How I Prioritize My Time

posted by Andrea | 11/25/2016
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prioritize my time

This time of year always seems to be extra busy for many us of with all the holiday parties, baking, shopping, entertaining, and other festivities.

Inevitably, many of us will feel like we have more requests for our time than we have hours in the day. We’ll be “pulled” in too many different directions; and in order to stay sane, we’ll need to make some conscious decisions as to how we will (and will not) spend our time.

Over the years, I’ve gotten SO much better at saying ‘no’ to things, people, activities, and opportunities that don’t align with my goals, that aren’t fulfilling to me, and that don’t fit with my family’s current stage of life. It’s never easy or fun to say no, but from my experience, it’s 100% necessary… unless you want to feel overly busy, rushed, and stressed all the time.

The tricky part about deciding when to say “yes” and when to say “no” is that it is a decision that will be different for every person… and even for one person in different situations.

For example, there might be times when Dave says “yes” to helping with an extra activity at school because it fits well with his schedule that week. However, the following week might be a busier week for me, so Dave might decide to say “no” to the exact same activity so he can leave school earlier and help me at home.

Similarly, I might say “yes” to helping at Nora’s school for a morning because my sister has the day off and can watch Simon and James… but I’d say “no” to the same request for my time if I couldn’t find a sitter for the boys.

There are SO many different variables that affect how we spend our time, it’s essentially impossible for me to give advice as to the “best” way to spend your time, or the “most efficient” way for you to make time management decisions.

However, I can share a few things I think about when I’m making my own time management decisions.

time priorities

Yes… it involves lists (but they’re mental lists!)

Basically, I mentally divvy up my daily to-dos into multiple different categories based on importance and urgency.

MUST DO:

The MUST DO tasks are tasks I absolutely have to do… no questions asked. These tasks are very important, and also somewhat urgent. (NOTE: I just wrote a full post about urgent and important to-dos. It might be worth reading after you finish this post!)

For me, this category includes things like work deadlines, pre-scheduled appointments, picking children up from various places, getting gas when the light is on, making sure the bills are paid on time, etc.

These tasks are often my “Top 5 List”, which means I will move other things around in my schedule to make time for these activities and obligations. If we can’t make time for the MUST DO items on our list, we need to reevaluate how we are spending our time!

SHOULD DO:

The SHOULD DO tasks are those that come “next in line” to the MUST DO tasks. They are important and do need to be completed at some point in the near future, but they are not as urgent as the MUST DO tasks.

For me, things like cleaning the house, pulling weeds, working on my digital photo albums, meal planning, freezer cooking, and replying to non-urgent emails would fall in this category. They are tasks that I want to do soon, and tasks that need to be completed at some point in the near future, but they don’t necessarily have to be done right now, or even today.

If I put these activities off for too long, they will eventually become MUST DO items, so my personal goal is to do a few of these every day so I stay on top of things.

COULD DO:

The COULD DO tasks are optional. They aren’t necessarily super important or urgent (at least not for me), but they are usually enjoyable tasks.

For me, this category includes things like various re-organization projects around the house, watching Netflix, reading, exercising, hanging out with friends, running non-urgent errands, or updating older posts and pages on my blog.

They are all worth-while activities that I usually enjoy, but when my time is limited, these are some of the activities I can push off until a later time without causing too much chaos.

These “could do” activities rarely ever make my Top 5 list, but they are always in the back of my mind for days when a grandparent comes unexpectedly to play with the kids and I have a little extra free time!

WOULD LIKE TO DO:

The WOULD LIKE TO DO tasks are some of my favorite — because I’m naturally a dreamer and a planner. Just like it sounds, these are tasks and activities that I “would like to do” some day.

They definitely aren’t on my high-priority list right now, and nothing is lost if I scratch them and decide I don’t ever want to make time to do them, but they are fun to think about.

Dave and I have lots of house and yard projects on our “would like to do” list, and I’m always coming up with cool ideas to grow my blog and my business — but they will all have to wait for when I decide to make the time to put them on my SHOULD DO or MUST DO list. For now, they are just things I would like to do some day in the future.

I should note that although I usually don’t have plans to immediately pursue any of my “would like to do” items, by simply knowing they are on my “would like to do” list and thinking about them every now and then, I’m much more inclined to jump at opportunities that allow me to do these activities.

WON’T DO:

The WON’T DO tasks are tasks that I consciously decide NOT to spend time on at this point in my life. It doesn’t mean any of these activities are bad or wrong or useless, it just means we don’t want to use up our time on them right now.

My WON’T DO tasks include things like extra committee involvement and meetings for activities I’m not super excited about. Also, pretty much anything that requires me to be gone in the evenings or go out of town is on my WON’T DO list for now.

I have a feeling that as my children get older, some of these things will make their way back up to my COULD DO and SHOULD DO lists, but for now, I try not to feel bad saying no to these opportunities because I know it’s not the right timing for me.

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After reading this, it might sound like I spend all day simply contemplating how I’m going to use my time or what category my tasks would fall under. However, I can assure you that my mental lists require very little thought or energy now that I’ve developed the habit of actually thinking about how I spend my time.

And honestly, I think that’s the most important point of this whole post.

In order to improve our time management, you need to start thinking about how YOU spend YOUR time.

source

It’s so easy to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes our way, and before we know it, we’re overworked, over-committed, over-tired, and ready to quit everything.

