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You know that feeling when your to-do list is a mile long, you’re overwhelmed by the state of your house, and your kids are feeling exceptionally… needy?
It’s that feeling you get when everything feels extremely important, and there’s absolutely no way you’re going to be able to get it all done, especially since your kiddos simply aren’t cooperating by giving you the time and space you need – the NERVE of those people!!??
Well, that feeling is pretty normal when you’re a mom.
Between family, chores, work, and taking care of yourself, there’s always that constant feeling of not having enough time or energy to get your stuff done.
And then, the longer the list, the more overwhelmed you get, which makes it nearly impossible to focus and get anything done, let alone everything.
I’ve got good news for you, though – there is a way to dig yourself out of the hole and to prioritize your life when everything feels important.
Knowing your priorities reduces stress, improves productivity, and gives you some clarity.
Stick with me, and I’ll give you some tips to get you heading on the path out of the land of overwhelm and help you prioritize what actually matters.
How to Prioritize – A Step-By-Step Guide
When I have too much to do and no easy way to prioritize, this is how I get through it.
#1 – Pause
Start by stopping everything and taking some deep breaths. Deep breathing calms your body and mind so that you can think more clearly and make better decisions.
Next, let it sink in that you absolutely can. not. get everything done without making too many sacrifices (like family time and sleep!) or burning out completely.
It can seem counterintuitive to stop everything, breathe, and take time to plan when there’s so much to do, but in these overwhelming situations, it’s often best to slow down so that you can speed up. Better to pause and regroup than to shut down completely because you’re overwhelmed.
Once you’ve paused and taken some deep breaths, you’ll be equipped to take the time to reassess and plan. And making a plan allows you to be focused and efficient, which is essential in managing your competing priorities.
#2 – Make A List
You can do a full brain dump here, or you can look at your regular to-do list. But my preferred method is to make an emergency list for the things that are making you anxious and that you feel you need to get done right this second.
This works because it eliminates the fear that you’re going to forget an important task. It’s all written down.
#3 – Delegate or Drop
Look over the list and figure out if any of your tasks can be turned over to someone else, done another day, or if they can be simply crossed off of your list and not done at all.
“But, Karis, aren’t you supposed to figure out your most important and urgent tasks first?”
Prioritizing “backwards” shortens your list first and makes it less overwhelming.
This is a time when procrastination isn’t a terrible thing – are there any items on your list that don’t necessarily need to be done today? Can you squeeze one more dinner out of the meals that you have at home and go shopping tomorrow instead? Can mopping the floors possibly wait until the next day?
#4 – Make Some Decisions
Now that you’ve gotten rid of the “fluff,” it’s time to choose what’s important. Here’s how:
- Deadlines: Do you have anything with a time limit that needs to be completed today? Baseball registration, online shopping for something on sale that ends today, doctor appointment, some kind of work-related deadline? These types of things need to go first.
- Preview: What’s on the calendar for the next couple of days? Is there anything you need to do beforehand to prepare? Examples would be printing and filling out new patient forms for tomorrow’s dentist appointment or doing laundry so that you can pack for an upcoming trip. Those things are next.
- Evaluate: How much time is left after that? And how much “leftover” time will you need in order to take care of your kids, your home, and yourself? If there’s still time for more, do the things that will make the biggest difference to you personally. For me, this is usually some type of cleaning task because my mind feels less cluttered when my environment is less cluttered.
- Bonus: What task, if completed, would be super amazing for you and your family? What will feel really, really good to have crossed off your list? Ask yourself, “If I did nothing else today, what would I be most proud to have completed?”
If you complete everything on this list, celebrate! You made it through an overwhelming day while still accomplishing some super important things. At this point, take some time to do some things that you’ve been putting off – read a book, call a friend, go for a walk.
(Or you can add more to your list and get more done – but what’s the fun in that?!?!)
That big, crazy master to-do list will still be there tomorrow. That’s it’s job – to hold all of those tasks that you aren’t able to complete right now. Those tasks, projects, and ideas are all waiting for you – but not today.
And now you’re done. You’ve figured out your “next right things,” and you can work from the top down on this list for today. It’s a shorter list than normal, but that’s the point – you’re not trying to do it all, you’re simply trying to prioritize the things that are overwhelming you right now.
Choosing one thing over another to get through the day without breaking down doesn’t mean that you failed. You’re still getting stuff done! It’s not like you’re sitting around playing games on your phone all day. You’re making forward progress, taking care of your home and family, and – the best part – you’re making sure that you’ll have enough energy to do it all again the next day!
Popular Prioritization Methods
If you’ve already tried everything I’ve mentioned above, feel like my “backwards” way isn’t working for you, or are simply looking for some additional help, you can also try these popular methods of prioritization. #5 is my favorite!
#1 – Eisenhower Matrix
This method focuses on prioritizing your tasks based on urgency and importance. It’s a simple matrix that allows you to categorize your tasks into one of four categories – Do, Decide, Delegate, and Delete.
#2 – Ivy Lee
Using this method, each night you’ll write down the six most important tasks that you need to complete the next day – and only six. You start with task #1 and complete it before continuing down your list. Anything that doesn’t get completed is moved to the top of the list the next day.
