The Secret to Prioritizing

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I feel like I have finally figured it out. I’ve been getting stressed out about to-do lists for years, but the last year (since I’ve had a baby), prioritizing has been particularly agonizing. I have been writing and rewriting lists of my priorities and wondering if I should just give up even trying to make to-do lists anyway.

Then I read a post at barefootinthekitchen and it all clicked. There are millions of priorities, hobbies, things I have to do and errands to run in my life. However, some are certainly more important than others. The three categories she named are what really helped me:

The essential, the necessary, and the nice.

Essential is my relationship with God. My prayer life. Period. For everything else to be running well, that has to be taken care of, and reading books about God doesn’t count. It has to be real, personal one-to-one contact. Preferably personal prayer, sacraments, spiritual direction or groups.

Necessary are all those things that have to be done in my life. For me, since I’m working part-time at the moment and have a baby, I have to plan my classes and take care of the house and my family. I also include exercise in my necessary column, necessary for my health and well-being. After much thought, I’ve also decided to include friendship, since I tend to leave it for last and that is a problem in my life.

Finally, all the rest are nice things. Even errands! This was the most ground-breaking conclusion for me. If I don’t have time to get to errands and those pesky things that I really want to, then that’s okay.

To make it all a little clearer, here is my list of priorities divided into the three categories:


This realization has opened up new worlds for me. For example, now that my priorities are clearer I didn’t feel bad when I spent money on prayer stools ordered online because they help me with my “essential” column. I will be more careful, however, with spending on “nice” things. I realize that if I get to the end of the day and only did the essential, that’s okay. However, if the “nice” took up all my time and I forgot the essential, that’s not okay. There are different levels of urgency in the necessary column. As “Auntie Leila” so eloquently explains in this fabulous post, the most important things she needs to get to her family are food and clean clothes. I like to think my most urgent necessary things are these two plus planning classes. The nice things, as painful as this might sound, are for when you have time and if you have time. I like the term “fringe hours”. If you have such a dense necessary column that you are unable to get to your nice column, maybe you need to re-evaluate your necessities.

Another thing that strikes me is that there is only one thing in my essential column. It makes me think of Jesus’s words, the motto for my blog, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” My focus should be to stay at Jesus’s feet.

Please share, what are in your three categories?

Julie Machado

Julie Machado

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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