How to prioritize when you’re constantly overwhelmed

How to prioritize when you’re constantly overwhelmed

When you are drowning in a sea of tasks and obligations, even deciding what to do first can be difficult. In such a situation, it is important to accept that it is physically impossible to do everything, and to highlight the most important things. Otherwise, the stress and guilt will not let you rest.

What should be a priority?

Everyone’s specific tasks will be different, but there are a few areas of life that we should all pay more attention to. These are the ones that help us get closer to our long-term goals and make life worth living. Yet many people ignore them for months or even years. Try to move them to the top of your to-do list.

1. Health

Healthy lifestyles fall by the wayside more often than not. We give up a walk in the park and a workout to get things done, or we choose to eat fast food so we don’t have to spend time cooking.

The results of such decisions accumulate and begin to affect all areas of life. Fast food doesn’t give us enough energy to work well. Stress and irritability resulting from not taking care of ourselves cause us to snap at our loved ones. As a result, not only physical health suffers, but also mental well-being, spoils the emotional state.

So remind yourself: health is the basis of everything.

2. Sleep

To prepare for exams, to finish a report, to stay up late watching a soap opera – we choose anything but sleep. It seems that by shortening it, we will acquire a few extra hours for our business. But the price for that is very high.

You’ve probably felt the effects of not getting enough sleep: fatigue, irritability, inability to concentrate and do anything productively. But according to studies, the constant lack of rest leads to much more serious problems: from cardiovascular disease to deterioration of the brain. So don’t neglect your sleep.

Another tip: go to bed at the same time everyday. That way your body will recover exactly as it needed, and waking up in the morning will be easy.

3. Relationships with loved ones

In moments of hectic work and business, and the stress and psychological tension that comes with it, we often put relationships with loved ones on the back burner. We think the relationship isn’t going anywhere and we’ll just get back to communicating when we have more time. But that’s self-deception.

We put off seeing our loved ones again and again. And so we miss a child’s concert because of a work meeting or forget to wish a friend a happy birthday because our thoughts are occupied with business. Such little things pile up and ruin relationships, and it’s hard to rebuild them later.

Take the time to strengthen family and friendships so that you do not have to regret what you missed.

Here are some tips to help with that:

  1. Take the first step. Don’t wait for others to suggest something. Be the one who keeps in touch and invites family and friends out;
  2. Determine for yourself what you won’t miss out on in any way. At some point you will inevitably have to make choices about work or other responsibilities. But there must also be situations you can’t neglect, like a wedding anniversary or helping a friend in a time of need;
  3. Keep in contact. We’re all busy people, but that’s no reason to lose contact. Call, write, congratulate loved ones on their victories, express sympathy when they fail, thank them, and get in touch just for fun.

4. Productive work

Hard work and productive work are not necessarily the same thing. You can work hard from morning till night, but get minimal results.

That’s why it’s important to act not just diligently, but wisely: work in depth, focus on tasks that help you grow, including professionally. Look for and prioritize opportunities that allow you to learn new things and do things that inspire you.

What should you eliminate from your priorities?

To move up something on your to-do list, you’ll have to give up something else. Here are a few things you can do that will free up your time and energy.

1. Social media and content absorption

Checking out what’s new on TikTok, Instagram or Twitter shouldn’t be your priority. We know it’s not easy, because you’re subscribed to not only entertaining content, but also educational content (which can come in handy at work). Here’s what Cal Newport, author of “Digital Minimalism”, advises:

“Focus on a small number of carefully selected online activities that support your values, and safely skip everything else”.

To make this process easier:

  1. Keep track of what your time is spent on. There are special services for this. When you see how much you’re wasting, it’s easier to redirect that time to something else;
  2. Make it harder for yourself to access applications. Uninstall social networking apps so you don’t log in out of boredom.

2. Tasks with little value

There are always tasks that take up a lot of time but don’t move us forward:

  • checking email and answering emails;
  • reading the backlog of messages in work chats;
  • doing repetitive administrative tasks;
  • fulfilling someone’s urgent request.

That kind of fluidity only distracts from what’s important. Remind yourself that you won’t achieve big goals if you’re always doing just these little things.

