How to Set Priorities (Even When It Feels Like Everything is Top Priority)

What do you do when you’re looking at your to-do list, and everything feels like it’s a top priority? It’s overwhelming and more than a little intimidating.

We live in a society of hustle culture, where we’re used to pushing ourselves to the limit. So it’s no wonder that you feel like everything on your to-do list should’ve been done yesterday.

It’s not your fault. But there is a way to manage it. Here’s how to set priorities and move towards your goals in a more sustainable way.

How to set priorities

When you’re sat staring at an over-stretched to-do list, it’s tempting to do everything you can to just get stuff done. But take a second to pause and look at the bigger picture.

Instead of checking tasks off your list, start by working backwards. This is how.

Step 1 – Look at the bigger picture

Step back and look at what it is you’re actually trying to do here. What goals are you trying to achieve? 

Take the time to get crystal clear on those and what you want, before then looking at the tasks you need to accomplish in order to make those goals come true.

Step 2 – Match your tasks with your goals

Only now can you prioritise. Because once you’re clear on your goals, it’ll also become clearer which tasks help you achieve those goals. You’ll notice that some tasks are more essential than others.

Those essential tasks? They’re your top priority. Everything else is superfluous. 

Step 3 – Start checking off your list

Finally, take action. Start ticking those tasks off your list and checking in with your priorities along the way.

If you’re still struggling to choose, try looking at what you can do in the next 24 hours to start on your first couple of tasks. If you’re feeling really overwhelmed, choose just one thing to do today that’ll help move you towards that dream. Remember, always keep your end goal in mind.

Prioritising tasks and time management

Setting priorities can help reduce feelings of stress, frustration and overwhelm. But it’s more than that.

If you prioritise your tasks, you’ll be able to manage your time more effectively. As you’re only using your precious minutes for the things that matter the most.

When you have clear priorities, you’re able to make the most of the time you have available. Whether that means reducing the hours you spend at work so you can get home to your family, improving your work-life balance or finding the time to work on a side projectprioritising your tasks can make all the difference.

Want to take your time management to the next level? Get to know your energy levels. When are you the most productive? When do certain tasks appeal to you over others? Use that energy flow to work on the tasks that you’ve prioritised. So you can get the maximum output with the minimum amount of effort.

The life coach’s tip:
When you’re struggling to set priorities, ask yourself
“what can I do in the next 24 hours that’ll bring me closer to my goals?

How to set priorities at work

There are more factors to take into account when setting priorities at work. You have your own motivations and your career goals to consider, but your company will have its own set of goals too.

Match your priorities to your company’s

When your company’s priorities differ from your own, take 10 minutes to compare them to your own and look for any conflicting priorities.

For instance, if work-life balance is a big priority for you this year, then look at the tasks your company has set for you and be honest about the timeframe needed to achieve them. Assess what can be accomplished within the time you have available and what cannot. Then, communicate those priorities to your employer.

Your personal boundaries are going to be really important here, as you communicate your needs in a way that resonates with the other stakeholders involved.

Find out what your company’s end goal is

Why have these priorities been set? That’s a question that you’re perfectly entitled to ask at work.

Most organisations are transparent enough with their employees that they will happily share the end goals that you’re working towards. You’ll find that setting priorities at work will be a lot easier when you know what you’re working towards.

And if your experience suggests that these priorities might not be the best path? Speak up about that and establish an open channel of communication with your employer.

How to set priorities in life

Setting priorities in your personal life can often be harder than setting them at work. You’re only accountable to yourself and not an employer, which can make it difficult for many of us to follow through with our goals.

Be realistic about the time you have available

I see this a lot with my coaching clients. When we set priorities for our personal lives, we forget that we need to rest.

You can’t work or chase goals all the time, no matter how hard you might try to “push through”. Instead, you need time to recuperate and recover. Only then can you move forward with your personal priorities.

So, start slowly. Aim lower than you might be tempted to. And discover what’s possible. Remember, it’s much easier to add more tasks than it is to remove them.

Remember why you’re doing it

If you’re going to keep yourself motivated, you need to get really clear on why you’re setting these priorities for yourself. And that means finding clarity on your goals and the reasons behind them.

This will help you to be really firm about what’s going to help you get there, and what isn’t. Try to look for what support you might need along the way early, ideally before you need it. Whether it’s a coach to provide some extra insights, a good friend to cheer you on or plans for self-celebration at the end of the road, don’t be shy about asking for help.

What if you had a personalised path to achieve your goals?
Find out what you could do… take the quiz to get your goal setter’s roadmap today:

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About the author

Lisa is a mother, a business owner, a founder, and an executive leader. She's been through it all and has come out the other side to thrive. Now she's helping you to do the same! Learn how you can find clarity and support through her services for individuals and organisations.