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Prioritizing when it doesn't seem possible

We’ve all had “that kind of week" (or month, year, etc.). I’m sure you know what I am talking about. It’s the kind of week where everything you need to do is a priority and ranking those priorities seems impossible.

For me, the last couple of weeks have been “that kind of week.” Work and family obligations have been vying for my attention, getting meals on the table has been challenging and exercise has been an afterthought. Fortunately, everything I’ve had to do has been what I call “good stuff.” The work projects have been fulfilling, I have spent quality time watching my kids’ sports and I have had fun times with family and friends.

Having periods in our lives where the sheer volume of our projects and activities can be so significant that we just don’t know where to start to get them done. It is times like these when prioritization becomes even more important. But, how can you prioritize when prioritization seems impossible?

Let go of perfectionism.

This was the hardest, yet one of the most valuable life lessons for me to learn. I grew up in a structured Irish-German household where there was a place for everything, and everything had its place. When I first got out on my own, I maintained that structure. But, getting married, having kids and being a business owner taught me there are more important things than perfectly folded towels, a flawless manicure, a pristine house and file folders that match. (Though I still maintain a very neat desk at work.) I still like and crave these things, but I know that I cannot always have them and that’s okay.  Letting go of perfectionism alleviates a ton of stress and helps you get more done.

Pick what is important to you.

Think about what is important to you. Is it work, your kids, your aging parents, your friends? You need to decide that for yourself. What is important to me may not be important to you. And what is important for you at this time in your life may not be that important later. Sure, there are things you must do (feed the dog, sleep, shower), but I’m talking about the things that can maybe wait a day or two. For me, when I’m super busy, I’d rather spend extra time in the kitchen making great meals than putting laundry away or cleaning the house. I find cooking to be relaxing and a great way to spend time with my family to hear about their day. For me, sorting laundry and cleaning can wait.

It’s okay to let some things go or be late.

In full disclosure, my deadline for this blog was four days ago. The week leading up to the deadline included some personal travel, major client deadlines and some unexpected projects. And I also forgot it was my turn in our team blog rotation. Our Dot Org team has committed to do a blog every week and we haven’t missed one since we started in January 2018 (except Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, which was intentional). I knew I needed to get it done, but there were some very important work projects that were due this week. Still, I also knew I had committed to my team. So, I owned the fact that I was going to be late with the blog and communicated to them that I would get it done. Don’t forget that communication is important if you are going to be late or decide not to do something. Other team members, family or friends may be relying on you to get things done.

Do a brain dump.

I’ve read numerous books and blogs on productivity and there is one tip that I have always found very helpful when everything seems overwhelming – do a brain dump. Grab a legal pad and just write down everything that you have to do or feel like you have to do. This exercise may take 15 minutes or an hour, but at the end you will have cleared your mind of much of the clutter that may keep you from prioritizing. When I do my brain dumps, I often find there are tasks that I want to do that really don’t need to be done right away (clean the garage, take clothing donations to charity), but take up active space in my mind. I include everything in my brain dump – work, family, friends, community - because those worlds intersect all the time. Once I write everything down, I put my tasks into buckets – immediate, short term and long term. Then I schedule what gets done when. Brain dumps are good to do with your work team and family, too. As a group, you can prioritize what gets done when.

Ask for help.

When I have a ton of things going on, the last thing I tend to do is ask for help. This isn’t because I am trying to be superwoman or a control freak. Actually, it is because my brain is trying to process so much that I don’t even think about delegating tasks. That’s why the brain dump is so important. Once you see the things you need or want to do written in the same place, you can determine if there are things you can delegate to others. Some people think asking for help is a sign of weakness, but trust me, it’s not. So, if you need help, ask for it. It there is a task that someone else can do, delegate it.

Stop complaining and start doing.

I see so much of this on social media. People complain about how busy they are, how tired they are and how they are never going to get everything done. (Just a thought… think of how much time you could spend on your brain dump if you weren’t trolling social feeds.) I am guilty of this myself (though not on social media). And I continue to work on this because no one wants to hear how busy we are because likely they are too. So, stop complaining and start doing. I promise you will accomplish more.

Writing this blog has been a little bit of therapy for me this week. I am planning my brain dump for this afternoon; I’ve asked forgiveness from our marketing and PR coordinator for my blog being late and I’ve asked for help. I am already starting to feel better and ready to take on whatever comes my way.


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