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How to prioritize your day in 6 steps

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Do you ever feel like your whole life is juggling tasks and to-dos, while falling even farther behind?  It happens, right? So today, we’re talking about how to prioritize your day, make sure the important tasks are getting done, and end your day feeling calm – even if you’re in a busy season of life.

Why you need to prioritize your day:

I don’t want to be as busy as I am right now.  I just don’t. My goal is to have a calm, slow-paced lifestyle.  A manageable workload. Time available for spontaneity.  And while I’m actively working toward that, now is a very busy time in my life.  But that doesn’t mean I have to be overscheduled and overwhelmed – neither do you, even if you’re also at a busy point in your life. 

So what can we do when our list is a mile long and there aren’t enough hours in the day?  Prioritize.  But how can we prioritize our day? We all know what that means, but how to do it gets a little fuzzier.  So I’m going to share with you my method for prioritizing my day (and even have a little time for fun).  A method for tackling that dreaded list, without the overwhelm!

Tell me if this sounds familiar to you: 

You wake up in the morning and everything that you need to do today starts bouncing around in your mind like someone dropped a bucket full of bouncy-balls in there.  You start on a task, only to get distracted and stop when you remember something else that HAS to be done right now. You sit down about halfway through the day and wonder how you’re possibly going to manage to get it all done.  Sound familiar? Yeah, it does to me, too.

Now, what if: 

You wake up in the morning, sit down for 5-10 minutes and write down a quick list.  You arrange that list and KNOW before the day has really even started what you need to do, what will probably get done, and what may not make the cut today, but will get done eventually.  You know that the urgent tasks will be taken care of and that you might even have time to go out to dinner without feeling guilty or even farther behind. Sound better?

Prioritizing your day is not only a way to make sure that everything important gets done on time, but it’s also a method of adding calm to your life, especially during the busy seasons.  Everything may not get done today or even as fast as you’d prefer, but you will be more relaxed because you know that if it’s important, it will get done (and the rest will get done eventually).  So let’s talk about how to prioritize.

How to prioritize your day
How to prioritize your day

So how can you prioritize your day?

I’m going to teach you how to prioritize your day in 6 steps, so you can be both calm and productive – even during the busy seasons in life.  It will only take 5-10 minutes, so it’s well worth the time spent!

Before we start, though, here are a few questions to ask yourself, in order to determine what is truly important, not only for your day, but also for your long-term goals:

What habit or habits are you trying to establish?

What is important for achieving your goals?

What is important for your daily life? 

What is important for YOU?

Now, with those questions in mind grab a piece of paper, or even better, a small dry erase board or an app like Trello.  We’re going to be moving things around a little bit, so knowing that, choose whatever method works best for you.

6 steps to prioritize your day

Step 1 – Jot down a quick list of everything you’d like to get done today.  

Everything.  Fair warning, it might look a little overwhelming.  Don’t worry, that’s not going to last.

Step 2 – Break down the big tasks into smaller steps.  

Get specific.  For example, instead of writing down “clean the house”, break it down into “clean the bathrooms, vacuum the carpet” etc.  I know, I know, it looks even more overwhelming now, but stick with me.

Step 3 – Make a note of anything that needs to get done BEFORE something else on the list happens.  

Certain tasks need to happen in a certain order (just like when you were in school learning algebra – which I am STILL hopeless at – if you miss a step, the rest just won’t work).  So, anything that needs to happen in order for or before another task can happen needs to be noted.  

Step 4 – Sort your list into categories.  

This is the fun part, guys.  We’re going to split that list into 3 sections – The Non-Negotiables, The Important, and The Back Burner

The Non-Negotiables:  

These are the things that either have a set, scheduled time – like appointments and going to work or class – or tasks that absolutely have to get done today – like paying that bill that’s due today or running to the store for toilet paper because you are literally out.  The Non-Negotiables are the tasks that absolutely have to be done and can’t be delayed (at least, not without some unpleasant consequences).

The Important:

These are the tasks that really need to be done, sooner than later.  But, worst-case scenario, they CAN be delayed if they have to be. This includes tasks with a deadline approaching and things that you are trying to make a regular habit of doing (or doing on a specific day of the week). 

Sidenote here – I include self-care and exercise in this category.  It NEEDS to be done. It needs to be a priority (I even wrote about that in this post) and the best way to make that happen is to PLAN for it to happen. But it can be a little bit more flexible than the Non-Negotiables.

The Back-Burner:

Finally, these are the things that you’d like to get done, but are flexible and can easily be delayed if they need to be.  No real consequences if they get pushed back. This also might include some of those linked tasks, because you can’t do those until another task is finished.

Another note – The reason I suggest you make a new list every single day is because some of these items you just wrote down?  They will change priority level. If you had paying a bill on The Important list and it’s now due tomorrow, guess what?  It’s now a Non-Negotiable. If you had washing the sheets on the guest bed on The Back Burner and you just found out someone will be visiting this weekend?  It’s now Important.

Step 5: Arrange your list  

This is the easy part.  Now that you have your list separated into three categories, we’re going to arrange your day.  Write down anything from The Non-Negotiables, because those are getting done no matter what. Assess (honestly) the time you have left in your day and move on to The Important.  Try to limit the important items to only 3 tasks. If you have time and energy for more, you know where to find the rest, but by limiting to only 3 tasks, you will be much less likely to feel overwhelmed.  (You can read more about why that works in this post.) And finally, if you have time left, add a few tasks from The Back-Burner.  If you don’t? Well, don’t. They can wait and that’s why they’re on The Back Burner, simmering away until you’re ready for them.

Step 6 – Relax, because you have a plan!  

Even though you’re still busy, you will feel calmer and less overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, because you know what really NEEDS to be done.

Two more quick tips:

Delegate if you can:

If you see something on your list that you can ask for help with, ask.  If your husband can run by the grocery store, ask if he minds. If your kids can vacuum the house, let them.  You may be Wonderwoman, but you don’t have to save the world all by yourself.

Plan for breaks: 

Especially if you have a long task.  We lose focus after an extended amount of time, so be sure to add in time to take a break, even if it’s only 5 minutes.  It will allow you to reset, refocus, and get back to it feeling fresh.

What tips and trick do you use when prioritizing your day?

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