We often highlight the importance of prioritizing your to-do list to maximize productivity and stay on top of the things that are most important. But in a world where 78.7% of professionals are stressed about their task load and how they’re going to get it all done – you can’t actually prioritize all the ‘important’ things on your plate without deprioritizing the tasks and routines that just don’t make the cut.
There are only so many hours in a week, and everyone has their limits for how much they can realistically take on (and actually complete). Excessive ‘busyness’ of trying to always do more ends up being counterproductive when it leads to reduced performance and more stress.
In this blog post we’re going to offer 5 tips to help you effectively deprioritize your to-do list (without shame!) to improve your productivity, wellbeing, and long-term progress towards your goals.
What is deprioritization?
Hustle culture celebrates effective prioritizing as the epitome of productivity. But if you have your master list of all the tasks and habits that you need to get done this week, and keep ‘prioritizing’ items to the top of the list – you’re actually just rearranging the same overwhelming workload. Especially if new to-dos keep being tacked on to said list, no amount of prioritization is actually going to make it more manageable or productive.
Overworking, or even just stressing about your workload (which might have been an impossible accomplishment to begin with) can result in demotivation at work, and lead to mental exhaustion or job burnout if left unaddressed for too long. And it wouldn't be a rare outcome either. In fact, a shocking 60.2% of professionals reported being burnt out at work as of October 2022.
Deprioritization is the habit of bumping, delegating, or dropping tasks to align your current priorities and future goals. While less appealing than its counterpart – learning to deprioritize brings many benefits, and is foundational in optimizing your productivity.
Benefits of deprioritizing:
- Improve focus by having fewer, clearer objectives.
- Increase productivity by being confident about your plan.
- Reduce stress by creating a manageable task list.
- Foster a sense of accomplishment when you regularly complete your goals.
- Improve your work-life balance by not overworking yourself.
On average, professionals spend 10.8% of their workweek recovering and catching up after having to reprioritize their work. By incorporating deprioritization into your daily goal setting, you can develop a realistic plan from the getgo to reduce the stress of an overwhelming task list - so everything doesn’t continue feeling equally ‘important’.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. In fact, only 9% of executives are ‘very satisfied’ with their time allocation every week. While deprioritizing might inherently sound like a negative thing – incorporating this habit into your time management approach can dramatically turn around your workweek. Let’s dive into 5 top tips for effective deprioritization – no shame!
5 tips for effective deprioritization
1. Realign with future goals
When your task load is monstrous and you’re drowning in to-dos, it can be easy to lose sight of what you’re really working towards. Getting clear on your future goals and regularly realigning towards a North Star can help you deprioritize the tasks, routines, and plans that aren’t supporting your efforts.
Instead of just trying to prioritize everything you have to get done - which can be overwhelming in the midst of a stressful week when everything feels super important - deprioritize your master list against your future work and personal goals. Which of these tasks aren’t going to put you closer to where you want to be? Which plans might overrun your energy that would be better dedicated towards your next milestone?
2. Visualize your availability
Another helpful way to deprioritize a massive to-do list is to actually time block your task work, routines, and plans with duration estimates right in your calendar. People often underestimate how long things will take to complete, and overestimate how much they can fit in a week. Plotting all your priorities in your schedule can help you visualize your availability and puts into perspective what you realistically take on.
Using a smart calendar app like Reclaim.ai can help optimize the process by automatically finding the best time for your task work, habits, regular breaks, and 1:1 meetings around your busy schedule. If plans change, Reclaim even makes it easy to reprioritize your calendar in one click so you don’t have to manually move things around.
3. Delegate what you can, drop what you must
Deprioritizing effectively means accepting when you can’t do something that week. If it doesn’t fit in your schedule, deprioritize it. Get it off your weekly plate by either delegating, bumping, or dropping the things you don’t have the time or bandwidth for. There’s no shame in not being able to do everything (nobody can!).
Review your to-do list when you’re time blocking priorities in your weekly plan. Using a priority management method like the Pareto Principle or the Eisenhower Matrix can help you identify what your priorities are, and what can be deprioritized according to their urgency and importance.
Here’s a basic guide to prioritizing with the Eisenhower Matrix:
- Urgent and important tasks should be prioritized and scheduled on your calendar.
- Important, but not urgent tasks can be planned into your week if there’s time, or bumped to future dates for long-term and strategic growth.
- Urgent, but not important tasks should be delegated to someone else if you do not have time for them around your existing priorities.
- Neither urgent, nor important tasks should be dropped from your weekly plan.
4. Set boundaries proactively
A big part of incorporating deprioritization into your routine is proactively setting boundaries around your time and bandwidth. Time blocking your calendar with your priority task work and routines is a great way to easily create transparency around your availability with your team. Beyond that, learning to respectfully decline projects and meetings that you don’t have the time for is also key to protecting your weeks from being overrun.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It might be easier to decline plans in your personal life, but saying “no” or communicating overwhelm with superiors is difficult for many professionals who have been ingrained with the toxic productivity mentality. Deprioritizing requests as they come in is key to preventing stress and time anxiety, and supports your long-term performance and wellbeing.
5. Put your health first
Ultimately, your wellbeing is your biggest priority. Working under immense pressure and stress for prolonged periods is detrimental to your physical and mental health – increasing the risk of medical conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, depression, digestive issues, and asthma.
Work is actually the second biggest cause of stress for Americans, and US workers clock an average of 1,767 hours per year versus an OECD country average of 1,687. Deprioritizing and setting boundaries is essential to both protecting your health and adopting a better work-life balance. Compromising on your health by being overrun simply can’t result in improved productivity.
Deprioritizing = better prioritizing 🙌
Deprioritizing is one of the most productive things you can do to optimize your work life. While it might be difficult (and even feel wrong) in the beginning, with a little practice you can start to see the benefits of deprioritization in your overall productivity and success.
You can’t do it all. Despite what many professionals have been made to believe – sacrificing your free time, overrunning your energy, and saying “yes” to anything that is proposed to you is not the key to unlocking your most productive self or succeeding in your career. Ultimately, creating sustainable change in your work-life balance is what makes the biggest difference. Remember, doing what you can is always enough.
Do you have any great tips that we missed? How do you feel about deprioritizing your tasks and routines? Tweet us @reclaimai!
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