#3 – Getting Things Done (GTD)
GTD focuses on eliminating chaos by following a 5-step process to organize your life:
- Capture everything: In other words, brain dump. Nothing is too big or too small.
- Clarify: Process what you’ve captured into action steps.
- Organize: Put everything into the right place – your calendar, your files, or into the hands of other people 🙂
- Review: Frequently update and revise your lists
- Engage: Get to work!
Obviously this is a super short and not-so-detailed summary, but you can read more by grabbing the book!
#4 – ABCDE Method
Brian Tracy’s ABCDE method focuses on setting short-term priorities and then using the letters to prioritize tasks from most important to what you can eliminate. It’s simple and effective – all you need is paper and a pen.
#5 – Most Important Task (MIT)
This is similar to the Ivy Lee method in that you start each day by choosing 3 to 5 MITs – things you must get done that day. It differs in that it doesn’t matter what order you do them in. Also, at least one of your MITs each day should be directly related to your long-term goals to make sure that you’re making daily forward progress.
Extra Tips -How to Get Your Priorities Straight When It’s All Important
#1 – Remember What Season of Life You’re In
Knowing the season of life that you’re in will help you prioritize more easily.
If you’re in the middle of raising babies, then maybe it’s not the right time to prioritize starting a new business. If your husband works out of town and you have no local support, maybe it’s not the right time to start a huge new project.
Sometimes “no” means “not right now.” Think about what your priorities are during this season of life – you don’t have to do everything right now, all at once.
#2 – People (Especially Family) First
What works for me in setting priorities is putting my family first. Always.
I have personal dreams and goals, a job, a home to take care of, and kids to teach. But my family comes first. Always.
For me, this means that every school day, our homeschool comes first – before the cleaning, before my blog work and my job. And for every non-school day, taking care of my kids’ needs also comes before anything else.
And when my husband’s at home, family time is the priority. We do family dinners every night, and we spend the majority of our evenings doing things together.
And you know what’s funny about putting my family first? When their needs are taken care of, especially their need for quality time, they give me their cooperation and support when I need to get my own things done. It’s a win-win.
#3 – Write It Down
Never, ever keep a list in your head – whether it’s for groceries, packing for a trip, or your to-do list.
I tend to get really stressed and overwhelmed when I have a bunch of tasks, ideas, and mental notes floating around in my head. I’m a paper and pen person, but a digital calendar also works!
Writing it all down helps you clear your mind and get organized. When you keep it all in your head, it’s easy to feel like everything is a priority because you’re not able to sort it all out properly.
And then you can also break each task down step by step. This helps to keep you motivated, because there’s nothing more satisfying than checking things off of your list 🙂
#4 – Have Someone Else Prioritize for You
I know this one sounds weird, but sometimes an outside perspective is a good thing.
When I’m almost to the point of burnout and am having trouble seeing the next right thing, I’ll ask my husband what would make the biggest difference to him.
Usually this happens when my house is a disaster and I have no idea where to even start. My husband will tell me to do the dishes or that he’s out of clean socks and I should start with a load of laundry.
(Typing this out makes him sound like a slavedriver – he’s not, I promise. He actually does most of the dishes in our house, puts away a lot of our laundry, and does a majority of the house cleaning.)
Anyway, hearing the biggest priority to my husband often gets over the hurdle of not knowing where to start, what to prioritize, and then I’m able to keep going on my productive little way.
#5 – Urgent Vs. Important
Remember that urgent and important are NOT the same.
Urgent tasks feel like they need to be done right now – phone calls and texts, cleaning up a spill, and meeting a deadline that’s today.
Important tasks align with your long-term goals – reading every day, family meals, or working on a project that you love.
Sometimes they intersect – cleaning up a spill or changing a poopy diaper is urgent, but also important because it relates to the long-term goal of raising responsible, happy children.
But a lot of the time, what’s urgent isn’t actually important. Responding to that text or answering that phone call can probably wait.
The key is to work on prioritizing important tasks ahead of urgent tasks.
#6 – Be Flexible
When you’re flexible, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed with daily life. When you make it a point to squeeze tasks into your day wherever you can fit them, you’ll be more productive and feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.
On the flip side, when you’re flexible, you can easily see when your to-do list simply isn’t working and that your time would be better spent pouring into your kiddos – and you’ll have no problem actually doing it, because you know that your tasks will still be there tomorrow.
Flexibility opens you up to find opportunities that present themselves.
#7 – Give Yourself Grace
Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes life is overwhelming and it’s impossible to figure out where to start or what your “next right thing” is. Some days, you’re going to completely fail at getting anything done.
But on other days, you’ll have it all together, completing tasks, spending quality time with your husband and kids, and doing something for yourself – all in the same day!
Do your best. Don’t beat yourself up when you have one of “those” days. Give yourself grace, and remember that tomorrow is another day.
When everything feels important, it’s overwhelming – and can lead quickly to lack of focus, wasting time, and burnout.
I hope that you can use the steps above to prioritize what matters, get your stuff done, and still have time for the important things.
Have you tried any of the popular prioritization methods above? What’s your favorite? Tell me in the comments!