How to Prioritize Tasks, Get More Done & Still Make Time for Yourself
24 hours in a day.
4,732 things to do.
Only 1 you.
If you’re struggling with time management, you probably feel like you’re always busy, being pulled in a million different directions and there’s just not enough time to get everything done.
While there are indeed only 24 hours in the day, there are ways to make your day go smoother, calmer, and more efficient.
It all comes down to prioritization and organization.
Here’s how to prioritize tasks on your “to-do list” and get more done while still having time to relax.
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Where Does My Time Go?
The first order of business is to evaluate your current methods of time management.
Do you have any systems, habits, or routines in place to boost your productivity and keep yourself on track?
If you aren’t sure how you manage to be so busy and yet still not accomplish much, it’s a good idea to see exactly how much time you are spending on various tasks throughout the day.
One way to do this is by logging all your daily activities on a time tracker for a few day, or at least 24 hours.
(If it’s going to social media or TV, it might be time for a digital detox!)
In order for this to work, you must be honest. No one has to see the tracker but you.
The time tracker will show you where all your time is going. When you look at your log, pay attention to:
-What things are taking your attention away from what’s most important to you?
-Which manual processes can be automated? Are there any that can be delegated for free/low cost?
-When are you most productive/energetic? Keep that in mind when making your schedule in the future and plan to do your most important or difficult tasks during those times whenever possible.
Make Things Easier and More Efficient for Yourself
As I mentioned earlier, the key to better time management is prioritization and organization.
They go hand in hand.
You must first decide what’s most important to you and then organize your schedule around that.
Remember that you only have so many hours in a day and you are only one person so be realistic with how much you can actually do while still leaving some flexibility in your schedule for self care and unforeseeable things that might pop up.
Everything can’t be a priority, so it’s up to you to evaluate and prioritize tasks and then say no and set boundaries.
Things will also go a lot smoother if you organize your physical space as well. Clutter not only takes up space in your home, it also takes up space in your mind!
So, be ruthless when decluttering – reduce or eliminate those distractions as much as possible. Remember that it takes about 20 minutes to refocus after being distracted from a task.
And once again, it comes down to what’s more important to you? A clutter-free space in which you can be productive – or the stuff?
This reminds me of something that the ladies from The Home Edit like to say – you either get the item or you get the space. Choose wisely.
How to Schedule Your Day for Productivity (and Relaxation)
A surefire way to kill your productivity is to overload your schedule.
Then, you won’t be able to do anything at all because you’re so burnt out. Or, the quality of your work will suffer to such a degree that you might as well not have done anything at all.
So, keep that in mind when planning your to-do’s for the day.
Prioritize tasks, pad your schedule and leave some space “blank” for personal time.
It is imperative to maintain flexibility to account for the realities of life. We all know that things don’t always go as planned so “expect the unexpected” – (any fellow Big Brother fans reading this? )
Setting boundaries is a crucial skill to have when it comes to time management. You have to say no to some things in order to say yes to others. So, once again, choose wisely.
Streamline your workflow and routines whenever possible to avoid decision fatigue.
Try to prioritize tasks that will save you time and energy in the long run. For example, instead of deciding what to make for dinner each day and then cooking it, why not plan ahead of time? Maybe even do some meal prep for the week - one less thing for you to worry about.
Is It Good to Multitask?
There are some times when it’s good to multitask. Like when you are washing dishes and being mindful at the same time. Or when you are doing yoga and meditation at the same time.
And then there are times when it is not good to multitask. Like when you are spending time with your family. Or when you are driving. (Put the phone down!)
Research actually shows that it hurts your brain to multitask and actually hurts productivity more than it helps.
A more efficient alternative is task batching. Simply group similar tasks together and complete them at the same time.
For example, I post an average of 20 pins a day on Pinterest as part of the marketing for my blog… but I don’t actually pin every day. Rather, I take a few hours out of one day to schedule my pins for the entire week using Tailwind, an automated social media scheduler.
Batching tasks together solves the problem of having to switch tasks (which leads to reduced efficiency and accuracy) and allows your brain to do what it does best – focus on one thing at a time.
Take Out Threats to Your Success
When it comes to time management, it’s not all about offensive tactics – there are some defensive ones to employ as well!
Threats to your success are everywhere – your phone, your computer, Netflix, junk food, negative people in your life … the list goes on and on.
Some of the main things that interfere with success include:
There is often an underlying cause of procrastination. It’s not usually just because someone is lazy (although that’s definitely a real possibility).
One of the reasons you might be procrastinating is lack of clearly defined goal. When you don’t know what exactly you’re working towards, it’s hard to focus your efforts.
Have you thought about creating a personal development plan? It can help you get clear on what you want to do with your life and what needs to change in order to make that happen.
-Stress & Anxiety
Another underlying reason for procrastination is stress. When you’re stressed out, it’s hard to focus and be productive. If this is something you struggle with, check out these articles on building resilience and natural remedies for anxiety.
Some experts argue that overwhelm is state of mind, just like happiness. It’s not the sheer number of things you have going on that makes you overwhelmed. It’s how you view those things.
So, how do you think about your responsibilities/obligations?
Examine your internal dialogue. Make sure you are using positive language with yourself.
Try switching your mindset from “get to” instead of “have to”. For example, I get to work out instead of I have to work out.
If you’re not getting enough sleep and you’re not feeding yourself the right nutrients, your body and mind simply cannot perform well.
