How to Prioritize Tasks: Be on Top of It

So you’re done with breakfast and have the entire day open up to you. So much potential! What are you going to do when? What comes first?

When writing a to-do list, most people tend to include only those tasks that are related to their job. But you should be including things you need to do otherwise as well, like grocery shopping, booking flight tickets, and so on.


First, come up with a master to-do list, not more than 8 items.

Most people can’t pack in more than 8 tasks in one day. When making this list:

  • Do not include anything that you can do in under 2 minutes. You should do them right away and get them off your shoulders.
  • Do not include anything that has been on your to-do list forever. Yes, you will get to it when you have more time, maybe not today.
  • Do not include anything that can be delegated to others. Grocery shopping to your spouse or a work call to a colleague. Learn to trust others.
  • Do not include anything that depends on an input from someone else. Set a reminder to follow up with them later.

What you’re left with is your to-do list for the day. If you have more than 8 items on there after all of these considerations, the next step should help narrow that down.


Only the important tasks stay on your list, both urgent and not-so urgent.

Divide the items on your master list into 4 categories:

  • Important and urgent (start with these)
  • Important but not urgent (do them at some point in the day because they add long-term value)
  • Urgent but not important (try finding someone else to do it)
  • Neither urgent nor important (strike these from your list)

Choose what’s important over what you like. The important tasks stay on your list and this is what you work with for the rest of the day.

If you have too many important tasks, compare value vs. effort. How much effort you have to put in to get something done versus how much value it adds once it’s done.

Hopefully your list will pare down further.


When to do what? Create a plan with time slots.

Here’s the golden rule: underestimate how much you can get done, overestimate how long each task will take, leave room for distractions and recovery.

You may find that after assigning time slots to the first few items on your list, you don’t have any time left in the day for the others. Especially since you’ve also left room for any goof-ups, unplanned situations, new urgent tasks, and rest time. For whatever is still left, go back to steps 1 and 2 and see what can be deferred, delegated, or deleted.

It’s better to have fewer to-dos on your list and get them done than always having tasks spilling over to the next day just because you didn’t plan well.

Planning is an important part of your day, often a determining factor for how you feel at the end of the day. So, take it seriously. You will get better at it with time.