How to Prioritize Tasks and Get More Done as a Busy Mom

One of the biggest productivity obstacles that busy moms face is knowing how to prioritize our tasks.

Do you sometimes feel at the end of the day that you didn’t really accomplish anything?

Yea sure, everyone was fed and all the kids are accounted for…but you still have that anxious feeling that there was a lot more that needed to happen that didn’t.

Everyone goes through this.  Especially us busy moms.

Most of our day is spent in the details of EVERY LITTLE THING that needs to happen to keep our family afloat.

This often makes it very hard for us to accomplish the BIG IMPORTANT things that are hanging over our heads.

I used to have this problem A LOT.

Until I discovered an amazing technique that has helped me to better understand and take action on the most important things that need to be done every day.

What is it?

PRIORITIZING MY TASK LIST!

Let me tell you exactly how I have implemented this time-management technique to truly change my productivity game.  It has been life-changing.

The Easiest Way for Busy Moms to Decide What to do First Every Day Decision Matrix MentalMommy.com

FIRST OF ALL, LET’S TALK ABOUT PRIORITIES

Lexico.com (powered by Oxford) defines a “priority” as:

“A thing that is regarded as more important than another.”

—-Also…I just have to laugh at the fact that the example sentence they use is “Housework didn’t figure high on her list of priorities.”

LOL, right?  Even the scholars at Oxford know that us BUSY MOMS ARE OVER IT.

So…what this means is that in order to prioritize your to-do list/task list…you need to decide which items are more important and therefore rank higher.

THE PRIORITIES AND TASKS OF BUSY MOMS

As busy moms, we have an endless amount of tasks that we need to accomplish every day.

Feeding, clothing, bathing, and caring for our children alone takes up the majority of our time and brain power.

But the fact of the matter is…it should.

We know that’s the most important thing to take care of and that those tiny (or big) humans depend on us to make it all happen.

busy mom cooking with her children

The physical and emotional needs of our children and family should always be what we give the highest priority to every day.  (yes, self care is very important, but that’s for another post)

So, that being said…when I make my prioritized task list I don’t literally write down: feed, clothe, and bathe the kids.  I just know that every day there is an overarching theme of “keep the children alive” and I don’t feel the need to actually list all that out.

But hey, if you feel it’s crucial to write those things on your list go right ahead.

We all have to do what’s best for us.

WHAT TASKS TO PRIORITIZE

So…if I’m not writing down “make kids breakfast” on my prioritized task list then what am I putting on there?

Here are just a few examples of things that need to go on your to-do list in a prioritized way:

  • Scheduling things:
    • Doctor visits
    • Hair cuts
    • Dental appointments
    • Repair work on the house
  • Registering/Signing-Up for things that have deadlines:
    • Summer camps
    • Kindergarten registration
    • College registration
    • Daycare registration
  • Purchases that need to be made by a certain date:
    • Shoes for specific sports, example: baseball cleats
    • Graduation cap and gown
    • Specific grocery items for upcoming events, example: church potluck
    • New life jackets before trip to the lake
  • Things that are routine, but still important
    • Making sure the house is clean and tidy
    • Doing laundry so everyone has clean clothes to wear
blank prioritized task list

As for all those “routine” things that pretty much have to happen every day…I don’t always actually write those down in an itemized way.  It might just be something like “kids’ rooms” if I am really needing to give them a good cleaning when they are a total disaster…but I don’t put down “pick up toys” on my every-day task list.  

That is just something I know has to happen daily and I include things like that more on my routines and schedules than on a prioritized task list.  

For example, the routine in our home is to have supper, then a little more play time, then pick up toys before bed…but I don’t spend time figuring out what priority picking up toys has on my daily to-do list.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ARE OFTEN THE HARDEST TO ACCOMPLISH

Have you ever thought about that?

Why is it that the things that we know are important seem to be the most difficult to complete?

We know it’s crucial.  Why can’t we just do it?

To put it simply…because it’s overwhelming.

High priority tasks are usually also BIG tasks that are difficult and/or require a lot of preparation and time.

So we tell ourselves that it’s just too much to think about or undertake at the moment and we put it off.

….and we put it off…

…again and again.

Sound familiar?

This used to be my biggest stumbling block of getting things done. I would just keep putting off big tasks and tell myself I would get to it when I had more time or was better prepared.

The key thing I was not understanding was that I needed to MAKE the time by prioritizing these things and getting them done FIRST.

