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Are You on Your Priority List?

to do listWhat does your to-do list look like?  Is it filled with household chores and work obligations?  Is much of your time spent taking care of the needs of others—children, a partner, elderly parents?  Are you someone who says ‘yes’ to helping out with the PTO fundraiser, putting together that extra presentation at work or organizing the family get together?

These are all valuable things to do and many of them may be essential to the people that you care about in your life.  Some may bring you pleasure and satisfaction, while others are chores that suck away precious time and leave you off of your own list of things to do.

Women are especially prone to putting everyone else’s needs before their own, but with today’s pressures, men often find themselves in the same predicament– caring for others, while neglecting themselves. In the midst of daily demands it’s easy to lose ourselves.

Thoughts that indicate you may be too far down your own priority list include telling yourself that “other people’s problems are more important than your own” or that “I can’t stand it if someone gets upset with me.”

Routinely putting other people’s needs first means your needs often get bumped to the bottom of the list.  Once they’re on the bottom, they frequently fall right off.  At the same time, excessive worries about other people getting upset with you makes it extremely difficult to assert your own wants and needs.

If you suspect that your sacrificing your own well-being to accommodate other people’s needs and demands, it may be time to make a change.

To begin:

  • Make a list of your own priorities.  These are the things that are important to you, deserve your attention and make life meaningful and fulfilling.  They can include your spiritual needs, your need for intellectual growth or your health and wellness needs.  Once you’ve made your list, identify your top three priorities.
  • Make a similar list, but this time, focus on those needs and demands of others that you find take up your time and energy and take you away from focusing on your own priorities.  You may want to jot down items as you go through a typical day.  Notice demands, such as washing dishes, mundane tasks at work, volunteer work, responding to email and preparing meals.
  • Once you’ve made your list, identify three or more tasks that you can simply not do (sometimes we get stuck doing things because we feel we “should” but no real harm will come from skipping them).  If you’re a neat nick, you may be able to skip some of your regular cleaning, if you respond immediately to every email, call and social contact, you may be able to simply give up some less important interactions.  What you simply skip is dependent on your own personality and your assessment of what, in your life, you can loosen up on.
  • Now identify three or more tasks that you can give to someone else, train someone else to do or negotiate to offload
  • Giving unwanted tasks to someone else can be difficult, but it is possible.  Initially you may get some flack.  You may need to counter worries about disappointing or frustrating other people with thoughts such as “I can respond to other people better if I take care of myself” or “my needs are just as important as other people’s needs.”
  • Once you have given up some of those demands from others, be sure to replace them with your own priorities from the first list that you made.

Making a new habit takes time.  Pay close attention for several weeks, to ensure that new demands from others don’t creep up on you.  Once you’ve made a habit of including yourself on your priority list, you’ll be better able to say ‘no’ to other people’s demands that interfere with your ability to take care of yourself.

To do list photo available from Shutterstock.

Are You on Your Priority List?

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2012). Are You on Your Priority List?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Jan 2012
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