3. Negative attitude

We often dwell on unpleasant events and failures, doubt ourselves or get angry at others. Not only does this ruin our mood, but it also takes away time that could have been spent changing our lives.

Use the following strategies to avoid getting stuck in negative thoughts:

  1. Collect a collection of compliments. When you are told something nice, praised, thanked, complimented, write it down in a notebook or keep a screenshot. When you’re in a bad mood, rereading kind words will help you feel better;
  2. Watch your inner dialogue. When you notice negative thoughts about yourself, imagine saying similar things to a close friend or child. Most likely, you will see that you are too critical of yourself;
  3. Be kinder. Remember that people may have hurt you because they themselves have been through difficulties. But don’t forget to be kind to yourself as well. If you feel the person is toxic, protect your boundaries or cut off communication.

How do you put the important things first?

1. Keep all your tasks in one place

You probably have a list of work tasks and personal tasks, and there are all kinds of ideas floating around in your head all the time. So it’s very hard to know what to tackle first.

So the first step is to collect all the tasks in one place and mark by what deadline they should be done. You can use paper or services like Trello ( and Todoist ( to do this.

2. Get rid of distractions

Block access to sites that take up a lot of your time. You can do this for the whole day or for a certain period of time when you need to work without distractions. If that’s not an option for you, at least turn off unnecessary notifications.

3. Don’t give in to the urge to switch to something new until you’ve done the old

There will always be a new idea or task that you want to do. But by switching from one thing to another, you won’t progress in what you’re doing.

Even if you get bored, give what you started a chance. Don’t give up one habit after a week to try another. Don’t take on a new project until you’ve finished the current one.

4. Distinguish between important and urgent tasks

We usually prioritize tasks with burning deadlines, even if they themselves are less important to us. But activities like calling grandma or going for a walk don’t fall into the priorities, even though they just make life balanced and provide valuable memories.

To rank things by importance, use the Eisenhower Matrix. It has four categories:

  1. Urgent and important: tasks that are valuable to you – you need to get them done as soon as possible;
  2. The non-urgent but important: tasks that help you grow – you need to put them on your calendar;
  3. Urgent but unimportant: tasks that can be passed on to someone else;
  4. Unurgent and unimportant: tasks that need to be abandoned.

How to prioritize when you're constantly overwhelmed

The essence of this method is very simple: try to do as many important things as possible, and minimize the unimportant.

5. Manage your energy, not your time

To do this, identify the times when you are most productive and allocate tasks based on your energy level. For example:

  • If you’re a “lark”, put important tasks in the morning, when you have the most energy;
  • If you are a “night owl”, do projects that require concentration in the evenings;
  • If you have young children, your productive time falls on times when they are asleep or someone else is looking after them. Use those gaps for your high-priority activities.

6. Make a list of your commitments

We often take on too much, even though our strength and time are limited. That’s why it’s a good idea to audit your commitments periodically:

  1. Make as detailed a list as possible of what you spend your time on;
  2. Divide these things into categories: career, family, hobbies and so on;
  3. Decide how much time, as a percentage, you would like to spend on each category;
  4. Reduce the number of less important responsibilities so that there are enough resources for the most important ones;
  5. Make a to-do list each day, taking into account the categories that are most important to you.

7. Strive to “eat the frog” as soon as possible

A very popular saying among experienced managers is:

“If you must to eat a frog to get things done, do it quickly”.

Usually by a frog is meant the most difficult or unpleasant thing to do for the day. For example, to work on a project you dream of doing, exercise, write a thousand words for a future book. Usually you want to postpone such things for later, but it’s better to do them first.

That way you will move forward, and everything else during the day will be easier. If you “eat a frog” every day, you will gradually achieve greater results.

8. Allocate tasks to blocks

This will help you build your schedule based on priorities and not waste time switching from one thing to another. Here’s how the method works:

  1. Make a to-do list for the day;
  2. Divide tasks of the same type into blocks, e.g., “Work with email”, “Write a text” and “Meetings”;
  3. Calculate how much time each block will take;
  4. Add the blocks to the calendar one by one;
  5. Move on to the next one only when you have finished the previous one;
  6. Move the blocks on the calendar as needed;
  7. Try to have at least one block each day devoted to your priorities.

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