How To Prioritize Your To-Do List To Get The Important Things Done

Do you have a super long to do list but at the end of the day, you realize you haven’t gotten anything done at all? You take a look at your to-do list and feel like everything is important. You think to yourself but you just can’t decide which one to do first. Can you relate to this? When you see your list you feel completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, so you procrastinate and never get anything done at all. You feel like there are so many tasks to do and all of them seem equally important. Or maybe you do a bunch of the tasks on your list but end the day not feeling accomplished because all the things you did happened to be only little tasks that added very little value to your day.

One solution to solve this problem is to prioritize your to-do list and to learn to be proactive instead of reactive. The truth is, most of us tend to start the day by reacting to the urgent things and never ever get around to the important things that matter to our lives and goals. When you wake up to check your email and respond immediately, you are reacting. To be proactive you need to learn how to do what matters to you and your goals first, instead of simply catering to everyone else’s needs.

If you are not checking things off of your to-do list, the problem might not be your productivity. Instead, it might just be your priorities which you need to get in order. You need to learn how to focus on your top priorities.

When you learn to set priorities, you will enjoy that satisfaction that comes from crossing off your to-dos at the end of the day. There is no better feeling than that feeling you get when you’ve checked everything off the list. Moreover, prioritizing your to-do list will increase your productivity and make you achieve more in less time.

To-do lists can be your best friend when you know how to manage tasks in your list. Otherwise, it can be your worst enemy, leaving you overwhelmed with a poorly managed and unrealistic task list. To ensure you get the best from your to-do list, the following tips will help you:

1. Make Use of a Planner

Writing things you need to do in a planner helps you organize them in the order you want them to get done. A planner gives you an idea of what you need to do next in just a glance. It also allows you to pull together everything you could possibly consider getting done in a day. Planners help you to organize your to-do lists by day, week or month. It’s one thing to make a list but it’s another to actually schedule those to-dos into your calendar. By using a planner you will start planning your to-do’s in an organized and sequential order.

Related post: How to Get More Done By Tracking Your Time

2. Identify Urgent Vs. Important Tasks

Take a look at your to-do lists. Do you have any task that demands immediate attention? I’m talking about work that if not completed by the end of the day, will lead to negative consequences. If you have such work on your list, move it to the top of your list.

You need to take care of the urgent tasks first, then can you tackle the important ones and the less important ones later. Learn how to avoid doing urgent tasks by planning ahead and doing tasks on a consistent basis so you don’t have to be working on urgent tasks all the time.

To help you prioritize your tasks you simply draw 4 boxes and divide it into these 4 categories:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important and Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    Things in box 1 got prioritized, things in box 2 were what should be focused on, box 3 was delegated and box 4 was tossed out. This method of prioritizing is from President Eisenhower who felt he needed a way to determine what was urgent and what was important in order to make smarter choices about where he spent his time.

3. Set Time-Blocks

To make sure that each project is completed on time, schedule time blocks for every task on your list. You can decide to do each task within a 30-minute interval or more depending on the requirements of the task. Keep a timer around to remind you about your deadlines. This will also help you focus on the task at hand with fewer distractions.

The hardest task for me to schedule into my day is finding time to work. With three kids it can be hard to find any time for myself. I’ve scheduled time-blocks in the early morning before the kids are up for 2 hours and also an hour after my husband gets home from work. Aside from setting time-blocks for work you can also use time-blocks for things you want to do but never have time for, like weekly date nights, reading time, creative planning sessions etc. You can read more about time blocking here.

4. Use 1-3-5 Rules

Ever heard of the 1-3-5 rule? I find them very useful. This rule can increase your productivity and help you prioritize as well. Here is how it works, while making your to-do list, assume that you can only accomplish one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks in a day. Makes sense, right?

Just identify the task that you consider to be a big one and do them first, then follow it by the 3 medium tasks and then the 5 less important ones. Using this rule, you will found yourself doing more in less time. Forcing yourself to choose a 1-3-5 list means the things you get done will be things you planned on doing instead of the unimportant things that just happened to get done.

I like to use this method because I play many roles in my life. As a stay at home mom and blogger/business owner, I have to get lots done within each category. There are tasks that as much as I don’t want to do I still have to (like cooking dinner or washing laundry). Prioritizing my day with this method helps me to make sure I get the most important things done each day.

Here is an example of my 1-3-5 list:


    • Design Monthly Planner


    • Yoga
    • Pack and ship out orders
    • Edit blog drafts


    • Help Pierce with his homework
    • Call mom
    • Take a 30-minute walk
    • Hang up pictures in hallway
    • Declutter my junk drawer

5. Eat Your Frog!

As Mark Twain said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” The idea behind this is that when you tackle the most dreaded task first thing in the morning, everything else you will do for that day will be relatively easy in comparison.

Assuming that you have 3 tasks that need to be done immediately, choose the most difficult and do it first, then proceed to the less difficult tasks and so on. Experience shows that you have more mental and physical energy to do tough tasks in the morning than when you are tired later in the day.

So ask yourself this question each night – what’s my frog? Then plan to do it! Once you do it you will feel a huge sense of relief and accomplishment.

6. Focus on One Task at a Time

Often times, we abandon the tasks we have on our to-do lists for distractions that come to mind. We often try to do multiple tasks or projects and end up never finishing anything. One key way to ensure you complete the task on your list is to focus on one task at a time. Avoid overwhelming yourself by taking on other tasks when you are not done with the important ones. Remember to break down a big task into smaller units so you can finish faster with fewer distractions.

I like to number my to-do list to focus on my number one task first, then once that is finished can I move on to my number two task and so on. Not paying attention to all the other items on my to-do list has helped me to become way less overwhelmed. And as a result, I don’t procrastinate as much.

7. Use the ABCDE Method

When you write down all of your tasks on your to-do list, not all of them are of utmost priority. To prioritize your list and figure out which needs to be done first you should follow Brian Tracy’s method of prioritizing which is called the ABCDE method.

To use this method you simply assign each task a letter based on the level of importance.

  • A is for tasks that you must do. These are tasks that if you don’t do will result in major consequences. Examples of this could be turning in your paper or
  • B is for tasks that you should do. Examples of this would be returning a phone call or checking your emails.
  • C is for tasks that would be nice to do but don’t really matter if you do or don’t do. Examples of this would be calling or going to lunch with a friend.
  • D is for tasks that you can delegate to someone else so you can focus on your most important tasks
  • E is for tasks that you can eliminate and won’t make a difference. These tasks are things that are no longer relevant to you or that are time wasters. Examples can include

If you have lots of tasks that fall under a certain category you can then number each task as well. Once you have organized this list by priority and sequence, you can then start working on your A1 task, then you A2 task and so on. I found that this method goes along with the doing one task at a time in the right order and really helps me to get things done quickly.

8. Be Realistic

One mistake I’ve seen many times is that we put too many tasks on our to-do lists. With too many tasks on your list, you will find it difficult to prioritize and check each item off by the end of the day. If you need to get things done, be realistic when you are making your to-do lists. Adjust your expectations so you can be able to prioritize and finish the tasks you have on your list.

Which of these methods do you think you will implement to start prioritizing your to-do list? Let me know in the comments below!