Help Children and Teens Learn to Prioritize Their Lives


Organization doesn’t only refer to our child’s physical items and physical possessions; it can also include organizing their time and activities. Taking time to label what they want and need to accomplish allows them to sort through everything on their “plate” and how to tackle it. Since everything is lined out and identified, regulating their time and energy can seem less overwhelming and stress producing.

Write It Down

When organizing their priorities, it is important for children to write them all down and make themselves some sort of “primary list” because it helps them remember everything they want or need to accomplish or complete later. This list gives them a visual aide to use when making organizational decisions. They don’t have to list the items in any particular order, but just list anything that comes to mind. Once they feel they have completed the list (for now), then they can go back and assign their tasks in priority order. Common codes such as ABC or 123 can be used to determine each listings priority and how they will proceed with each one.
Common methods for “writing down” items and tasks to go on their “To-Do List” include:

  • Use an agenda or day-to-day planner
  • IPad (or other tablet) and/or IPhone (or other smartphone)
  • Laptop
  • Use post-it-notes
  • White board
  • Family or personal calendar

Help your children and family find the approach that works best for them and use it “always”.

An Amazing Tool to Identify Urgent and Important Tasks To-Do

Sometimes we confuse our urgent priorities with our important ones, which can cause us to be confused about what to take care of first. The Urgent/Important Matrix is a tool that we can use to think about our priorities and how we handle them. Before we can use the matrix, we must write down everything we want to accomplish in a certain period of time, such as daily, weekly, or even further and assign their priority in which we want to get them done (See previous exercise).
The matrix is divided into four quadrants, each ranging in importance, and allows for activities and projects to be plotted in each one based on their need. Using the list, the child creates with your help, you and your child would plot each job in the corresponding quadrant. After all of the tasks have been plotted, you can see all of the things your child wants or needs to do and how urgent or important they are to us and them. This leads them to make better choices regarding their time management and overall organization.

Here is one of many versions of the Urgent/Important Matrix that can be used for various things. We’ve included a common version that can be used with everyday activities.


Divide Tasks

Now that your child made a list and categorized all of the things they want and need to accomplish, it can seem overwhelming or even intimidating to get started. But by dividing their tasks into smaller groups of things to do, they can feel more empowered to get them done. Tasks can be divided any way that is convenient, such as things to do for one particular project or maybe even things to do that involve going through papers. They key is to find what combination works for them.
Helpful hints:

  • Sort tasks by each specific project
  • Decide what tasks can be done the fastest
  • Determine what tasks will need more time

80/20 Rule

Simply put, the 80/20 Rule targets the need to focus on what is or should be important to our children, and disregarding the rest. In most cases, 20% of things we have or accumulate are important to us, while the other 80% is usually trivial, if not useless. If the 20% is handled first and focused upon, the remaining 80% practically takes care of itself. For example, using the 80/20 Rule, they can sit down with their daily To-Do List and identify the top three or four projects or tasks that need to be done (the 20%). Then outline the less important things that can be done next, or even at a later time (the 80%). By focusing on what is the most important/urgent first, they are more focused and ready to tackle them. Once they are completed, the rest of the tasks seem less daunting and can be done with ease.
The 80/20 Rule is about being organized while doing what they want and need in their everyday life (and not just more organizing!).

Excerpts taken from the workbook titled “Organizational Skills for High School, College, and Career Readiness” Program, offered at The Support for Students Growth Center in Boca Raton.