Prioritizing doesn't have to be so hard!

You want to take action, you want to dive in and complete something on your list (because it's gotten really old, really fast, to keep dragging the same tasks from one day to the next on your Trello calendar or in your bullet journal or wherever you keep track of what needs doing).

You know that once you kick it into gear, very often something becomes somethings nearly effortlessly, so it's really just a matter of starting.

But you haven't got a clue how to prioritize when everything feels urgent or when the list is so long, it feels impossible to discern what's urgent and what isn't.

This cluelessness has a big impact. It means you're either 1. starting by tackling some arbitrary task that isn't necessarily important in the big picture of what you want to do with your life, or 2. not starting at all.

A few of you have reached out and posed some iteration of this concern.

And while I can't promise to know your right answer, I can certainly share what's working for me at the moment.

If you're in the clueless camp, my hope is that you'll take my method and make it your own.
First of all, I don't believe prioritizing has to be hard. I even think it can be fun (and enlightening!) to move things around until there's some resonance in the arrangement.

Yesterday on Instagram, I mentioned a new time-chunking method I'm using that involves sticky notes. Lots and lots of sticky notes. Here's what I'm doing, using the 1.5 x 2 inch size in a variety of electric colors:

1. I take my time to think of All The Things that are crowding my mind and I write them on sticky notes. This is perfect for those days when I arrive at my desk without a plan, but with what feels like an overwhelming list of things that need my attention.

2. I assign just one task per sticky note. 'Answer emails' is not one task. 'Reply to Emily' is. 'Reply to Sarah' is another. 'Reply to group message with availability,' and so on. One per sticky, no exceptions.

3. I arrange the sticky notes based on a hierarchy of two questions. Once I've gotten down everything that's top of mind and my desk's surface is covered in neon tiles, I ask myself two quick questions that help me to get clear on what actually needs to get done today. I rearrange the tiles accordingly.

Now, my two questions are particular to me, as a married and self-employed woman without children. Yours might be really different based on the particulars of your life. There's no shame in whatever your guiding questions might be; the important thing is to be honest with yourself about your overarching goals for this season of your life.

  • Do I have a commitment to or an agreement with someone to do something here? For me, this might mean my husband and I agreed I'd call for an electrician first thing; it might mean I've a paying client who emailed me in a tizzy the night before and requires a reply; it might mean today is the first day of a self-care commitment, and I need to get outside for an early morning walk. It helps me to first consider my commitments and agreements, and then to make sure those sticky notes get moved to the top for immediate attention. Even as a particular relationship is important to me, if there are no explicit agreements in place, I set aside its associated tasks for later. (Note the difference between agreements and expectations; someone might expect you to reply to an email or might desire a returned phone call, but there's no explicit commitment on your part to do so. Here's a fantastic article on this exact distinction.)
  • Is this, or might it become, a source of income? Because I'm self-employed, my priority throughout the work week must be growing my business. As much as I adore being in touch with family and friends on a regular basis (and need to be in touch with them in order to have a meaningful life!), I don't allow my personal life to outrank business-generating activities when I've got myself on the clock. This means that all those sticky notes that are decidedly personal in nature get moved to the bottom.

4. I create header sticky notes (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on) and then I distribute the individual sticky notes that didn't make the cut as commitments/agreements or sources of income. I only concern myself with Monday through Friday because this system is about managing my work week as someone whose personal and professional lives intersect quite a bit; your needs might be different. It's worth noting that I don't distribute these remaining tasks arbitrarily; I rank them based on nature of relationship, urgency of request, and order received.

If this sounds heartless (spelled out, it strikes me as being a bit more matter-of-fact than I've ever actually copped to being), I suspect it's because there's a distinct discomfort around not operating from a place of accommodation (at least for some of us; fellow people-pleasers, I'm looking at you). I am someone who'd like for everyone in her life to feel they are a priority—and, if there were enough hours in the day and my business ran itself, I've no doubt I'd try to ensure that! (Though whether or not that's a good thing to need/want to ensure is an entirely separate conversation.)

Having a system that acknowledges the fullness of my life and doesn't have me chained me to my inbox until bedtime is crucial for me.

So, if you're clueless, start here. Tweak as necessary. Report back.

If you have a system that beats mine in spades, don't hold out on us. Share!

And finally, hit me with any questions you have about time management, taking action, prioritizing, or starting and/or completing your Big Thing. I always answer, and I may even feature our Q&A in this space (provided I have your permission, of course).

Love,
Helen