Prioritizing Your Priorities

What to do when prioritizing isn’t your first priority

“Make a to-do list, and tackle your biggest priority first!” Conventional wisdom imparts this very unhelpful nugget of advice to us at every corner we turn and obstacle we face. Big school project? Make a to-do list! Guests coming over and need to clean ASAP? Make a to-do list! Trying to survive a day ridden with an existential crisis? Make a freaking to-do list! Sure, it is easy to put everything you want and need to do down on a piece of paper, but how do you know where to start?

Want vs. Need

If you’re like myself, someone who works full-time hours and has a few precious hour alone every evening, you will want to make sure that these hours are as productive and as satisfying as possible. The first instinct is to fill these hours full of things you want to do- watching Netflix, hanging out with friends, yoga, sleeping, etc.

Unfortunately, you need to take a step back and take a look at the things you need to do. Most of the time, these tasks will affect our ability to do the things we want to do. Does anyone really want to spend hours every week preparing lunches and dinners? No, but if you don’t, you’re not going to have the physical energy to carry on through the day. Does anyone really want to do their dishes or clean their home? No, but you also don’t want to have to have the unpleasant conversation with your neighbors about the atrocious stench that would inevitably spill out of your filthy apartment.

The key to accomplishing all of these needs is to hire a cook and a cleaning service. Just kidding! The real key is to…


Here’s a little secret: you don’t have to do all of your mundane tasks in one shot. Nothing makes a Monday worse than knowing you have to go home and meal prep, and clean the bathroom, and fold your laundry. Devise a schedule to split up these tasks through the week as best you can. Take a couple minutes on Sunday to figure out your plan for the week. Once you have all of your needs planned, you can take the time to fit in your wants.

Weighing the Wants

Believe it or not, prioritizing your needs is a lot easier than prioritizing your wants. Many days, I come home and find myself unable to decide what I want to spend my evening on: do I want to go for a run? Read? Watch Netflix? Take a nap? How can I choose between all of the things I love the most?!

Here, it is useful to take a step back and look at why these tasks are on your wants list. Why do I practice yoga? To spend time on myself and to let go of the stresses of my day. Why do I watch Netflix? Because I want to engage in mindless activity and have a good laugh. Figuring out why you want to do these things is a crucial step in uncovering how to prioritize them. If at any time in this self reflection you start to feel any of your wants feeling more like a need, eliminate it. Are you running because all of your friends are doing it, even though it hurts your body? Are you watching that scary docu-series online, simply to be able to have something to talk about with your co-workers? If something does not bring you joy, eliminate it. It will free your life from unnecessary negativity, and will open up time for something that truly brings you joy.

Once you figure out what brings you joy in each of your wants, you will be much more prepared to make a decision on how to spend your time. If you come home and are feeling particularly stressed, look at which of your wants will bring you stress-relief. If you come home and feel lethargic, look at which of your wants will bring you energy. Life is all about taking the bad with the good, so make sure that even on the days when the needs outweigh the wants, you still find time for a little TLC.

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