Some days it seems like everything is priority number one. It can be difficult to manage a work life balance. How do you prioritize your life?

I am a list maker. Every since my elementary days I gravitated towards making prioritized lists. They are a way to clearly see all those ideas and to-dos endlessly swimming around in my head.

Making detailed, clear, and prioritized lists may seem simple and cliche; but lists may be able to help you too. According to The Guardian, “studies have shown that people perform better when they have written down what they need to do”. Our brain loves ordered lists, and nothing beats the gratification of crossing a task off your to-do list.  

Jot Down Everything

Step number one is to get everything on paper. Occasionally, I have so many thoughts bottled up that I feel like I may burst. Writing everything down in no particular order is the solution. As I move down the page jotting ideas and tasks more seem to come to mind, one thought triggering another.

Professors Baumeister and Masicampo from Wake Forest University performed a study with intriguing results. They found that uncompleted tasks are distracting and cause anxiety, but simply making a plan to accomplish them can satisfy our mind and relieve stress.

Typically, my lists aren’t grouped by topic or anything really; they’re are just a jumble of every goal or objective running through my mind. It can be helpful to include any time-frames or specifics about your tasks, but you don’t have too. My initial list is not about perfection.

Get Your Priorities Straight

Once everything has been recorded then you can begin to prioritize. Begin with the absolutely must-do’s, those things that are non-negotiable. There is a difference between urgent and important. What on your list is the most valuable to you? Urgent things will have detrimental consequences if they are not handled immediately.

Just because something is top priority does not mean it has to be work related. Self care, your health, and relationships can definitely be ranked number one. Once you have your concrete tasks, figure out when they will happen and how long they will take.

By determining the length and the time or deadline, you can begin to set up your plan for the day. Your non-negotiables will obviously need to happen at some point during the next twenty-four hours. Your lower priority goals can be used to fill in the gaps.

Plan Your Day (and your week!)

The prioritized list should start to resemble a plan for your day. You have written out each thing that needs to be done, how long it should take, and when there is time available in your schedule to fit it in.

If you have too much stuff to do than is humanly possible in twenty-four hours then you need to continue prioritizing. Re-evaluate with a mindset of what needs to be handled now and what can wait until later. Feeding the dog will likely need to happen today, but getting a massage can probably wait until tomorrow. Try to be realistic with your goals and time so that you don’t end up getting frazzled or overwhelmed.

It is likely that you will have to be somewhat flexible when prioritizing. Your priorities may fluctuate throughout the day, or other urgent matters may arise. It is essential that you try to remain focused on your non-negotiables and refrain from getting distracted by minor tasks, but you should also be able to adapt.

Why It Works

Getting everything down on paper is a visual representation of all that needs to be done, it also helps to relieve your mind of the stress of trying to remember it all. Once you have written down all of your tasks you can begin to prioritize. Write down the specifics and think in terms of right-now, the next twenty-four hours, and the next few days. Once you have created a prioritized and detailed list it should represent the day’s plan.

You know what is most important to you. If you need to reevaluate and modify your schedule that is okay, tomorrow is another day. In the end, you are the only person who can determine how your time and energy will be spent.