Setting Priorities on To Do Items in Your Life

271 things to do

If you are like me, you have a million things that need to be kept track of, or in my case 271.

That’s right, I have 271 items on my “to do” list.

Many of these (such as writing a short story for my website or a book review or a miscellaneous Wednesday post like this one) are repeatable, unkillable items.

But they still need to be done and tracked and prioritized.

Using the “short list” idea

I’ve talked before about using the “short list” idea which is a good way to dig your way out of things.

The short list idea is to make a list of five items to today. That list goes like this:

1) One thing that you’ve been putting off.
2) One thing that will help you reach your most important goal.
3) One thing you want to do.
4) One thing you can do quickly and get off of your list.
5) One thing that you want to do.

This approach works great if you’re not an overstressed, obsessive, overreaching type like myself.

It’s also a great approach if you feel like you haven’t been getting anything done because you WILL get something done with the list (five things if it’s a really good day).

What about the overstressed, obsessive, overreaching types

Earlier this year I discussed what I call the restaurant approach to goal setting.

It’s approach that can work, but it still can leave you feeling paralyzed if you are so focused on the large number of options that you have so that you never get around to working on the important thing (i.e. you become a hostage to the tyranny of the urgent or maybe just the easist to accomplish).

The missing perspective for me has been prioritization.

So along with making a huge list, you also need to make sure you are prioritizing things. 

The next question is “what make’s a 10?”,  “a 9?”, “an 8?”

Setting priorities

For me, I’ve worked out the following list of somewhat simple priorities in order to make some progress on, well, making progress.

10 — Time critical — appointments (big and small) and things that must be done once or regularly in order to make sure that “bad things” don’t happen.

9 — Relates to other people but doesn’t have to be done in a specific timeframe

8 — Relates to your top priority, but doesn’t have public visibility

7 on down — All the other stuff that doesn’t really have to be done in any given way or in any given time, but still has some value to you with the 7s being the things you like most and the 6s a little bit less and so on.

Some might argue that the items related to your top priority should be 9s or 10s instead of 8s.

The reason that the list above works is that if you are in a public field (like trying to become a full time writer), you need to take care of your commitments to your public / editors whatever they may be.  And if you’re not in a public realm then your list for number 9 is going to be extremely short.

Setting Dates

Along with a priority setting, you should add a date to most “to do” items.

The reason for adding a date along with a priority is that not everything needs to be done today.

For example, I make it a point to try to call all of my close male relatives (brothers, brothers-in-law, and nephews) approximately once a month.

If I called my brother Mark yesterday, there is no reason that I should be looking at calling him again today.

Double Sort Your List

I use an excel spreadsheet (no great surprise to anyone) and use a double sort to figure out the priorities for the day.

1) Sort the whole spreadsheet based on date that the item is due to get the date items to the top of my list.

2) Sort only the items with a current or older date on them by priority first and by date second.

This leaves all of my “due” items in priority order and allows me to simply work down the list and make progress on the most important things each day.


If all of that seems to complicated, it’s okay.  Just go back up to the short list method I described above and use that.  It’s always good for helping you make progress.

If you need some additional perspective for your whole list of things then Priority and Date can make a difference.

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