How to Prioritise Your To-Do List

Kristin Park, FLUID7
5 min readMay 20, 2019
Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

At the end of the day I often find myself with things that get scratched out and moved to the next day in my diary, resulting in a Friday scramble to get things finished before the weekend. Or even setting myself up for a weekend of “catching up.” Let’s face it. No one wants to be half-present at their daughter’s football game or responding to emails during Movie Night.

On a mission to end the cycle, I’ve done some research and have come up with a new plan to attack the week. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a Tim Ferriss groupie and thought I’d start there. His strategy seems like a good one.

“Which of these [items on my to-do list], if checked off, would leave me satisfied with my day?”

This is an important question to ask yourself. It’s common practice to do the easy things first, because crossing something off the list makes us feel more accomplished. Meanwhile, the thing that actually needs to be finished patiently waits its turn, ready to add more stress to your life, the longer it waits. It’s like a middle school bully waiting to hit you where it hurts, your long-awaited free time.

If you’re like me, you write everything down that needs to be done from that project report to calling your mother to taking the cat to the vet. Sometimes, I even throw down things like “Upload pics from Ireland trip.” or “Find a Spanish class.” These are more like goals than things necessary to life. And yes, calling your mother falls into the necessary category. Be honest with yourself about what would happen if you didn’t.

When making a to-do list, some things shouldn’t be on it. Goals are a great thing to tackle in your free time, after you’ve accomplished the things that tomorrow won’t happen without.

“Which of these, if done, creates more time for me tomorrow, next week, or next month?”

Leave it to Ferriss to be quotable. This is perfect. If you’re having trouble deciding what is important, think about it like this. For example, if I go through those job candidates today, we’ll be able to bring someone onboard by the end of next week, and all of the things that are currently falling to me will be covered. Think about all that extra time you’ll have!

This also ties in with the 80–20 Rule. The basic idea is that 80% of your results come from 20% of your sources. Stated differently, 20% of the things you do are producing 80% of your results.

What 20% of tasks on your list could you finish or invest heavily in today — time, money, or other resources — that would produce the most benefit? Or what 20% of my tasks are causing 80% of my stress? Why? If it involves a lot of time or money but doesn’t create measurable benefit, does it really belong on your list?

Think about aligning your tasks with your goals of the day. This is another way of measuring importance. If I complete this task today, how much closer will it take me to my goal? Some things are urgent but not important, and others are important but not urgent. Some things are high cost but low benefit, and others are low cost and high benefit. Which ones would you do first?

Hopefully, you said the low cost and high benefit things on your list. If you really want to maximise your time, and you’re the kind of person who likes a detailed plan for the day or just can’t figure out what to do first based on Tim’s questions, start off each morning by putting each thing on your list into one of the four following categories in the Scale Method:

1. Low cost, high benefit
These are the ones that should be at the top your list. More “bang for your buck.”

2. High cost, high benefit
Some things will take more of your resources but are worth it in the end. Keep these on your radar to complete as much as possible.

3. Low cost, low benefit
Think of these as “extras.” Things like doing laundry. It will need to be done, but at very worst, you’ll be throwing on a shirt that has leftover spaghetti on the collar. It’s not the end of the world.

4. High cost, low benefit
These are the worst culprits of stress. Productivity-killers. If you’re spending a lot of times on something that doesn’t move you towards your goals, drop it like it’s hot and move on.

Regardless of what method you use, it’s imperative to sort out what is absolutely necessary and let some things slide without guilt. If you need to have a letting go ceremony, do it. Write these things down and throw them away. Erase them from your thoughts. Talk them out, then forget them. Whatever you need to do, do it. But don’t spend another minute on these time vacuums.

The last three recommendations are from me. Stop multitasking. Limit email-checking time. And set realistic deadlines. These are my three rules of focusing. In reality, I’m a terrible multi-tasker, so maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone, but the other two are universal. Checking email while you’re trying to get something does allows other people to delegate how you use your most precious resource, time. Don’t let them.

Don’t let your weekend feel like a weekday. Try out these tips. Or don’t. But at the end of the day, figuring out a way to get the important things done and to be patient with the ones that aren’t vital is key to finding balance.

After writing this post, I’ve realised that my day shouldn’t be a race to complete the things on my list but rather a thoughtful process of elimination as to what needs to be finished to make me feel like I’ve won the day. In other words, my new goal is to be more effective vs efficient.

Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel on Unsplash

Don’t stress. After all, isn’t the idea of writing things down to reduce the pressure of having 18 things running around in your head? Well, that and increasing recall. My mind palace isn’t what it used to be.

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Kristin Park, FLUID7

I’m a copywriter, a foodie, and thanks to Fluid7, a digital nomad.