Make sure you are getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit your sugar and refined food intake. Exercise on most days.
You’ve heard it all before – but these are the absolute most important things you can do to improve your life as a whole, not just increase your productivity.
How Do I Prioritize Tasks on My To-Do List?
If you are overwhelmed, there is a good change you have a skewed sense of priorities.
What I mean by that is - you aren’t living in alignment with your true values. You aren’t focusing your efforts on what’s most important to you.
In order to get the most important tasks done, you must prioritize your goals and then strategically eliminate the lesser priority tasks.
Keep in mind that everything can’t be important. There can only be one top priority. If you are trying to do a million things, chances are the one thing that’s most important to you is not being given the attention it deserves.
So, ask yourself what you are missing out on by not prioritizing tasks that are most important to you and eliminating what’s not. The answer to that question will help you to understand the heavy costs of continuing your behavior.
To-Do Lists vs. Long Term Goals
Some people have one giant to-do list with everything on it.
And that’s why the list never gets done.
To-do lists should only include things that can be done now and completed in one step.
Aspirational “to-do’s” and projects that take multiple steps to complete should be saved for your brain dump. (unfinished business creates stress – try writing things down to take a load off your mind).
However, the same principle applies when it comes to completing long term goals – what’s one thing you can do right now to move yourself closer to accomplishing your goal. What’s your next action step?
If it’s something that takes no more than 10 minutes, do it immediately.
If it’s a multi-step goal that will take a while to complete, chunk it down into smaller goals until you have one thing that you can accomplish right away.
Or else, you may become so overwhelmed by the thought of the big goal that you never actually start to work towards it. Remember,
"Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway." - Earl Nightingale
Tackling Your Goals One Step at a Time
The Chunking Method
The formula for success when it comes to reaching your goals is to prioritize tasks and then tackle them one step at a time.
First, clearly define your goal – make sure it is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Then, make a list of all the steps it will take to accomplish your goal.
Keep breaking those steps down until you have a list of mini-goals.
Eventually, you will have one action step that will take no more than 10 minutes to complete. Do that now.
Keep moving through the list until you’ve completed all the mini goals and by the end, you will have reached your big goal!
This method works even if you are super busy. Just do the 10-minute action step and then at the same time the next day, do the next 10 minute action step, and so on and so forth.
Here are some Brain Dump Worksheets to help you prioritize tasks and goals-
How to Stay Focused and Motivated
Motivation is not a perpetual state of being; it waxes and wanes. You have to work on staying motivated to reach your goals.
One way to stay focused and motivated is to write your goal down and keep it somewhere visible. Studies show that people who write their goals down are more likely to achieve them.
But while you should keep in mind what your ultimate goal is, only focus on what you have to do right now.
Make a prioritized list for yourself either the night before or first thing in the morning. Your list should contain no more than 5 or 6 items max, but 1-2 prioritized tasks that must get done.
Number your tasks in order of importance from #1 to #5 in order of importance. Only focus on your to-do list for that day and consciously block out future tasks until immediate ones have been completed.
These small wins will help keep you motivated over time. Also, keep track of your successes- write them down, even the smallest ones. How will you celebrate those wins? Create a reward system and stick to it.
Two Ways to Efficiently Tackle Your To-Do List
There are two efficient ways to go about tackling your to-do list – see what works best for you.
Either “eat the frog” (paid link) and do the biggest, most daunting task first. Or get some easy, smaller tasks out of the way to create momentum.
(This is similar to the strategies used for paying off debt. There is the avalanche method which involves paying off debts from highest to lowest interest rate regardless of the balance. And then there is the snowball method, which involves paying off the smallest balances first while paying the minimum on larger debts. It’s all psychology! Which one works best for you?)
It is also important to review and edit your lists once a week because things change. It doesn’t make sense to stick to something that has become unrealistic or no longer works for you.
How to Find Time for Yourself
Through all of this, it’s important to find time for yourself.
So, what are some things you like to do? How can you make time for them?
What obstacles are in your way? How can you get rid of them?
Remember to pad your schedule and leave yourself time for self care.
Absolutely no one will die because you took time for yourself throughout the day.
You do have time for a morning yoga routine, exercise, meditation, breathing, bathing, and any other healthy habits that are important to you.
So, instead of thinking of it in terms of “finding” time, think of it as “making” time. Make time for yourself. Factor self care into your schedule.
It’s just as important if not more than everything else on your list. And what’s more, you won’t be able to do everything else on your list if you don’t take care of yourself first!
Self Care is Essential for Everyone
(Yes, even you and I don’t care how busy you are. In fact, the more busy you are, the more essential it is!)
What do you usually do in terms of self-care?
If you don’t practice self care regularly, ask yourself why you don’t make time for yourself?
Do you feel like you’re not worth it? Or that someone else deserves it more than you? That you’re just not that important? Or do you think self care is selfish?
There are ways to incorporate mindfulness and self care into your everyday routine. For example:
-Take 5 minutes to meditate or stretch in bed
-Do a shower/bath meditation
-Meditate while practicing yoga
-Go for a walk
-Be mindful while washing dishes or cleaning
-Practice mindful eating
-Follow a Self Care Sunday routine
I hope these time management tips helped you to prioritize tasks and get more of the important stuff done while still making time for yourself.
I’m curious – do you prefer the avalanche or snowball method when it comes to tackling your to-do list? Leave a comment!
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