How to Prioritize Your To Do List in Minutes
Make that List Do its Job
I am a list maker.
I’m not a perfect list maker, I’m occasionally a good list maker, but not always.
I like to write my lists down on whatever piece of paper happens to be lying around. You may find them on the back of receipts, mail that’s waiting to be recycled or in my checkbook register. Oh I do love marking things off those pieces of paper. I like keeping the lists and feeling that sense of accomplishment when I get to mark things off. Sometimes you will open my day planner and find a stack of random paper lists.
Let me tell you, this is definitely not the way you want to prioritize your to do list.
I use a list for almost everything I do – if I’m going to the grocery store I need to keep track of what I’m there for. If I have errands to run I like to keep a list of which places I need to go to, and what I need to pick up at each place. Part of the list making is just the fun of marking things off the list when I’ve completed them. But a larger part of it is trying to keep the craziness of family and a business on track. I need notes and reminders to help keep me organized.
Tips to prioritize your to do list
Many people will tell you that I’m a very organized person. My family may tell you a very different story. They’ll show you the tote bag of papers that need to be filed and the multiple projects that I’ve started and didn’t finish. I will tell you that this is because I have learned to prioritize my to do list. Well not really, I’m learning to prioritize. Some of these projects have to wait because I’m working on higher priority items right now.
Time is precious and we all have a limited amount of it.
If you’re feeling like your to do list is so long that you don’t know where to start, these tips will help.
Start with a Brain Dump
That’s exactly what it sounds like. Dumping everything from your brain onto a piece of paper so that it’s off your mind and you can focus. You can read more about that here.
Know Your Priorities
It can be tough to determine where to spend your time when it feels like everything on your list is the most important. It doesn’t matter if you’re a homemaker or a CEO – the daily list of tasks can be overwhelming.
To prioritize your to do list you must first know which parts of your life are your main priorities. The things that are most important to me right now are my husband, my kids, my business and making time to read. I just recently added that last one because I had let busy-ness take control and wasn’t leaving myself time to read, so I moved it to a higher position.
Things that are on my list but are lower in priority are gardening and finishing some of the projects that I’ve started, and watching that series on Netflix. These things get plugged into my calendar when time is available after I’ve organized the high priority items.
Sometimes the way to accomplish more is to let some things go. You’re not letting them go forever, just for right now.
Once you know your priorities you can sort your list.
Pay Attention to Your Attention
Occasionally I don’t add something to my list because it doesn’t seem very important. Later I may find myself thinking about it repeatedly and notice that it’s taking up my attention.
Be aware that a small thing can take up a lot of our focus. I might not deem it important enough to add to my to do list, but then I find it’s taking up my mental energy. If you experience this then add it to the list, get it done and mark it off. Pay attention to the items that distract your focus.
Sort your list into categories. I like to use:
- Must Do
- Can Do
- Can Wait
- Want to Do
Once you know what things you must do, it’s easier to plug in all the other categories. It’s helpful to use your list along with your calendar so that you can block out some time for the things that you want to do. Don’t neglect the want to do’s, they’re important for your mental health.
There are probably things on your must do list everyday to keep your life in order. There will sometimes be things on the can wait list that will get moved to must do over time, like when they can’t be ignored anymore. I’m thinking of laundry here.
Write it down the night before
If you’ve committed to your list the night before it will be much easier to get started first thing in the morning. If you have one big priority to tackle early you can focus on that before all the daily distractions get ahold of you.
It’s also much easier to get that big ugly thing off your list right off the bat. We all have things that we hate to take care of. Get that procrastination out of the way right away. If you can tackle it first then you can start the day accomplished and not dreading that task.
Don’t Make Your List too Long
Do you add so many things to your list that there’s no way to actually get to the end of it? Don’t confuse quantity with quality. This can make you feel less efficient and waste your precious energy.
Having too many things on your to do list doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve accomplished a great deal in a day. You may spend a lot of your time focusing on low quality items just so that you can check them off your list. My mama said there’d be days like this! While this isn’t strictly a no no, putting mundane chores on your list may mean that you spend time avoiding the bigger, more important things that you need to get done.
There are lots of studies out there showing that people who set goals and track them have a much higher chance of reaching them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a daily list, a budget or a life goal; writing it down is making a commitment to it and it improves your chances of achieving it. So prioritize your to do list and conquer the world!