Today we are gonna talk priorities because obviously they are really important. But specifically, I want to talk about an adulting skill that nobody ever teaches you how to deal with it but something you are expected to know how to do and that is prioritize. Even more specifically, I want to talk about how to prioritize that never-ending to-do list of “important” things that must get done ASAP that we all seem to have. I am the type of person that stays as busy as possible but sometimes I put too much on my plate and end up with this huge list of things that I feel like I can’t conquer. Here is the big question, how do you know where to start?
I love making lists! I get very anxious when I have too many things going on that lists really just calm my brain and my nerves. It is something about putting everything on a piece of paper so I can see it, that makes me not as anxious, everything less intimidating, and actually makes me feel more capable of doing it all. Something about putting words to all the things swimming around in my brain gives me motivation and confidence to accomplish everything on my list. You know what I mean?
But even though we sometimes might be able to distinguish the important tasks from the urgent tasks on our lists, and are able to rank them accordingly by importance, we still have the issue of knowing which “important” task to start with. Thats when we ask the question: how do I distinguish the differing importance between two important things? But seriously though, I can usually identify the tasks that are important but how do I know what the most important task is and how do I put those tasks in order?
How To Prioritize When Everything Feels Important
So many successful people have talked about the importance of prioritizing and how it is such a necessary skill to be able to get things done. But here I am listening to them say these things and completely agreeing with only one question popping into my head… HOW? How do I actually prioritize when everything on my list seems important? I am not Superwoman, I cannot do everything at once. Even though I still struggle with this concept of prioritizing, I have learned a lot along the way. So here is exactly what I do when I need to figure out how to prioritize my never-ending list of things to do, step-by-step.
1. Take a Deep Breath
First thing I ALWAYS do! I honestly tell everybody this first as well when they tell me they are stressing out with how much they have going on. Let’s chill out for a second and take a deep breath. We will get through this, I promise!
I know the feeling of having a list of a million things to do and they all NEED to be done like yesterday. But you just have to take a couple of seconds and take a deep breath and let it all out. I feel so overwhelmed by my to-do lists and ideas that are swimming through my head on a regular basis but stopping to remind myself that everything will be okay always helps me. Like ALWAYS! Talk to yourself if you need to. God knows I have full blown conversations with myself on a daily basis. But don’t ever underestimate the power of taking a nice long, deep, intentional breath because it can do more for you than you realize.
Believe me I get that not feeling overwhelmed is easier said than done, but if you don’t take a second to get yourself and your mind to the right place, you will likely end up letting your to-do list paralyze you to the point you won’t get anything done. You know what I mean? So let’s do this together at the same time, stop for a second, take a nice deep breath in, now let it out and remember it will all be okay!
2. Braindump: Put All Your Thoughts On Paper
One of my favorite things to do when I am feeling overwhelmed and anxious is to do a big braindump. Now if you don’t know what a braindump is, it is basically what it sounds like– taking a pen and paper and getting all your thoughts out of your brain. Whether it is things you need to get done, ideas you have floating in your mind, or just general feelings. I tend to do one of these every single day because it is so therapeutic for me. It is taking everything you are questioning, worrying about, feeling and needing to do, and putting it somewhere that you can actually see it.
Get your journal (don’t type it), cozy up on the couch and get EVERYTHING out of your brain and onto the page. In the next step I will tell you what to do with it but for now, just keep writing till you have nothing else to write about. There is no need to censor yourself or write down what you wish you were thinking. Be honest with yourself and write down everything that pops into your head and don’t judge yourself for any of it.
If you have never tried one before, YOU NEED TO! I promise, you will be hooked after the first one!
3. Categorize The Braindump
Once you have gotten everything out of your brain and onto the paper, the next step is to categorize your tasks. The way that I have always done this is by looking at my planner and seeing when each of these things that I have written done is due or taking place. This helps me figure out what needs to be done immediately, what needs to be scheduled, what can be delegated, and what I can flat out say I don’t need to do at all.
What I would suggest doing is looking over all of the things you have written down and use another color highlighter or pen for each category or rewrite your list so you can see things clearly. Deleting as much as you possibly can is ALWAYS a great productivity tip, so don’t be afraid to cross things off that won’t help you move closer to your goals of completing things on your to-do list.
4. Prioritize The Important
Y’all this is going to be the hardest part– finding out what to do when you have A LOT of tasks in the not urgent but important category. As I said before, knowing how to distinguish different levels of importance can be challenging and no one is really telling us how to prioritize it. The area that we commonly spend the most time in is not urgent but important and that is because the tasks that fall there help you achieve your most important goals and have to do with things like planning, relationships, self-improvement, and so forth. In other words, all the things that you want to be doing in life but haven’t gotten around to yet.
Some examples from my own list are: Reading, Regular exercise, Spending time with family and friends, Planning, Creating videos, Getting life organized.
5. Assess Value
So the question still remains– how to figure out which of these things is important to do first? Again, take a deep breath and look over your list and start assessing the value of each task. Let’s be real– everything on your lists isn’t going to get you the same result. There are for sure going to be things on your list that make a HUUGGGEEE difference in your life and some that will only change your life a little bit. For example, spending time with family and friends is going to have a much bigger impact on your life than creating videos (even though I love creating videos).
Looking at the value of each task is super important because what is the point of doing stuff if it doesn’t get you closer to your goals? So what I ultimately suggest y’all do is go through your list and give each item a 1 if it is just a nice-to-have all the way up to a 10 if it would be completely life-changing. If you haven’t been able to tell yet, we are basically just refining the first list that was made again and again and again until it isn’t so overwhelming to look at. Now just remember, if you think everything on you list would be life-changing, remind yourself that it is better to focus on a couple of things rather than attempting to do it all at one time.
When you are figuring out how you want to prioritize the important stuff, it is good to consider how long each of the tasks on your list will take, whether you have other people depending on you, deadlines, etc. I recommend going back over your list again and make sure that the items you scored a 10 are the ones that are the most impactful and make the most sense when you consider the time and effort involved as well as other people.
6. Put Tasks In Order
I don’t recommend working from your messy, color-coded braindump because that is going to do nothing but overwhelm you even more. In order to prioritize the list, we have to sort through it all, reorder some things, assign different weights to everything, and so forth. After I have done my braindump, I will typically go and make a cleaner list from that braindump. That is the key to this my friends!
Once you have everything in order, write a new list of things you are going to do or have to do based on the ratings or weights you gave each of your tasks. Be sure to keep your list as short as possible and make sure each of the tasks you want to do is specific because this helps with planning.
If there are any unimportant tasks on your list that just don’t need to be there, cross them off ASAP! We can deal with those later. Challenge yourself to focus on just the important tasks on your list.
Go over your list and make sure you feel really good and confident about the importance of everything that is on your list. It is easier said than done, but it is best to do this before you have started any work, not after. Go through each item and be honest with the reason why it is on the list and ask yourself what makes it important and why. Make sure all of your tasks are things that are going to help you achieve your goals or get things done in your life.
7. Strive For Progress Over Perfection
To-do lists are for sure where my need to be perfect flares up (in a BIG way) because I feel like everything has to be perfectly prioritized and organized to be able to even start. Or that I need to be doing everything at once for it to be worth it. Y’all know I struggle with this because I just don’t know when to stop. But I am learning that it is better to be doing something imperfectly than to not be doing something at all because at that point at least you are learning. Strive for progress, not perfection. Remember that nobody has their life perfectly organized but don’t we all wish we did.
How do y’all prioritize everything in your life? As always thank y’all for stopping by and reading. I will see y’all back here next time.