Having trouble prioritizing at work? This may be why
- Quick tip 1Create daily to-do lists.Create daily to-do lists.
Write down tasks in order of importance or deadlines. Check off tasks as you go.
No matter what your job is, chances are that some tasks are more important than others. And some tasks need to get done before others. For many people, prioritizing tasks is easy and happens naturally. For others, it’s a real challenge.
There are a number of reasons why people struggle with prioritizing. A common one is trouble with executive function — a group of skills that help us get tasks done. People with ADHD struggle with these key skills, although others may, too.
Here are five common reasons people have trouble prioritizing at work:
1. Being anxious or overwhelmed by work
If you need to juggle multiple tasks, or have trouble managing time, you may feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do. You might focus on tasks that are easiest or quickest to get done, even if they’re not the most important. And if tasks are difficult, you may feel anxious and put off doing them.
2. Not recognizing or remembering what’s most important
3. Difficulty planning and organizing
Even if you know which tasks are most important and why, you may struggle to come up with a plan for getting them done. That’s especially true if there are multiple steps to a task. Once you’re working on that task, you may have trouble planning for or keeping track of less important tasks.
4. Getting fixated on other, less important tasks
You might be so caught up in a task or a project that you can’t put it aside. It’s more important to you, even if it’s not the most important thing for you to work on right now.
5. Trouble shifting from task to task
It may be hard for you to change direction and move from one task to another, even if it’s important or urgent. Switching gears often means adjusting to new circumstances and adopting a new plan. It may also take you more time than it takes other people to process new information.
ADHD and prioritizing tasks
Because people with ADHD struggle with executive function skills, they often have trouble prioritizing tasks. “People will say, ‘If I have a bunch of stuff to do at one time, it’s really hard for me to look at it and say, OK, that should be first. That should be second. That should be third,’” explains clinical psychologist and ADHD expert Dr. Thomas Brown.
“But even when they get their priorities straight, which doesn’t often happen, they tend to have a lot of difficulty getting started,” he adds.
Focusing on the right tasks at work requires executive function skills.
These skills include attention, memory, planning, and shifting gears.
People with executive function challenges and ADHD often struggle with prioritizing tasks.
About the author
About the author
Gail Belsky is executive editor at Understood. She has written and edited for major media outlets, specializing in parenting, health, and career content.
Andrew Kahn, PsyD is a licensed psychologist who focuses on ADHD, learning differences, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, behavior challenges, executive function, and emotional regulation.