BUSY MOMS SHOULD ALWAYS PRIORITIZE THEIR TASK LIST

Prioritizing and taking action on the things that we have decided are most important and urgent is going to leave us feeling much more accomplished and satisfied at the end of the day.

It’s just a good feeling to know that you completed a few things that were significant versus a whole bunch of things that weren’t that relevant.

Example: taking 30 minutes to vacuum the bedrooms while the kids are watching a cartoon instead of using that 30 minutes to make 2 really important phone calls you have been putting off.

That is not good time-management and it leads to decreased productivity.

Our time as busy moms is EXTREMELY precious and we must use it very wisely.

frustrated mom trying to work at computer with toddler in lap

You just never know what is going to happen next when you have kids.  

One minute they are quietly playing in their rooms…the next minute they’re rolling around in the floor pulling each other’s hair because one of them looked at the other one wrong. 

Oh, and that email that needs your full attention to write that you have put off all day and then decided to attempt while they were playing…yea that’s over.  

Yep.  Should have taken care of that this morning when they were still sleeping instead of scrolling social media.

Stings a little doesn’t it?

It’s because we’re all guilty of it. Where do you think I came up with that example?

That has literally happened to me more times than I can count.

It’s always one of two things…they are either fighting or need a diaper changed or butt wiped.

It’s funny because it’s true.

THE BEST WAY TO PRIORITIZE YOUR TASKS AS A BUSY MOM IN ORDER TO GET MORE DONE

The best and simplest way for busy moms to prioritize tasks is by using the Eisenhower Matrix/Decision Matrix.

Don’t worry.

It’s not as scary as it sounds.

No math, I promise.

An Eisenhower Matrix/Decision Matrix is a simple yet POWERFUL tool that visually guides you through deciding the importance and urgency of tasks and then determining what action to take…options being: “do”, “decide”, “delegate”, or “delete”.

I first heard of this method from Suzi Whitford from StartAMomBlog.com.  She is a VERY accomplished blogger who is also an engineer and expert on lean systems and productivity.

She has managed to make over a million dollars with her blog…all while being at home with 3 kids.  So yes, she knows what she is talking about.

Anyways, one day I was making my way through all of her YouTube videos when I came across one where she explains all about the Eisenhower Matrix.  

It majorly piqued my interest so I started doing some research of my own and decided I would start implementing this in my own life in order to get more done every day.

In the beginning I would just use a scrap piece of notebook paper to do my decision matrix…but then I created my own “fancy” one that made me happy to look at and I enjoyed completing.

decision matrix preview

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HOW TO FILL IN YOUR DECISION MATRIX IN ORDER TO GENERATE A PRIORITIZED TASK LIST

Okay, so the nitty gritty.

You need to start by thinking of all the things you need to get done.

If you’re like me they roll around in your head all day.

The way I begin this process is that BEFORE I start filling in my decision matrix I do what is called a BRAIN DUMP.

You can read all about how I do my brain dump EVERY NIGHT in order to get all the things I need to accomplish out of my head and in front of me on paper so that I can then prioritize them.

For me, I use these 3 tools together every night in order to have an action plan for the next day so that I can maximize my productivity.

The 3 tools I’m referring to are:

  1. Brain Dump
  2. Eisenhower Matrix (Decision Matrix)
  3. Prioritized Task List
mentalmommy.com brain dump decision matrix task list numbered process
MentalMommy.com Brain Dump + Decision Matrix + Prioritized Task List process diagram

After I have finished my brain dump, I then start to work on my decision matrix.

There are 4 categories that items can be placed in:

  1. Important + Urgent = Do
  2. Important + Not Urgent = Decide
  3. Not Important + Urgent = Delegate
  4. Not Important + Not Urgent = Delete

Here is a table where you can see some examples of each category:

Important + Urgent-Schedule oil change that is past due
-Call gas company about suspected gas leak
Do – put it at the top of your task list and do it!
Important + Not Urgent-Schedule kids’ yearly well visits with pediatricianDecide – Schedule a time to complete these tasks later on.
Not Important + Urgent-Requests from friends or family members that aren’t necessarily critical, but have a time constraint, Example: answering your friends text about what to get your daughter for her birthdayDelegate – have your husband or someone else do the tasks in this category if possible.
Not Important + Not Urgent-Finish Netflix series
-Clean garage
Delete – don’t worry about it.  Dump it.
MentalMommy.com Decision Matrix examples table

I personally have the hardest time with the “Not Important + Urgent = Delegate” category.  

