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How do you prioritise?

When there is so much to do, and the tasks just seem endless, how do you prioritise what to do first? 

We all face times and situations where we might have an extra-long To-Do-List, and then there will be times when there really isn’t much to be done at all. These are normal parts and patterns of life. 

We will always have many different things demanding our attention and hence too many different priorities. Acknowledging their existence is the easy part, putting them into an order is often more difficult.

So, let’s think about what these priorities might be. There will undoubtedly be things at home that demand our attention, these will include family, and home life tasks etc. Then there is school and the immediate associated workload, there will of course be the demands from friendships. There may be longer-term projects or assignments with deadlines to meet, and these are all valid demands. What is more often difficult is trying to ascertain which demands comes first and how we prioritise them. 

Before we can start to prioritise, we need to work out what actually needs to be done right away and what can wait. 

A good way to start is by making a physical list, either on paper or on your laptop. On the very first list you are going to include everything you can think of that might need doing or need your attention; include all the family tasks, home life tasks, homework, projects and assignments - this is your ‘To-Do-List’. Now you can begin to prioritise by making a second list called ‘WEEK AHEAD’ – transferring over all the things from your To-Do-List which need to be done in the immediate week ahead; then make another list for the next few weeks – called ‘MONTH AHEAD’, and do the same, transferring all the things from your To-Do-List over. Then make a fourth list for the next few months – called ‘TRIMESTER AND BEYOND’. 

You will probably find these initial lists get a bit messy as you begin to move things around, but this is an important part of the process of prioritising. By asking the question “Can this wait”? You might find that some things start off on your first list, move to the second but then end up on your third or fourth list, that’s fine. The important thing here is that you start to look at what is essential and what is realistically achievable, which moves me to the next point: -

Setting yourself achievable goals - Try to be as realistic as you can about what you’re hoping to achieve, and then make sure your goals are manageable, i.e. small enough to be attained or reachable. If you are worrying yourself about something that needs to be done over the next six months then that worry might get in the way of what you actually need to achieve this week, this is why the four lists are helpful. 

Can you move anything along that doesn’t need doing right now? This helps you to start putting things in order - you are starting the process of prioritising.

Get organised – Once you have your lists in a time-based order then you can begin to organise your tasks. Ask yourself what you actually need to do to achieve these goals or activities? Write this down too. 

Be ruthless - Not all tasks actually get done (or at very least not as soon as you’d like), sometimes they move close to the bottom or even fall off and move onto the next list – and this is a key point to understanding prioritisation, some things just aren’t as important as we might think they are.

Advocate time-saving techniques – some tasks just consume our time up, especially the repetitive ones – notice when you are doing the same or similar things over and over again. Is there a way to do two things at once, or to kill two birds with one stone as it were? 

Let go of perfectionism- when you are strapped for time your need for perfectionism has to take a back seat, trusting that your best effort in the time you have is good enough.

Plan in flexibility - things don’t always go to plan, so have a fallback plan. Maybe that is planning in a little extra time to take the pressure off. i.e. plan to finish two days before a deadline or complete your assignment a week early. You don’t have to work right up to the last minute, your deadline can be before the real one - that way you will always have time to spare.

AND remember your To-Do-List will always be a work in progress, not a finished document.

Written by Emma Williams, Wellbeing Mentor