How To Prioritize When Your Todo List Is Overflowing

Guest post by Shift

When you are overwhelmed with everything that life and work have thrown at you, prioritizing can be difficult. Simply deciding which email to open first can suck up as much mental energy as actually doing it. The trick to overcoming your to-do list when everything feels important is to work smart, not hard, and the first step is deciding what is most important to you. 

To prioritize efficiently, you must accept the unavoidable truth that you cannot do everything at once. If you believe that you can complete all of your work in a day, you will leave feeling unaccomplished, guilty, and unable to celebrate the small wins you have accomplished. This article will help you free your mind of unrealistic expectations and align your priorities with your value system. 

Focus On What Is Truly Important

While priorities vary based on personal values, we all share the need to find a healthy and sustainable balance between work and life. Prioritizing can be very difficult when it feels like everything on your plate is of equal importance, and something has to give. 

How can I succeed in my work while maintaining my relationships? 

How do I stay rested when it seems there isn’t enough time in a day to get everything done? 

How do I balance family time while taking care of my well-being? 

These questions often seem impossible to answer, but identifying what is most important to you is the key to success in your work and personal life. One of the most important things to remember is that one thing does not have to give for the other, and you should always have a work-life balance. Prioritization is the process of realizing your limitations and finding the best possible way to balance time, energy, and workload. 

Stay Healthy

Obtaining a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for your work and personal life but is often the first to go when life picks up the pace. We put off exercising after work because turning on the TV is more leisurely and allows us to escape our day-to-day stressors, but this is detrimental to our health. Your endorphins rise after you exercise or fuel your body with a healthy lunch, and chances are, productivity picks up. So why do we put off our health? It’s simple; there is no deadline or sense of urgency for improving our health, so we often push it to tomorrow. Unfortunately, we let our mental and physical health slip as we get caught up in everyday life demands. 

Personal health lays the foundation for a balanced life and should be at the top of everyone’s list of priorities. Ignoring your body’s needs will only bury you deeper in your workload and reflect negatively on your personal life. These choices add up over time and hinder our abilities to be present in all aspects of our lives. As your health declines, feelings of anxiety and stress impair your cognitive thinking skills. Choosing to put your health first can sometimes be difficult but will make a noticeable difference in your productivity, adaptability, and learning skills. 

Rest Your Mind

Staying up all night to finish a final paper or working late to meet an impending deadline is a common path that will only lead you to burnout. One of the best ways to deal with stress and manage an overwhelming to-do list is to ensure you are getting enough sleep. Staying up an hour later to scroll through your social media is incredibly tempting, but the cost of lost sleep is more than you may think. Without enough sleep, your mind loses focus, and your productivity is likely to slip. 

  • Our emotions become unpredictable: Studies have shown that engaging in REM sleep will enhance your learning, memory, and emotional health — 84% of study participants reported they felt more irritable due to a loss of sleep. 
  • Our performance is impaired: A study measuring sleep-deprived students’ performance reported errors rose 15% after losing sleep. While many managers and colleagues see decreased performance as a lack of motivation, it is more commonly related to a lack of sleep. 
  • Sleep deprivation can affect your physical health: A lack of sleep can leave you more susceptible to common illnesses due to decreased immune function. One study found that people averaging less than seven hours of sleep are three times more likely to develop a cold.

Maintain Meaningful Relationships

Social connections are essential for our mental health, and there is no better destresser than an evening out with friends. Yet, many of us put our relationships on the back burner for more pressing responsibilities when forced to choose. We often assume our friends and family will still be there when things become less busy, but that is not always the case. 

Relationships are fragile — missing your son’s baseball game or avoiding a phone call from your partner can slowly deteriorate the relationship and leave you lonely. Here are some tips that will help give your relationships the nurture they need:

1. Put them first: Prioritize those closest to you and make sure they feel heard and cared for. Many people get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, forgetting to prioritize those who support them. Making your partner feel like a top priority will make a big difference in your home life, and you may notice this change decreases feelings of stress. 