It is VERY HARD for me to delegate. 

I like to do all that I can myself because I like things done a certain way, but I know from experience that this makes me more stressed than what is necessary so I am really trying to do better at this.

INTERPRETING YOUR RESULTS

When you are done you will have items in 4 different quadrants.

The top left quadrant will be your most important and urgent tasks that need to be given the highest priority on your to-do list. You will need to do these first.

mentalmommy.com decision matrix important and urgent

The top right corner is your “decide” quadrant. These are tasks that are important and do need to get done, but they aren’t as urgent as the items in the top left quadrant. Typically, what I do with these items is sort of leave them there until the more urgent items have been completed. So basically they end up on the to-do list for a later day.

mentalmommy.com decision matrix important and not urgent

The bottom left corner is for the items that are urgent, but not as important. You should try to delegate these items to someone else if possible. Like I said before, this is the section I have the most difficulty with because I like try to do everything myself.

mentalmommy.com decision matrix not important and urgent

The last quadrant, the bottom right, are your “delete” or “dump” items. NOW THIS DOES NOT MEAN that you are never going to do these things. Remember, you should be doing this brain dump + decision matrix + prioritized task list process every night or every other night. SO…this section is still an important part of the process because these items can eventually end up in one of the other quadrants when you have completed the more urgent tasks.

For example…say you really want to clean out your garage. It’s not vital. No one is going to die if you don’t, but you still eventually want to get that done because it bothers you. However, you have several other things that are much more important and urgent that you know need to be taken care of first. What should happen is that “clean garage” will hang out in your “delete” area of your decision matrix for a while. Then, when those other higher priority things are taken care of you will have the time to clean your garage.

mentalmommy.com decision matrix not important + not urgent

Now let’s talk about how to make your to-do list from your decision matrix results.

HOW TO GENERATE YOUR PRIORITIZED TASK LIST FROM YOUR DECISION MATRIX RESULTS

Like I said, I think it is best to do this brain dump > decision matrix > prioritized task list process every night before bed.  Sometimes I skip a night, but I don’t like to go longer than that.

This way you can immediately make your prioritized task list and have an ACTION PLAN for the next day.

Now, I’m not saying you should make plans to do EVERYTHING in the Important + Urgent category the next day.

Instead what I do is determine 3 things that I need to attempt to achieve the following day…ONE BIG thing and then TWO SMALLER tasks, while keeping in mind all of the “everyday” activities that will need to be taken care of.

The printable I created and use is divided into 4 sections:

1. The Big One
2. Small Task #1
3. Small Task #2
4. Everyday Tasks

mentalmommy.com prioritized task list printable

NOTE: The 4 sections of the decision matrix are NOT meant to perfectly correspond to the 4 sections of the task list sheet.

The task list printable is designed so that you can use it by itself if you prefer.

What I typically do is take items from the top two quadrants of the decision matrix and then plug them into the top 3 sections of my task list. The rest is just ordinary/routine things that need to get done and I want visible on the task list as a reminder.

Keeping it to an average of 3 important things to complete per day will help keep you from getting overwhelmed.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to do too much in one day.  That is a sure-fire way to end up lying awake at night upset because you started a bunch of stuff but didn’t finish any of it.

THE BENEFITS OF PRIORITIZING YOUR TASKS

As I have explained in my brain dump post, I have a very specific routine:  I get everything done for the night…kids bathed and put in bed, stories read and prayers said.  Then I turn off all the lights in the house except for the kitchen.  I sit down at my kitchen bar with my brain dump, decision matrix, and prioritized task list templates and get to work.

It usually takes me around 20 minutes to get all 3 completed.

Doing this before bed will help to clear your mind so that you can fall asleep easier and get better rest.

It’s positively amazing to go to bed with a calm mind instead of lying there for an hour worried about what you didn’t get done today and where to start tomorrow.

You’ll also find that you will wake up more motivated because you know that you have a plan of action that is ATTAINABLE.

Trust me.

Implementing this method of prioritizing your tasks will CHANGE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY GAME.

It certainly has mine.

TRY MY PRIORITIZING TASKS PROCESS FOR YOURSELF AND MANAGE YOUR TIME MORE EFFICIENTLY

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While you’re here…be sure to click around and read my other posts about time management and productivity for busy moms!  

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