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May 24 , 2022 • 9 min read

How to prioritize when you have too much to do

Ever feel like you’re under pressure to get things done but have so little time to do them in? We’ve all been there, and even for the most organized people, this situation can often feel very overwhelming and almost like you’re drowning. Why? Because we all have deadlines to meet, tasks to take care of, and are worried about not getting enough done.

There’s some good news though – there’s an answer to this problem and it revolves around prioritizing.

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Why is it important to prioritize?

Prioritizing tasks is important in order to make sure you get everything done. Prioritization enables you to make sure you pay attention to tasks that are urgent and get them done first, before moving on to lower priority tasks. 

By ignoring the need to prioritize tasks, you may find yourself stressed out with how to get everything done and when. Not to mention, you’ll be less productive and less organized.

So how does this work? Well, a lot of us start our day with a basic list of tasks and to-dos. These lists are usually combined with the daily tasks we need to get done and our workloads. 

However, throughout the day our plans and priorities often change, due to new assignments cropping up, last-minute changes, urgent meetings, and the like. This means your priorities change and tasks may need shifting around. However, what happens if you feel like everything is important and can’t prioritize? 

When everything is important paradox

One of the hardest struggles we all face in our day-to-day lives is the struggle of prioritizing. With everything from mounting tasks at work, to our personal lives and everything in between, it’s often hard deciding what deserves top priority.

However, by mastering this – you’ll change your life. We’re not kidding. Knowing how to prioritize will make you much more productive, keep you focused and reduce stress. Not to mention you’ll be much better at conducting a good work/life balance.

Additionally, once you sit down and arrange your priorities, you’ll find that a lot of the things that you thought were super urgent aren’t and that you have time to focus on other things. The actual process of prioritizing your work, however, seems simple – when in fact it’s not THAT simple in practice. You’re going to need a clear system to make sure you have a ‘to-do’ list that is totally under control.

So, how can you make the most of your day and get things done?

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Getting Things Done

Getting things done is down to prioritizing and prioritizing is down to good habits. You need a good schedule in place to make sure you can improve your productivity and get things done. By doing this you’ll be able to understand what you want to accomplish and how to prioritize your tasks depending on time and resources.

By consistently prioritizing, you’ll be able to make each day productive and stay focused on your goals. In order to do this, you need to break down your tasks into smaller ‘bite-sized’ tasks.

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For example, If your task is to ‘write a book’ – the task itself doesn’t really explain everything that goes into writing a book and makes it seem like an endless task. However, if you were to break it down into;

  1. Write Introduction to the book
  2. Write the first chapter of the book 
  3. Choose illustrations for the book

You’ll be able to check these smaller tasks off your list, feel a sense of accomplishment, and be more productive.

With this in mind, it’s also important to understand ‘task dependencies’ in order to get things done as this has an impact on your schedule. 

Start by writing down, in order the tasks that are dependent on other tasks, the tasks that are most important, and those that will take up most of your time. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to put your prioritization in place. 

Getting things done means first sorting out the non-actionable tasks into 3 categories

  1. Trash – The tasks that don’t matter
  2. Reference – The tasks with valuable information but need no action
  3. Maybe – The tasks that don’t need to be finished immediately and can be put into a ‘backlog’

Then you’ll need to sort out your actionable tasks;

  1. Immediately  – The tasks that are quick to complete 
  2. Waiting for – The tasks that are assigned to others
  3. Next-Action – The tasks that have multiple steps
  4. Calendar – The tasks with deadlines that need adding to a calendar 

Once you have this method in place, you’ll have a clear view of how and when to go about certain tasks, making your life much less stressful and much more productive.

Eat that Frog Method

If the ‘Getting Things Done’ method doesn’t quite work for you, you can try the ‘Eat That Frog’ method. This method requires strategic planning as it stems from the Mark Twain's saying;

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’

But what did Mark Twain mean by this? Well, what it means in simple terms is that you should complete your most important tasks first. How? By identifying your task objectives and working from there. For example, if you have an important but difficult task, do it first thing, and then once that’s done, go on to complete the other, smaller tasks. Why? Because the big Frog is the most important task on your list.

ABCDE Method

There is also another method you can put in place to prioritize your tasks, and it’s similar to a ‘task alphabet’ and it’s titled to suit. The ‘ABCDE Method’ enables you to prioritize tasks in order of highest priority.

For example, task A – is the most important, and task E – is the least. Then in between, you can sort other tasks out in order of priority. The easiest way to do this is to go through your list and give each of your tasks a letter from A to E. For every task that needs to be an A, follow it with a number so that the number dictates when you do it. Repeat this process until all of your tasks have letters and numbers.

This method is effective as it gives multiple layers of prioritization to your tasks and defines their true importance – making your schedule a lot clearer. 

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Most important vs most productive

Once you’ve chosen a method that you feel best suits you, it’s time to determine the most important tasks on your list vs the most productive ones.

This all boils down to efficiency. It’s about getting everything you set out to do, done in less time and to the best of your ability. So when thinking about the most important vs the most productive it’s important to remember how you can be most efficient in the process.

By definition, efficiency is optimizing tasks. You’re immediately more efficient if you find a way to do something twice as fast as it takes another person to do it once. Whereas effectiveness is about doing the right tasks regardless of the time it takes you to do them.

Therefore, depending on your goals you need to make sure you are getting the most important tasks done first, in the most productive way.

For example, if you have an important task with a deadline (this also includes ‘urgency’ which is another thing to remember when prioritizing) vs a bunch of small tasks that you can get done quickly – do the bigger, more important task first and then move onto the smaller ones. Separating importance from urgency is a key factor in successful prioritization.

As you can see, when you understand how to prioritize you’ll often find that you don’t actually have as much to do as you thought. Instead, you’ve scheduled and prioritized and made your tasks much easier to accomplish – with very little effort. Make sure you learn to prioritize and do it at the start of your day to set the tone. By doing this, you’ll inspire yourself to keep moving forward through your to-do list.

Good Luck!