How To Prioritise: 3 Important Things to Remember & Not Overlook!  

Have you looked at your tasks or to do list and had that sudden wave of panic surge through your body? That “this is too much” feeling which fogs your thinking and might even make you procrastinate (a classic example of “I don’t even know where to start” so I might as well make a cup of tea, have a biscuit and hope it all goes away).  

But procrastination doesn’t ever pay off, and action is the way forward. You know that. The trouble is, perhaps you know you have to take action… but what comes first?  

This is the kind of thing my clients often ask me to help with because it can be hard in the busy world of being an adult and juggling so much, to be able to see the wood for the trees. If this is you, let me help you.   

Learning to prioritise is one of those important skills that enhances our quality of life (life by design) but is never formally taught. Bit ridiculous if you ask me because your ability to prioritise (or not!) is going to determine important factors like how well you manage your time, the level of success you can reach with each goal and how overwhelmed you feel! Pretty important stuff.  

Here’s a quick 101 in how to prioritise by sharing with you THREE important things to consider. 


Tip One: Don’t do what’s urgent  

Tip Two: It’s not always the task with the earliest deadline that you should do first  

Tip three: Prioritise what is taking up head space!  

Tip One: Don’t do what’s urgent  

Tip Two: It’s not always the task with the earliest deadline that you should do first  

Tip three: Prioritise what is taking up head space!  

Alice Dartnell Life Success Coach Time Management Priorities energy Management SMART Goals
Learning how to prioritise is one of those important skills which enhances the quality of life.
Tip One: Don’t Do What’s Urgent  

That’s right! One of my clients asked me to help them prioritise what they needed to focus on in their business, because everything was urgent and screaming at them! I had to drop a truth bomb that I knew might be hard to swallow but I also knew that once they learnt this, it would take them a step forward in their ability to prioritise. Let me share this with you…  

“If something is urgent then you have left it too late to deal with.”  


True though right! Think about it. Had you done it earlier (rather than push it back or procrastinate), then it wouldn’t currently be screaming at you as an urgent matter. This relates to Covey’s ‘Urgent Vs Important matrix’ and the four quadrants depicting URGENT vs IMPORTANT which is featured in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The concept is that most people are in ‘firefighting’ mode, doing things that are URGENT AND IMPORTANT but in fact we need to be focusing most of our time and efforts in things that are IMPORTANT but not urgent. Leave the urgent stuff for the real urgent stuff.  

Too often we leave things to the last minute, so it becomes urgent rather than it really being an emergency or unexpected thing to deal with. Start focusing the majority of what you do on the IMPORTANT stuff, dealt with in a timely manner so it doesn’t become urgent. This also means when something really does become urgent (like last minute changes, things going wrong, medical appointments or cancellations etc.), then we have the right capacity and energy to deal with it.  

Alice Dartnell Life Success Coach Consultation Priorities Stephen Covey Quadrants Urgent Important Prioritize Priorities
Covey’s ‘Urgent Vs Important matrix’

“Productivity isn’t about being a workhorse. Keeping busy or burning the midnight oil… It’s more about priorities, planning, and fiercely protecting your time.”

– Gary Keller

Tip Two: It’s not always the task with the earliest deadline that you should do first  

A friend once asked me how I prioritise my work and asked if I just did things depending on the order of the deadline. She asked, do I see what deadlines are coming up first, and tackle my to do list one by one in a linear fashion, starting with the earlier deadline and working through to the later one? 

Whilst this on the surface seems to make logical sense, it doesn’t work and so if you are currently doing this, then change it! 

Why doesn’t this work?  

Because it doesn’t take into account things like whether there are ‘moving pieces’ to this task or a reliance on other people, or how much of your head space or energy it is taking up.  

For example, I might not have a deadline coming up for another three weeks (let’s say I’ve been asked to give a talk to a company). Whilst it might feel like it’s ages away and therefore not a priority to do today, in fact, it is something to tackle. I might need to get the slides to the company a few days before, I will want to do a couple of practice runs and I need to get my team to build a slide deck. 

You get the picture. This means that, whist this project has a deadline that is in three weeks away, it is still one I need to start taking action on NOW!  

“Go ahead, make mistakes. The worst that can happen is you become memorable.”

Sara Blakely – Founder and CEO of SPANX

Tip three: Prioritise what is taking up head space!  

One of my clients came to have coaching with me and knew exactly what her goals where and even outlined the things she wanted to achieve in each goal, as well as potential actions. I know right, how organised!  

Her priority goal was one that concerned her parents and looking after them. Because this is such an important aspect in her life, one that takes a lot of her time and is in her top three priorities, it led her to think that this was the one we should tackle first.  

But instead, we started work on another goal that didn’t seem as “urgent” or important. Why? Because this was taking up a huge amount of head space for her!  

One thing we have to consider when prioritising is the ‘capacity test’- aka how much head space is this taking. 

It might only be small, it might not even be that significant, but if it is occupying room in your mind then maybe you need to deal with it ASAP! I always talk about time as energy and this is a great example of this. This might not be a priority in terms of time (eg. the deadline is ages away), but if it is taking huge amounts of energy up then it’s going to be wise to tackle it sooner rather than later.  

This might be a new approach for you in terms of your prioritising so I would love to know if you are going to be changing the way you approach things and the way you prioritise!

Further Reading

Poor health habits are one of the ‘Four Thieves’ that can hold you up and seriously impacts upon your time management & productivity. Make sure that you include your health in your Circle of Influence. Read my blog Why Looking After Your Health Improves Your Productivity,to find out why and what steps you can take to increase your focus, concentration and productivity.

Failure is actually beneficial and an essential part of self-development. Albert Einstein once said, “Failure is success in progress”. Read  my article 5 Tips How to Bounce Back From Failure ASAP, to understand how to bounce back when you think that you have failed.

Self-Sabotaging. Are you a secret self-sabotager? Me too! Read my blog article 3 tips on how to stop self-sabotaging for my essential hard-learned top tips for how to stop self-sabotaging today.

Habits are what gets you success and my blog 4 Insanely easy ways to create good habits explains four insanely easy ways to start creating good habits.

Work towards you goals in easy bit by bit using the compound-effect of the Law of the Slight Edge. In a nutshell, the Slight Edge is the law that everything adds up bit by bit. The actions we take will move us either towards our goals or away from them.  Learn more about the Law of the Slight Edge in my ground-breaking article 5 Essential tips to achieve your goals in 2020.

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This article is written by Alice Dartnell, life and success coach of Alice Dartnell Limited. Alice empowers busy professionals to be successful, transform their lives and achieve more by improving their confidence, mindset and time management.

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