How to Prioritise Tasks When Everything is Urgent

Martine Ellis
8 min readJun 11, 2023

You’ve arrived at your desk. You’ve done your “daily brain dump,” and now you have a list. Fantastic job.

What next?

Prioritisation is the next logical step. Some thought should go into what we do first.

And yet many of us skip prioritising altogether, opting to brace ourselves while our most urgent, important task presents itself — a fire, ready to be fought.

In this article, I will investigate why avoiding prioritising is so common and argue the case for daily task prioritisation. I will also share examples of prioritisation models and suggest ways to incorporate (almost) effortless prioritisation into your work.

Why Do We Avoid Prioritising?

I took to Twitter and spoke with colleagues to find out whether my suspicion that we avoid prioritising our to-do lists was correct, and if that was the case, why we do it.

The overwhelming response was — yes — we avoid prioritising. Some felt prioritising was a luxury that only people with spare time could afford. Ironically, those lucky folks with all that extra time probably manage their workload effectively by planning and prioritising.

Others felt prioritising wasted precious minutes (time they could spend doing urgent work rather than thinking about it). But, in this scenario, how do you know what is urgent and what isn’t? You respond to the person who shouts loudest; after all, isn’t everything urgent to someone?

This constant “busyness” prevents us from prioritising work strategically, leading to mistakes and increased stress.

Many people I spoke with understood the basic mechanics of prioritisation (for example, things can be a high, medium, or low priority). Still, accurate allocation of these priority statuses seems impossible. If you add neurodivergent brain wiring into the mix, things feel even more complex as you often assume you will interpret things differently from neurotypical colleagues. Is your way right, or theirs?

Another layer of complexity is that other people’s priorities differ from yours. Plus, where you are in the organisational pecking order tends to influence how you class other people’s priorities…

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Martine Ellis

Wellbeing-driven productivity systems and strategies for people who are neurodivergent (or think they might be). Weekly email digest → notesbymartine.com