When Everything is a Priority, Nothing is a Priority


How to prioritize tasks in a task manager app

Image created by Jonathan Wylie in Canva

Step one of a good productivity systems is to get your tasks out of your head and into a system you can trust. For many people, a task manager is that system. However, there’s an inherent problem with that.

As good as task managers are, they still require your input to categorize and prioritize your tasks. Without that, all you have is an undefined list of tasks. The longer that gets, the harder it is to keep up with.

The Importance of Managing Tasks

You probably already have at least one task manager on your computer. Omnifocus, Things, Todoist, Apple Reminders and Microsoft To Do are all good options, but if you aren’t managing your tasks, you’re not taking full advantage of what this software can do for you.


If you open your task manager, and all you see is one long list of tasks, you’re going to be faced with analysis paralysis. How will you possibly be able to decide what to do first?

The important tasks are mixed with the trivial tasks. Tasks that are no longer relevant are interspersed with things that have to get done today. This is not a productive way to deal with your to-do list. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority and if nothing is a priority, then nothing gets done.

So, what do you do? Close the app and move on with your day? Purge the lot and start from scratch? Of course not. What you need is a way to categorize and prioritize your tasks. Here are some ways you can do that in a task manager of your choice.


Use Multiple Lists

An easy place to start is to create multiple lists. You can use these lists to categorize tasks and get to the meat of your work more efficiently.

For instance, you could have a “Home” and a “Work” list. This is an easy way to separate your household chores from your must-do work tasks. A “Projects” list is another popular addition for those who want a way to put all those multistep tasks in one place.

Getting Things Done (GTD) enthusiasts have additional lists like a “Someday/Maybe” list for those things you would like to do, but don’t necessarily have time for right now. They may also have a “Waiting For” list for tasks that don’t need to be done until some time in the future.

Whatever you end up naming your lists, I would recommend having one called “Inbox”. Use this as your default list to drop all the tasks and ideas you have. Don’t waste time thinking about where something should go, just add it to the Inbox. Then, when you have more time, move tasks from the Inbox to the list that they need to be added to.

Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

Reorder Tasks in a List

Once you have the lists that you need, you can reorder tasks on that list to reflect their order of importance. Tasks at the top should be worked on first. Tasks at the bottom can wait until you have the time to work on them.

Although this isn’t a foolproof way of working, it at least gives you a start when you open your task manager and navigate to the list you want to work on. What should you start with? Start with the task at the top of the list.

In most task managers, reordering tasks is as simple as dragging and dropping the task to a new position on a list.

Add Dates to Tasks

Another easy thing to do is to assign a date and/or time to a task. For instance, if you want to cancel your Netflix subscription at the end of the month, create a task, add a date and time when you want to be reminded about it, and then move it to your Waiting For list.

This very simple act is one of the best ways to free up mental capacity for more important work. You don’t need to worry about your Netflix subscription until the end of the month, so put it out of your mind and deal with it when the time is right.

Today, the best task managers use natural language to help you add a date and time as efficiently as possible. Try typing, “Cancel my Netflix subscription next Wednesday at 8pm” and you will see what I mean.


Use Flags for Prioritizing Tasks

Many task manager apps also have a way to flag tasks to indicate their level of importance. Some may do this with colors, others will use priority levels, and some will use a combination of the two.

If you get into the habit of adding a priority level when you create a new task, you can sort your tasks so that you only see the most important tasks. This is a great way to see what needs to get done right away.

If you use GTD routines like a weekly review, you can use this time to revisit the priority levels on your tasks and adjust them as needed.

Use Tags to Filter Tasks

Tags are another great way to filter tasks. Most task managers let you add tags with a hashtag symbol in front of the word you want to use as a tag.

For instance, if you want to tag all the tasks where you have to email people, you could use an #email tag in those tasks. For phone calls you need to make, use a #phone tag on your tasks.

Tags can be used in conjunction with flags or priority levels. You can filter your tasks by a tag like #email, and then look at the priority levels on those tasks to work on the most important emails first.


What Works for You?

Remember, these are just some of the options to help you prioritize your tasks. You don’t need to use them all. In my task manager, I don’t reorder tasks and I don’t use tags. That’s what works for me. You need to find what works for you.

Do you have other ways of categorizing and prioritizing tasks in your task manager? Let me know. I always love to learn about how other people maximize their productivity.

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