I knew how to prioritize. I did it all day all the time. It’s easy. “You build a to do list and tackle it.” Easy.

to do list

Nothing like an empty to do list!

Nick complained there so much to do all the time. He couldn’t get ahead. Everything was important. Nick would get new actions that “he had to get done asap” every meeting. Nick kept adding to his to do list. Nick felt like everyone was piling on. What was worse is that he felt he wasn’t making any progress. 

Nick was feeling the pinch between being on top of things, making things happen for his company, generating sales, and his personal time, his sanity.

Oh yes, I’ve been there

I’ve certainly been there multiple times. My first question when I get a request is, “Can I get this done?”  I am pretty capable with technology and working with extended teams so the answer was usually, “Yes!”

This inevitably results in a long to do list with with a FIFO (first in first out) priority scheme.

Okay, so this doesn’t work at all. I admit it. A FIFO to do list just doesn’t work. Period.  Not in my world.

I read the books, took the seminars, but I didn’t change my ways.  My modus operandi: Get a request. Put it on the to do list. Do it, if I can.

Now things are different with a to do list

My days are not crazy busy…well sometimes they are. Mostly, they are calmer and more intentional than ever before.

So here’s my secret approach to effectively prioritize a to do list.

Build a discipline around scheduling time allocated to one item at a time. Build in white space in the schedule for all the “in-comings” that are urgent and sometimes important (at least to others).

Oh yes, and I do get emails out of the way in the morning usually, the earlier the better. That way they are not distractions during the day. I defer answering additional emails to dedicated times throughout the day, but only about 15-20 minutes each time. I’ve found not every email in my inbox has to be answered.

Question_Marks_7Ask questions about each task on your to do list.

  •  Should I do this task?
  • How well does this task help me achieve my primary goal?
  • Is this task a slam dunk “YES” or a “I think it will help?”
  • Does this task align with my values?
  • Does this task align with my talents and skills?
  • How effective will accomplishing this task be?

It is absolutely crucial that I am crisp about my values, vision, primary goals.
They are written and in front of me daily.
I spend time on them.

It’s a funny thing. It turns out it is very easy to create a vision, values, and goals that are wrong, misaligned. It takes time and self knowledge to get them aligned. When vision, values or goals are misaligned and wrong, they will change often. Vision, values, goals must align for effective prioritization of a to do list.

Say no to most items. If a task does not pass muster, don’t do it. Easy to say, hard to do for some of us. Go ahead put them on a defer list if that makes you more comfortable. Definitely do not schedule them. Only schedule the tasks for completion if they pass your prioritization to do list questions.

Use tools to get control over prioritizing a to do list. I prefer cloud-based tools.

  • My go to tool for brainstorming is Evernote. I have lots of lists in notes. I use Evernote to keep my vision, values, goals–that is my plan.
  • Before an action is worked out I use Todoist to track unattached (to an action plan) tasks while vetting the tasks.
  • Once a list is vetted against my questions, vision, values, goals, I build an action plan.  Asana works great for projects executed by individuals and teams.
  • Then I schedule tasks in Google Calendar.

I wish I could I say it worked perfectly. However, it does work well. Until I find a better system (and I test a lot of tools and techniques), I use this.


So, go get unstuck — make things happen and prioritize your to do list with intent.

If you want to talk through what’s on your mind about business or prioritizing,
give me a call at 503-753-9971 or email me at Phil@PhilBride.com.

Let’s set up complimentary 20 minutes to talk through what’s on your mind.

Get unstuck. Make things happen.

“Dominate your life with Focus, Decision and Execution.”