How to: turn to-do lists into manageable lists of priorities.


Dear reader, 

As you know, I often talk about productivity and well-being and one of the keys to combining the two is to have a clear list of your priorities. Originally, priority existed only in its singular form as it meant “the most important of all things” but as we are living in the day and age of to-do lists, let’s discuss it plural form, priorities.

My theory (and it is a well-known one I did not create but if my words can help you, it is just fine) is that you must know what is important and what is urgent. Let’s first define those terms:

  • Important” means, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “marked by or indicative of significant worth or consequence.”
  • Urgent” means, according to the same dictionary, “calling for immediate attention.”

You may think “those two look alike” but they are actually pretty different. One thing can be extremely important but not urgent and an other can be very urgent but almost insignificant. On the one hand, you may have a paper due in May and thus, it is not urgent as it does not call for your immediate attention but it is extremely important as that paper will give you 70% of your final grade for that class. On the other hand, you may have a paper to hand back to some administration tomorrow morning but giving that paper will have no effect on your life; thus, it would be urgent but not important as its would have no significant consequence.

Here is how to create a useful list of priorities by sorting your endless to-do list into manageable categories:

  1. You may first draw a list of all the things you have in mind and you think you “must do as soon as possible”.
  2. Then, take a piece of paper and divide it into four parts.
  3. Write “Important and Urgent” / “Important but not Urgent” / “Urgent but not important” / “Neither Important nor Urgent”.
  4. Fill these parts with the endless entries of your to-do list
  5. Tackle the to-dos one by one in that order:
  • “Important and Urgent”
  • “Urgent but not Important”
  • “Important but not Urgent”
  • “Neither Important nor Urgent”.

You might tell me “well, what is that last category for?” and I would answer that it is actually quite useful. In that category, you put anything from a long-time project you just do not seem to manage to see as a priority right now to a call you may pass to an old friend you have not been talking to for years.

Only you can choose what is “important” and what is not (for “urgent”, it is a little clearer and objective) but that technique should help organize your list into clear categories, thus helping you feel able to do it all and avoid the feeling of being “overwhelmed”. 

I hope this technique has been useful to you, 

Lots of Love, 


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