2. Make time for your relationships: Carve out time for your loved ones, despite work stressors or chores — you always have time! Relaxing with your partner or a close friend for an hour or even 30 minutes will show them how much you care.

3. Remember to reach out: Everyone gets caught up in busy work from time to time, but it’s important to remind yourself you need a break, and what better way to destress than connecting with a friend. You might have to make the first move, but prioritizing time for relationships will only improve your quality of life.

5 Simple Steps To Help You Better Prioritize

If you know what you want out of life and make decisions parallel to your values, your priorities will likely fall into place. Yet, sometimes it isn’t that simple, and that’s why we have outlined five strategies to help you find this balance and prioritize in a fast-moving world

1. Create a master list of all your responsibilities

It is going to be impossible to prioritize when all of your tasks are floating inside your head. The best way to analyze what is essential is to visualize all of your projects in the same place. This way, you will be able to separate long and short term goals, seeing how they all contribute to the big picture. Focus on your daily priorities and how they relate to bigger goals, celebrating those small wins throughout the day!

2. Avoid busywork

Busy work can be medial or mundane tasks that fill the holes in your day and ultimately waste your time. These tasks throw us off our rhythm and distract us from long-term goals. Here’s a list of time wasters you might recognize: 

  • Scrolling through your inbox and responding to emails
  • Keeping up with the rapid-fire messages in your workgroup chat
  • Spending time on repetitive tasks that don’t move you forward
  • Last-minute requests that are a result of poor planning
  • Dragging on your meetings without an end goal in sight

3. Turn on do-not-disturb

Whether it’s the buzz of your phone, annoying marketing emails, or a workgroup chat, these notifications throughout the day are incredibly distracting and often unimportant. How can we reduce the pull of our phones during the workday? When you need to get things done, silence your phone’s sound and block out any digital distractions

4. Say no to the shiniest object in the room

Whether it is putting down a good book for the New York Times bestseller or dropping a project because something more glamorous has come around — we all experience shiny object syndrome in our lives. It’s easy to be derailed by the next best thing and spiral down a path that doesn’t align with the original goal. Boredom is one of the most common distractions and can push us to forget the intent behind what we are doing. Instead, we opt for what is most exciting: something new. The truth is, you have to get comfortable with some degree of boredom and sift through mundane tasks if you hope to reach the finish line. If you put in the reps and do the work, you will see that sticking to your goals is beneficial in the long-term. 

5. Separate important from urgent

Urgency motivates people to complete their work, and any procrastinator knows that a sense of urgency is sometimes the only way to finish a project. Essential things in life, such as time with loved ones, self-care, or long-term goals, are often pushed to the bottom of our priority list. Despite the obvious importance, we put these things off because there is no impending deadline. 

The Eisenhower Matrix is a strategy for productivity that will help you prioritize what is truly important. In this matrix, you visualize priorities in four separate categories: 

  • Urgent and important tasks need to be completed as soon as possible.
  • Urgent and unimportant tasks can be delegated to someone else.
  • Non-urgent and important tasks you can schedule for later.
  • Non-urgent and unimportant tasks should be deleted from your to-do list.

Productivity and work-life-balance go hand in hand

Ensuring that you are always prioritizing the right things can be a challenge, and it is easy to become distracted from the things you value most. That is why you must check in with yourself and ask:

Where do my values and beliefs lie?

Who are the essential people in my life, and how do I maintain those relationships? 

How do my priorities align with the ultimate goals I want to achieve? 

These questions do not always have clear-cut answers, and sometimes we need reminders of the significant people, places, and goals in our lives. When you feel you may be falling behind and unable to accommodate all of life’s demands, reassess your priorities and reflect on where you have gone wrong. If you are not acting in the face of your values, drifting away from family and friends, or unable to actualize your goals, perhaps this is an indicator you need to reprioritize.