However, by taking a few seconds to think through the tasks and activities we have on our to-do list and mentally categorize them, we can then prioritize our to-dos, say “yes” when we have time, say “no” when we don’t, and (hopefully) make the time for the things that are most important to us right now.

As you enter into a very busy and full time of year, try to think through your days and weeks in terms of “must do”, “should do”, “could do”, “would like to do”, and “won’t do”. I have a feeling it will make your time management decisions seem less overwhelming!

This very simple time-management system has worked extremely well for me over the years.

I hope it helps some of you as well!

How do you prioritize your time?

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13 comments

  1. Linda C.

    09/10/2015

    Andrea – is there anyway you can email me this in a Word format? We are doing The Best Yes bible study by Lysa TerKuerst and I’d love to share your ideas. Thank you!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    you can actually just click on either the “Print” or “Email” link in the top right corner of the post (right about the yellow clock photo) and that should do the trick.

    Otherwise, you can copy and paste it into a Word document.

    [Reply]

  2. Shelley

    08/31/2015

    Hi Andrea. I am always impressed on how organized you are. But now with a newborn I am extremely impressed. How can you manage your activities with the baby? I have a 1 month old and 4 years old and I don’t even now where to start. I am exhausted all the time and overwelmend.

    [Reply]

    Erin S. Reply:

    Shelley,
    Start with grace. You have a new baby and a healing body. At your point I would choose 1 or 2 small things. When my babies were new, I even started doing smaller loads of laundry because folding and putting them away was less overwhelming and quicker (think toddler loving to spread clean laundry all over.) 🙂 I also made a top 5 and then chose 2 that must be done, with a new one. You will get caught up, it just takes time.

    [Reply]

    Michelle Reply:

    Speaking of toddlers and laundry… I taught mine to give the laundry a pat pat. He thinks he’s helping and the piles mostly stay in place!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    that’s SO cute 🙂

    [Reply]

  3. Liane

    08/31/2015

    I have one little question I as myself. After I get those must do things done (make beds start laundry figure out what is for dinner and clean up the daily detritus) which I have on a list that acts like an unpleasant boss nagging me, I think about what to do next and I ask myself, what will happen if I postpone this. Like you know you should get gas before groceries and if you don’t it’ll have to be squeezed in on the next outing and you will forget right up till its time to leave for something only to discover there is no time left.
    What if I postpone washing the drapes? Absolutely nothing.
    Walking the dog early? Having to do it when it’s 90 out.

    I trained myself to think in terms of rewards and consequences. Like you are saying, if it is something that gives you joy say yes but if not, feel free to decline. And if the something is a task like picking up the dry cleaning, chances are, if postponed husband will need a certain garment the next day, or the karate moms will have taken up the entire parking lot and the cleaners will be a 1/4 mile walk with very heavy stuff. Or it may not be raining now but could be if I put this off.

    So for those annoying jobs that cannot be shuffled off into “whenever land” I put them on the calendar on my iPhone reminders app as a repeating appt. Takes the decision making out of equation.

    I love how the reminders app lets you prioritize and slide things up and down.

    My one off list is called Immediate Action and I try to keep it to 5 things. The rest of the to do stuff must be done daily so it is just an automatic routine. Done 7 days a week. No brain needed. That’s always good, making beds on auto pilot right? I do my best thinking in the shower, while mopping or making up beds with clean linen.

    Using my phone instead of pen and paper has a lot of advantages. The stuff is typed and looks more bossy plus I can stick it in my pocket.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    this is great Liane. Thanks for sharing what works for you!

    [Reply]

  4. Chris

    08/31/2015

    I don’t seem to manage my time very well and I recently heard about block scheduling, so I’ve loosely been trying it. It seems to really help me.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I’ve used that system successfully at times in my life — glad the block scheduling is working for you!

    [Reply]

  5. Jo

    08/31/2015

    I really like this post, and how you break up things in your mind. It really spoke to me. With my first baby on the way, I’ve been a little overwhelmed with how to prioritize things and where to spend my time. I’ve now been starting to create mental – and sometimes written – lists of different things that need/should/want to get done. Very timely post for my life! Thank you!

    [Reply]

  6. Janice

    08/31/2015

    I like to use a legal pad and list all the things I need to accomplish for the week. Then I mark them off as I get them done. The list includes the must do, should do, and could do type of things. I don’t number them or list them with A, B, C for priority as I have read in some time management books. I can see which ones are the must do for the week. I make every effort to wipe out the whole list, but it doesn’t bother me to bring forward some of the should dos and could dos to the next week. This summer has been filled with so many must do type of things that I am taking off today and doing as little as possible.

    [Reply]

  7. Amber

    08/31/2015

    Really love your should do, could do, would like to do, won’t do. I feel like that is the way I prioritize too, just not in those exact words. 🙂 I try to get a mixture of the first three (should, could and would do) in each day to keep it balanced, although some days it is primarily the should do when my children or I am not feeling well.

    I also thrive off a written list of the most important (should do) things for the day. Once I get those things done, I can really focus on the could and would things I would like to accomplish. If I don’t have a list, I so easily forget things I want to get done. I know a lot of people will use their phones or spreadsheets, but there is nothing like a handwritten list for me! Hope you and your family have a wonderful day and week~ 🙂

    [Reply]