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E34. How to Prioritize Your Things to Do List

Today's topic is how to prioritize. This is a subject that comes up all the time in coaching.

This is really tricky for ADHD brains for a couple reasons. First of all, this is one of the executive functioning skills, so this is going to be an area a lot of us struggle with. It involves determining what's important, what needs to go where, the sequence of something, the urgency of something in measuring our time, etc. This is tricky.

I did a podcast about managing our energy and how perfectionism can enter into our decision making. It can involve us wanting to make the perfect decision, and getting paused. This definitely impacts prioritizing, getting paused out on, "What goes where? What if I get it wrong?" There is that difficulty of just starting because we want to make sure we start in the ideal way.

That can be a factor too for us a lot of times. Today I'm going to talk about one tool to use for prioritizing. This is not by any means the only tool, or the end all be all tool. It's a good tool, especially for those that are visual and need something maybe a little more concrete. This is a system to look at how to prioritize.

This is something that is helpful. It helps build the skill of prioritizing just by breaking things down in a systematic way. We're going to talk today about the Eisenhower matrix. Now for those of you who are visual (I definitely am myself a highly visual learner), you might want to follow on the show notes. I have a link that has a little diagram of this quadrant that I'm going to describe to you. You may want to pull that up along with our discussion so you can reference that.

This little matrix is a way of assigning tasks, jobs, etc. to a priority category and a corresponding action. Picture our Eisenhower square here, and it is split into four smaller squares. Across the top, we have things that are labeled as urgent and not urgent.

Along that left side we have things that are labeled as important and not important. Your top left square is going to be something that's urgent and important. Then to the right of that as a square those going to be important, but not urgent. Then dropping down, we're going to have something that is urgent, but not important. Then is something that's not urgent and not important.

Let's look at each one of these squares, each one of these categories, and say, "What would go here? What would go here? How do we deal with this? What do we do about it? What action do we usually take if something falls in this category?" The first one we're going to look at is things that are urgent and important.

Urgency is going to be time specific. A lot of times with ADHD, what people are frustrated by is that they feel driven by emergencies that just show up in their day. It's like they are driven by the urgency rather than just having a feeling of control and some kind of a pace to their day.

They're reacting in their day, often because of urgency rather than being intentional or enjoying that flow of being intentional. The things that are going to fall in this category are things that have to get done right now. They matter to you personally. They've got to get done right now, because maybe they have a consequential financial or a life consequence with them.

They're going to be things you're doing immediately. Things that fall in this category are often clear to many of us. It's figuring out what to do with the other quadrants that is unclear. We may have a little more ease in what is urgent and important, and aren't necessarily having to react all the time.

Instead we've planned for them. Let's look at the category to the right of that box. To the right of that are things that would be considered important to you, but not urgent. This could be a tough category to figure out for a couple reasons.

Oftentimes, something may not be important to us. Maybe we're doing something or have something on our list because we think we should. Maybe it's an expectation for somebody else. If we look a little bit deeper, it doesn't necessarily need to be a priority for us.

That's one aspect of this. Another big aspect of this is that if it's not urgent, sometimes it's very hard to figure out when to do this thing. This includes things that matter to you, but you don't have a deadline right away. How do you attack this? What do you do next with these things? The suggestion here is that you plan them and you schedule them.

I'm going to give you an example of something that came up last week. Clint went upstairs (our house is set up that we have our master on the main and our four kids bedrooms are upstairs), and they're old enough now that they do their own laundry. They're pretty independent, so we're not up there a lot in their little space. Clint came down so annoyed, and he said, "It's disgusting up there. I don't know how they live up there. It's not right." He was appalled, and to tell you the truth, I had really not been up there that week. He said, "This is just disgusting. We need to do something about that." Meaning that we need to hold them accountable for cleaning up their space.

Let's dissect this using the matrix. Is this important? Maybe it is, maybe it's not. It's not important to my kids. If they're making a decision, maybe they would make a different decision. It's important to Clint. He just said, "Man, I'm not okay with the conditions up there." It's important to him, but it's not urgent.

If we had company coming, maybe it would be urgent. We would feel the urgency of, "Oh, do we want people to see we live like this?" I mean, you know, whatever. It's not urgent. Cleaning is never going to be urgent, really. Not for us, but it doesn't matter to us. We're making decisions about what's important to us.

What do we do? We're going to schedule it. Instead of just saying, "Oh, let's just react in this moment, clean it with no real plan." Let's schedule a time that we're checking in with the kids and saying this needs to be done. We're not doing it, but it matters that it gets done.

It would make sense that we say, "This is the time." I'm not even talking about a habit, although we did discuss that we needed to probably build a habit of checking in with the kids and making sure that space was livable.

That's what we decided to do with that. Even if it was one off thing (let's assume we had a really busy day. We're about to run. We don't have time to clean, but we want to make sure that's we're going to deal with that), we would schedule that out at nine o'clock tonight. We're going to take a look at that with the kids and plan to deal with it.

