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When you have a lot on your plate, and every task feels just as important as the next, it can start to feel incredibly overwhelming. If there’s no immediate crisis or deadline to push you into action, you may be crippled by not knowing where to begin. 

Many people who have ADHD struggle when it comes to prioritizing. Not knowing where to begin, they tend to get stuck in inaction until an emergency forces them to take action. Putting out fires left and right is both ineffective and stressful. 

The ability to prioritize tasks impacts your ability to organize, manage your time and initiate tasks. Learning to prioritize and plan effectively will not only help to make your day less stressful, but it will also lead to more productivity. 

The Fundamentals of Prioritization 

Before we get into the weeds of how to prioritize tasks, it’s important to understand the basic fundamentals of prioritizing — urgency and importance. The urgency of a task has to do with when it’s due. An urgent task needs to be done within a certain timeframe or has a looming due date. The importance of a task has to do with the significance you attribute to that task. 

There are two main factors that go into how you prioritize tasks. The first has to do with comprehending the task, learning what needs to be done, when it needs to be done and why. The second has to do with your own feelings about the tasks. 

Memories, both conscious and unconscious, related to the task at hand play a role in how you feel about it, the significance you attribute to it and whether or not you’re interested in it. 

President Dwight D. Eisenhower developed The Eisenhower Matrix to help him prioritize tasks and determine which ones to focus on. It can be a helpful tool in prioritizing tasks. 

Urgent Not Urgent
Important Quadrant 1 – Tasks that are both urgent and important, like:

  • Emergencies
  • Tasks with looming deadlines
  • Last-minute items
Quadrant 2 – Tasks that are important but not urgent, like:

  • Hobbies
  • Maintaining relationships
  • Making healthy choices
Not Important Quadrant 3 – Tasks that are urgent but not important, like: 

  • Some emails, calls, or texts
  • Certain meetings
  • Interruptions
Quadrant 4 – Tasks that are neither important or urgent

  • Surfing the web
  • Recreation, like watching TV or playing a game
  • Checking your social media timeline


Items Quadrant 1 should be your highest priority and the first on your to-do list. Items in Quadrant 2 can be scheduled for later in the day. Items in Quadrant 3 can be delegated to someone else or completed after more urgent tasks. Finally, items in quadrant 4 can be crossed off of your list. 

4 Ways to Prioritize More Effectively With ADHD

  1. Make a To-Do List 

In order to prioritize, you need to be able to compare the importance and urgency of each task that you need to complete. To do this, you need to have a central place to write down everything on your list. This way, you can compare your tasks side by side. 

Many people who have ADHD try to keep a running list of everything they have to do in their head. Or, they may write down each item on a different piece of paper that gets displaced somewhere. 

Take some time to sit down, take a few deep breaths, and make a list of everything you can think of that you need to do. Don’t worry if you can’t remember everything on your plate in one sitting. You can always add things later on if necessary. 

  1. Determine the Urgency and Importance of Each Task

Prioritizing tasks is all about focusing on more urgent and important tasks first, and other tasks down the road. But not every task will have a cut and dry due date, nor will the importance always be obvious of certain tasks. 

After you write down all of the tasks on your list, take some time to determine when they need to be done and how important they are to get done. Number each task by priority to make it easy to see what’s first on your list. 

Sometimes, it can be difficult to figure out where a task should be on your priority list. Here are a few questions to ask yourself that may help:

  • What are the rewards for getting the task done? 
  • What are the consequences for failing to get the task done?
  • Which task do I feel like avoiding the most?

Often, it’s the tasks that you want to avoid doing the most that are actually the most important to get started. 

  1. Find an Accountability Buddy

Learning to prioritize is important, but it’s not something you have to do all by yourself. For many teens and adults with ADHD, having someone to talk through important and urgent tasks with can help to clarify grey areas. Not only can it be extremely helpful to get an outside perspective when prioritizing tasks, but it can also hold you accountable to actually getting things done. 

Think about someone in your life — a friend or family member — who can support you in prioritizing your to-do list and working through it. Texting a friend at the start of a new task or calling a parent after you cross a task off of your list can go a long way to keeping you on track. 

  1. Grant Yourself Time and Patience

Learning to plan and prioritize can take time and lots of practice. For people with ADHD (and for many people without ADHD as well), prioritization can be an especially challenging skill to learn, and it’s normal to stumble along the way. 

Be compassionate to yourself when you experience setbacks or run into obstacles, and celebrate the small and large steps you take to prioritize and accomplish your to-do list more effectively. The more you validate and celebrate your efforts, the more confident you’ll feel.

Dr. Cassidy Blair of Blair Wellness Group is a licensed clinical psychologist dedicated to helping our clients develop techniques for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression while coping with lifestyle and professional challenges to enjoy emotional sobriety in their relationships and improve their overall quality of life.

We serve clients in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Brentwood, West Hollywood, and the surrounding areas. Schedule your appointment today. 

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