How to Prioritize When Everything Seems Important

Dr. John Townsend

September 7, 2018

Let’s say it’s close to the end of your work day and you review your to-do list for what was supposed to happen. Have you ever said to yourself, the right stuff didn’t get done? Join the club, we all have that experience. Setting and sticking to priorities can be challenging!

In a busy life, establishing the right priorities are a valuable tool, and can help you feel a bit better when you next review that list. Here are some tips.

4 Tips for Establishing the Right Priorities

#1: Get an app. Unless you just don’t like the digital world, go online and get a simple to-do app for your smartphone. Task apps these days are geared to help people stay prioritized. Make sure to download an app that syncs easily between all of your devices: phone, laptop, tablet, and desktop. Ask a tech friend or look at online reviews for some suggestions.  In fact, I recommend that you try out several different apps, as organization is a very personal preference.

#2: Use Covey’s Time Management Matrix. I haven’t found anything clearer or more helpful than Stephen Covey’s diagram from his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  Below is a listing of each quadrant of this matrix, plus I have added an example.

1:  Urgent and important: Receiving a call from a major client who is upset with your company

2:  Not urgent, important: Planning your monthly calendar based on your goals

3: Urgent, not important: Receiving a call from a friend who is always in crisis, but doesn’t take your advice

4:  Neither urgent nor important: Organizing desk drawers

The most important point to remember is to never let #3 become #2.  It is so easy to do the urgent and not-all-that-important, while you neglect the non-urgent but very important! Don’t fall into this prioritization trap!

#3: Learn to accept losses. The psychology underneath the software issue is that lots of us have pretty good priorities, but we don’t budget for losses. We are optimistic, positive, energized and full of hope – and that’s a great thing. But the real winners at some point will also say, “To succeed at what’s really important to me, I need to accept that there are lots of things I won’t have time to do.” I know so many people who are full of potential, and as they age, they repeat the same startup projects year after year, because they can’t let go of the “good” for the “best.”

#4: Review your priorities with the right people. Priorities in our heads don’t stand a great chance of succeeding. Priorities reviewed weekly or monthly with people who are on your life team will keep you encouraged and focused. Sharing priorities with other people also helps keep you accountable to them.

It can be very difficult to know how to prioritize when everything seems important. Remember the four tips I’ve shared above to help you establish the right priorities. Keep in mind, too, that being flexible and adaptable is key to success in this area as you learn to accept time losses.


How to Prioritize When Everything Is Important

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