I was doing this with one of my clients. We were just using this tool, something like buying someone a birthday gift. Okay, how do I normally deal with this? Right before I'm supposed to go to this party, I am trying to stop off and buy a gift card. If I want to be more intentional about my time, I may have a more thoughtful gift with my gift card or not be late to the party. I'm going to schedule this. I'm going to say, "Okay, this party is coming up on Saturday. Right after work, I'm going to stop off and do this thing."

Obviously, you're not going to schedule every moment. You're looking at your time, and things are falling in this category. If you don't want to fall through the cracks, or if you don't want to return to something that's really urgent and jamming up your day, it makes sense to make a plan for them happening. That's how you deal with things in that box of not urgent but still important as you plan them.

Now let's take a look at things that are urgent, but not important. What things would fall into this category? That depends on the person. There's some things that have to get done. You need to eat food, it is time specific, and you need a certain amount for energy in your day.

For some people, they don't really care what they're going to eat. They don't really care that they're repeating the same meal. The details there don't matter, so it makes sense in that category of things that have to happen.

It's not personally important to me (the details here), so I'm going to simplify. Now simplify could mean I slide it off my plate, and I delegate that to somebody else. When you have your own business (very often the beginning stages of your business), you do all the things. You don't make enough money to be delegating and paying people to do the things that aren't personally important to you.

As you grow in a business, it makes sense to start paying someone to do those things. It makes sense to begin delegating those things to someone else. Your energy is freed up for the aspect of your business. That's your genius that you love to do. That grows your business.

You can't do all of these things yourself. Let's look in the category of food and nutrition. I work with some people that just don't really care a lot about the details of food. There's an urgency, right? It's not important to them (the details of their food), but there is some urgency. It's time specific each day that you need some amount of fuel and operating energy.

There's time specific elements to that food. Maybe they are going to go very simple. They're going to repeat meals and are going to eat basic things. They are not going to have a lot of complexity here, but it's still going to happen. That's going to be the way that they approach this box by simplifying it here. When you're approaching this category of things, you're thinking, "How can I delegate, simplify, and decrease this personal demand so this is still met." This is still met in a time specific way, but it's not taking as much out of me.

The last category is things that are not urgent and not important. I've often seen that when people do this Eisenhower matrix they put things such as "don't do these, avoid these, stop these."

We've got to live our lives. That means there are times you're going to be doing things that are not urgent and not important. You don't need to feel ashamed about it, or as if you failed the day because you did something that was not urgent and not important.

My suggestion for these things is that you do them intentionally. You choose when you do them, and you do them with awareness. There's a real difference to me when I am doing something that's not urgent and not important, and I'm doing it to avoid something. I'm doing it to jump off an emotion. I'm doing it because something is complicated in my day. That is very different than when I say, "I need a break, I need to rest, and I need to decompress." I choose to do something that's not urgent and not important.

The thing that I would actually suggest in this category is that you just get curious with yourself. When you find yourself doing this thing where you're scrolling on your phone or whatever it is that you're doing that doesn't really fall into this "isn't urgent or a priority," be curious about what's behind it. Then make a decision.

If this is something that you need right now, you're going to do this, or you could say, "Hey, this is not really how I want to be spending this time." A lot of times when we're doing things and it's not urgent or important, it's to jump off of emotion. If it's because something's complicated in your day, or if it's because you don't know what to do next, you're not actually enjoying that activity. It's an avoiding activity.

When you do things like that, you're not actually getting the break that they might offer you if you were doing them because you were deciding to do them. Approach those things with curiosity and decide how you want to spend your time.

You may find yourself doing something that's not urgent or important, and not really how you plan to spend your time. The other day, I hit a wall. I was exhausted. I had worked really hard, and it was the middle of the day. I found myself drained and just needed to do something that was not urgent, but not important.

I watched Ted Lasso. It was in the middle of the day, and it was lovely. It was a great rest. It was funny, and it was refreshing. It was a decision, and I wanted to do that. I'm a grown adult, so I can do that. I can watch Ted Lasso in the middle of the day. I was glad I did: prioritization, it's tricky.

We can get better at this, and this can be easier for us. Oftentimes, that's something that's hard for us. If we just get a method, a system of breaking it down, you do two things. You support yourself to break it down in a moment, and with that whole process, you build a skill. This is a skill.

We might have to break it down in an instructional way. We might have to break it down in an intentional way, where as somebody else is just going to come out of the gates having that skill. Well, congratulations to them. For us, there's hope in this ability to strengthen these skills.

Doing an approach like this can help you strengthen that skill and make that easier to apply in your day to day life. Wrapping up, that's all for today on our episode about prioritization and using the Eisenhower matrix as a tool to do that.

Thank you so much for joining me. The Eisenhower matrix link that I told you about will go to my website. You do not need to be a member of my website to access that. Thank you so much for joining me, and I'll see you next week.


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