors, most of them external. But I don't timeframe see being one of them.

  • Thank you @Trevor. +1 for pointing out various scenarios (one of which clearly applies to this case, i.e. same time and same resource). Very clear and I like the concluding remark as well.
    – JohnJ
    Sep 21, 2012 at 14:28

You may be confusing due date with a task being on the Critical Path.

A path on the Critical Path must get done in order for the project to be completed. It is a firm constraint on the schedule and network of tasks.

You can have many tasks that are due before a task that's on the Critical Path, but those on the Critical Path are more "important" relative to the schedule.

  • How did you get he was using a CPM-compatible task management system? Given the apparent lack of prioritization beyond “time left”, I'm not sure there's any kind of dependency mapping in here.
    – MattiSG
    Sep 21, 2012 at 5:27
  • 1
    I was introducing the concepts of CP and schedule networks in response to his question on "other factors" to take into account to determine priority. It sounded like he was coming from a background of a ticketing system or job tracking approach, rather than a true project or task network. Sep 21, 2012 at 12:55
  • correct, Mark (+1). It seems to be how things are structured here and I need to figure out how to change it.
    – JohnJ
    Sep 21, 2012 at 14:29
  • 1
    The first step is to have an overarching goal or reason for the tasks. What is the purpose of having the tasks? If there is not single, overarching goal and these are operational tasks done to keep the lights on, as it were, then a project-based structure may not make sense for the work. Sep 21, 2012 at 20:16

Allow me to offer a different viewpoint, based on the Eisenhower grid - priority is different from urgency. Task priority depends on the consequences of failure. Task urgency depends on the time remaining until options foreclose.

Signing my timesheet is very high priority, but it is only high urgency on one or two days a pay period. Telling my loved ones that I love them is always high priority, but is rarely high urgency. On the other hand as their birthdays approach, purchasing a gift becomes urgent. When I get home in the evening, if I don't put dinner on immediately, it won't be ready to eat before bedtime. The task is urgent (because delay will foreclose options), but it isn't that important (If I don't cook dinner, we'll get takeaway, or go out, or just have a bowl of cereal).

Urgency is simple and mono-dimensional. Priority is complex and usually involves stakeholders. My team tells me that the annual report is low priority, but my boss insists it is high priority. The distance we travel on Thanksgiving is of moderate priority for me, but is of very high priority for my girlfriend. Priority frequently involves soliciting the opinions of many stakeholders and making compromises.


Besides Mark's and Trevor's answers, the only other thing I can think of where you might want to reconsider the sequence of tasks is if you have to recover from some sort of unfavorable variance. We schedule our network based on both hard and soft logic. If hard, you don't really have a lot of options of resequencing because of the type of dependency hard logic represents. So that leaves those tasks scheduled sequel to soft logic. I think the result of resequencing would be based on the predicted effects of the new network, after you schedule and run your simulation, and determine which scenario provided you the best likelihood of schedule recovery and to what degree.

That's all I got.... :)


In addition to what Trevor mentions I would add some points.

It is important to keep everybody busy so, when planning I put first tasks that would allow other tasks to be started specially if these tasks are to be executed by external groups to my team or my company where I have less control about when I will received the deliverable.

Another important aspect is risk. Either because a precise duration or required efffort is not known or because of dependencies with other tasks or the cost of the task is high if gets delayed or needs to be repeated I try to give extra priority to the task.

Other than that, resource availability, duration and urgency are the usual variables to assign priority.

Please note that urgency and priority is not the same concept although often are confused preventing people from making progress on important tasks because urgent tasks are put on their way.

At a more micro level, as a PM, I try to execute tasks that require communication with others early in the morning (but with time enough for my important tasks) while tasks that I can do on my own I plan them for the afternoon/evening or even late hours(work flexible hours) when I have less interruptions.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.