Find Time Today: Move Some Priorities to the Bottom of Your List!

Finding time by setting priorities is a wonderful way to organize yourself.  But here’s a recent question from a reader that illustrates a common challenge when prioritizing.

Susan A. of Portland, Oregon wrote:

Dear Paula,

I have always tried to set priorities when I create my to-do list. My problem is that I have a tendency to think that every task is a high priority. Could you help me by explaining what a low priority task looks like?


Susan A.

Dear Susan,

Your question is one that many people ask. One of the most difficult aspects of setting priorities is to develop a habit of not making everything a high priority.

Consider this…

You might want to set yourself this goal: Try to assign at least 50% of the tasks on your to-do list as a medium or low priority.

  • A low priority task is one that can be deferred without a negative impact on anything if it doesn’t get completed.
  • Also, a low priority task is one that can be moved to another day without any adverse consequences.

Keep in mind, when setting priorities, that being flexible and reality-based is key.  Situations change every day, and you may, quite often, have a legitimate reason to re-order your priorities.  Tasks that looked very important on Sunday night, may look different on Wednesday, after you have gained more information or the context has evolved.

Your Top Priorities

In thinking about your top priorities, be rigorous about what belongs in that slot.  Stephen Covey suggests keeping two words in mind while setting priorities. One is ‘urgent’ and the other is ‘important’. The best guide for determining which task is the highest priority is to select the task on your to-do list that is both urgent and important. Some tasks may be one or the other, but only the one that is both belongs at the top.

Likewise, you may find it helpful to establish a “bottom” priority.  You may even have a small collection of tasks that fit this bill.  They would typically be things that can be deferred without dire consequence, but that it would be nice to accomplish.  Putting vacation photos into an album is something that springs to mind.  Or, perhaps, reorganizing a seldom-used closet.

Chunking tasks and priorities…

Breaking your tasks up into smaller pieces (“chunking” them) may also help.  Even if you don’t have enough time to complete a task, you can use the time available to get it started.  Some of these “chunks” might be lower-level priorities, but completing them will help move a higher priority task along.

It’s helpful to choose a time to review your next day’s to-do list and the priorities you’ve established. Look at both the task and the priority you’ve assigned it.  This allows you to flex and fine-tune your priorities as you plan.  You might even take a minute or two and visualize each task. This mental rehearsal enables you to identify the number of steps required to complete a task and keeps your stress level down.

I hope that some of these ideas resonate for you, Susan … and I’d love to hear how your prioritizing evolves over time.



This helps, too…

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