How to Prioritize Your To-Do List

by | Nov 21, 2022 | Adulting, Anxiety, Counseling, Stress

How to Prioritize Your To-Do List 

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Having a to-do list can be helpful but overwhelming at the same time. If you struggle with anxiety or perfectionism, then you are already familiar with feeling frozen when there is a list of things to do and you don’t know where to start. Whether it’s time management, struggling to get started, or becoming overwhelmed with all your tasks, prioritizing your To-Do list can be beneficial for your mental health. Here are five ways you can use prioritization to make the most out of your time in your work or personal life. 

1. Write it ALL Down

The more you have a clear picture of everything that needs to be done, the easier it will be to understand what needs to be prioritized first. Throughout your day, try writing down everything you want to get done—even the mundane tasks—in a planner or journal that you keep handy. Once you think you have your completed list, look it over and keep these things in mind: 

  • What needs to be done sooner rather than later? 
  • Is there a deadline for any of these tasks? 
  • How much energy will each of these tasks take? 
  • Do any of these tasks involve anyone else or can you do them solo? 

Make little notes next to each task or color code based on priority level based on these ideas. This will help you better understand your schedule without having to try to remember everything. By putting the information elsewhere, you won’t have to rely on your memory to keep you organized.

2. Categorize Your To-Do List 

Putting each task into categories will help you start to map out a plan for prioritizing what you need to do. Break down your list into smaller categories rather than one long, comprehensive list. This will help you feel less overwhelmed and make your tasks easier to manage. Here are some categories to keep in mind when going through your list: 

  • Urgency
    •  (“Right now”, “Today”, or “This week”) 
  • Area of Task 
    • (Can you do this at home, at work, or do you need to go somewhere else?) 
  • Amount of Time 
    • (Will this take five minutes, five hours, or a couple of days?) 

With your comprehensive list, make a new one based on the categories listed above. This will help you begin to schedule and plan the action items on your To-do list in a way that best fits your needs and lifestyle. Perhaps using a SMART goal here can help you understand and prioritize your To-do list. A SMART goal is something that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. 

3. Highlight the Most Important Responsibilities

Now that you have a list of categories, go through and highlight what is most important and urgent. Using a highlighter will make these tasks stick out easier and will make it more likely for you to notice and complete the task sooner. After you complete and cross off your highlighted tasks you will then be able to move on to the other tasks that are less important, but still, need to get done. Using a highlighter is an effective way to draw attention to important information, so you are less likely to search and forget the items. 

4. Keep Your Energy in Mind

Some days, we don’t have a lot of energy to take on those big tasks, and that’s okay! It’s important to still remain aware of your mental state and your abilities despite having a lot of responsibilities. On these days if you still want to get some things done, try going over your list of categories and find a task that will either take a short amount of time or low energy is needed. For example, if you have “Clean the house” on your list, but don’t want to take on the whole role try just doing laundry or washing the dishes. By doing this, you will still be able to prioritize your To-do list, be mindful of your body and energy, and also feel like you accomplished something by crossing off something on your list! 

5. Set Goals with Your List 

The more you set goals that are related to completing a task, the more likely you will have the drive to carry it out. You can also do this with bigger tasks and having rewards go along with them. Even though it does feel good to cross something off a list, having positive correlations with your tasks can help you motivate them to be completed. Here are some ideas you can use! 

  • Buy yourself your favorite drink once the task is completed! 
  • Just finished cleaning the bathroom? Have a bubble bath that night! 
  • Find ways to celebrate the task. Whether it’s going out, watching your favorite movie afterward, or spending extra time during self-care. 
  • Create something to motivate you to do the task. Need to clean your house? Invite a friend over that night so there’s slight pressure to tidy up. Having a future plan that involves the task being completed will make you more likely to get it done! 


Having a long To-do list can be extremely overwhelming. If you are feeling burnout from stress, check out this book on amazon. Remember to be kind to yourself and that it’s okay if something on your list doesn’t get completed. You’re human! 

To discuss how therapy could help you during this season of your life, please contact me or schedule your free 15 minute consultation.


Auster, E., & Auster-Weiss, S. (2021, July 22). Conquer your to-do list with this simple hack. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/08/conquer-your-to-do-list-with-this-simple-hack

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