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How to Prioritize Your Priorities

When the to-do list residing in your mind has taken up too much space and almost everything seems equally important:


Where in the heck do we even start?


And, I'm sorry, how are we supposed to "prioritize" when the tasks associated with important parts of our life like family, food, finances, or career fall on the same list...in the same day?


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At my last job, knowing how to navigate prioritization was a necessity - because everyone expressed their request as more important than anything else the world possibly had on the waiting list before it. Hence why I created a mental checklist resembling the one below: to promote productivity, reduce overwhelm, and feel confident that I knew what I was doing (and also, more free time).


I know it seems impossible most days, leaving us numb from exhaustion of over thinking or fear we'll get to things in the wrong order.


The good news? We can simplify our lists (and our lives) by first taking the time to do the following things.


You've got your mental check list cluttering your head space - now let's get some clarity:


1) Before all else, physically sit down and take some deep breaths (this won't take but a moment of your time)

Because if we don't, more often than not we'll continue to run around, carrying multiple objects, going from room to room, and proceed to make a mental note of yet another thing that must be done before the day comes to an end.


We can't get anywhere or do what we really need to do (well) if our brains become scrambled eggs.

And you are allowed to sit down before finishing whatever it is you were doing (drop the laundry and sit down, Patricia).


Second step is the unimaginably simple, yet a difficult task for those of us who lack the discipline of just getting started with the work:


2) grab a paper and pen: it's time to lay out the groundwork

I know we have technology to track down our tasks - digital calendars, reminders on our phones - but personally, I'm a heavy note taker on plain old paper. Sure, I might have sticky notes with words I can't read and piles of scrap paper all over the place from tiny notepads I got from multiple stores. What's the problem?


The benefit is I can see what I put down without having to scroll - and with no risk of becoming distracted by other things as soon as I unlock my phone or computer. And I don't always care to remember what I put on my phone - it's like the Bermuda triangle for me.


My point - putting more effort in the early stages of the process saves you a lot of time in the end. It leaves out the second guessing, it prevents overwhelm, and you end up having more blank space then you thought you would in the day.


Okay, now write this down at the top of your paper:


what doesn't get done today, will get done eventually.


It's a fact that you won't always get it all done in one fell swoop - especially if you are a overzealous with how much you thought you could take on (guilty). This reminder is to set you up for success in not allowing the self-depleting view point of "you failed before you tried" to take over before you even begin. That's essentially throwing garbage at yourself, and we're not having that today.


3) now brain dump all the things

Priority or not, write down all the tasks out on paper to make room for clarity and discernment in your mind. From meal planning to painting your nails; from paying bills to watching Gilmore Girls - if it's on your mind, put it down.


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Onto my favorite part:


4) highlight what you believe to be the priority items

Got a favorite color highlighter? Make that represent priorities #1. Have another color? Great, highlight the next-best-priorities with that!


5) consider the ramifications

What would happen if the thing on your list didn't get done today? Would you be charged a late fee? Would the office be closed tomorrow? Would you be eating out again (not always a bad thing - but might be outside the budget)? Will someone be offended? Eh, so what - I'm kidding! I just had to say it.


If the task has a "risk factor" of sorts, draw an aste-risk character next to it (no pun intended). To make it stand out even more, write it down in a red or purple color (or any other pen color you have handy that would strike you in a "holy cow that's major" kind of way. Or to the extent a tiny symbol on paper can do that.


Here are some example of tasks that probably don't hold heavy consequences if they don't get done today. They're easy "fillers" that definitely make us feel accomplished, and do need to be done eventually (most fall in the "house chore" category):

- laundry

- dishes

- picking up the toys or general mess from the week


6) cut it to the top 3 tasks

In the famous words of Michael Scott from The Office: Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS).


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Don't overthink this step! Everything you did leading up to this makes this the easiest step yet.

Circle the 3 things you know should get be done today in a colored pen. I recommend keeping it to 3 initially - then once those things are done, go back to your list and circle three more - keep on going from there until the day or the list is done!


7) Get. It. Done.

I guess this would be the hardest step after all - just getting started, right?


Create space for breaks, drink the water, laugh at stupid videos, hang out with your people and get ish done, friend!


You are capable of doing the hard things today, tomorrow and the next day, even if the day started out cruddy, you can finish it out however you choose - and I think it's going to be strong..



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