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Prioritizing Time to Manage Stress

Finding time to get all the things done that you want or need to do often leads to stress. You may be able to relieve some of this stress by prioritizing your time according to what is urgent and important. Use the following steps to prioritize your time.

1. Put your activities into categories

Make a list of all the things you need or want to accomplish (tasks or activities) in a given day, week, or month. Look at the list and decide if an activity is important, urgent, or both important and urgent. All your activities are likely to be somewhat important and somewhat urgent, so rank them as more or less important or urgent compared with others on your list.

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  • Important tasks or activities are those that are meaningful or important to you, such as spending time with your family, helping friends, getting exercise, and creative activities. They are also actions you must eventually take to avoid some major problem or crisis, such as paying your bills to avoid bad credit, foreclosure, or bill collectors.
  • Urgent tasks or activities are those that must be done immediately, even if the task itself is not very important. For example, turning the heat off under a pot of cooked rice becomes urgent, although it rarely is a very important task. An important task, such as paying your electric bill, becomes urgent when your electricity is about to be cut off. Many people never deal with the important things until they become urgent as well. This approach always leads to stress.

2. Sort your activities

Activity rating
I Important and urgent
II Important but not urgent
III Not important but urgent
IV Not important and not urgent

3. Evaluate your priorities

Where do you spend most of your time? Is this in line with your priorities and goals? Many people find that they are putting most of their activities in category III (not important but urgent). If this is the case, you may be spending most of your time doing things that mean little to you. This often results in stress.

Category I can't be ignored but should eventually shrink with attention to category II. For example, if you pay your bills when you get them, you won't have to juggle your finances and hurriedly write checks on their due date. This will also free up time to do things that are more important to you.

Most experts say that you should spend:

  • 15% to 20% of your time in category I.
  • 60% to 75% of your time in category II.
  • Up to 5% of your time in category III. Time in this category is often used to do tasks that are requested by or done for others.

The goal of this system is not merely to get more things done or to be more efficient but to clarify the way you set your priorities and how you choose to spend your time.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven Locke, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised May 3, 2013

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 03, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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