person starting to write a list

What is one action you can take today that will help all aspects of your life run more smoothly? Learning how to prioritize better. What you prioritize is what you get done. If you don't make a conscious effort to choose your priorities, the activities you end up spending time on each day will become your priorities by default. Here are some tips to help manage your life load and set the priorities for your work, family, and personal life.

What's on Your Plate?
To be able to prioritize effectively, you must first know the full range of what you have to do. Rather than relying on your memory, you need to write all your commitments down. It doesn't matter if you use a paper calendar or notebook, or if you prefer electronic record keeping. The important thing is that you create a complete list of everything you need to accomplish. Don't worry at this stage about organizing or ordering your tasks. This first step can be a random "brain dump" of things you need to get done in all areas of your life. The result will be a master list of your tasks.

Breaking It Down
Now that you've got a visual of your commitments, it's time to start sorting them out. The next step is to divide the master list you've created into categories representing the different areas of your life. For example, you might have a list with the categories "Work, Family, and Personal Life," or "School, Relationship, Volunteer Job, and Hobby." After you decide which categories make sense for you, assign each a number. These numbers are not related to order of priority--they're simply to help you separate your tasks by category.

Sorting It Out
Next, look at each task on your master list and write down the category number that it relates to. For instance, using the example above, all tasks related to work responsibilities would be numbered as 1 and all family responsibilities would be numbered as 2, etc. Now, using the numbering as a guide, group all tasks into their respective categories. Continuing with the example, you would end up with three separate lists: a list that contains all of your work-related tasks, a list with your family-related tasks, and a list of personal tasks.

Choosing Your Tops
The final step in this process is where the prioritization comes in. Put each of your lists in order, from most important tasks to least important. The result will be a spread sheet of sorts that shows your top priorities in each key area of your life. Make it a goal to cross the top item off of each of your lists every day. In the example, you'd thus accomplish the top priority on your job list, the top priority on your family list, and the top priority on your personal list. Depending on the complexity of the tasks, completing three items per day is more realistic than hoping to complete 20 tasks on your list.

Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Don't tackle items that are of lower priority before you've completed the ones above them
  • If you complete one item out of each category and still have time and energy for more, you're free to start on the next item on one of your lists
  • Update your lists at the end of each day, marking off completed items, adding new ones, and reordering priorities as needed
  • If possible, use a computer, email program, or smartphone to make your lists, as the cut and paste feature can help save time reordering

The initial creation and sorting of your lists is the hardest part. Once you have those steps behind you, the rest becomes a matter of simple maintenance that will pay off in better time management.