Why We Struggle to Prioritize

Prioritization is one of the most challenging tasks we face, both in our personal and professional lives. We constantly juggle multiple responsibilities, projects, and goals, all competing for our limited time and attention. Despite our best intentions, we often find ourselves overwhelmed and unable to focus on what truly matters. Why is it so hard to prioritize effectively? Drawing from my extensive work on goal-setting, product management, and organizational behavior, I’ve uncovered some key reasons behind this struggle and strategies to overcome it.

The Myth of Multitasking

One of the primary reasons we struggle with prioritization is our belief in multitasking. We live in a culture that glorifies being busy and doing many things at once. However, research and experience show that multitasking is a myth. Our brains are not wired to handle multiple tasks simultaneously with equal efficiency. When we try to multitask, we end up spreading our attention thin, resulting in lower quality work and increased stress.

To combat this, I advocate for focusing on one task at a time, a principle rooted in my teachings on OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). By setting clear, specific objectives and aligning our efforts towards achieving them, we can eliminate distractions and direct our energy where it counts. This approach not only enhances productivity but also fosters a deeper sense of accomplishment and progress.

The Paradox of Choice

Another significant factor contributing to our prioritization woes is the paradox of choice. In today’s world, we are inundated with options and opportunities, each promising to be the key to success and happiness. While having choices can empower, it can also be paralyzing. The fear of making the wrong decision often leads to analysis paralysis, where we spend more time deliberating than doing.

I address this issue by encouraging the practice of ruthless prioritization. This means being willing to say no to good opportunities to focus on the best ones. It involves making tough decisions and being comfortable with the possibility of missing out on certain things. By narrowing our focus and committing to a select few priorities, we can achieve greater clarity and direction.

The Distraction Economy

We live in an age of constant connectivity and information overload. Smartphones, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle bombard us with notifications and updates, pulling our attention in countless directions. This relentless influx of information makes it challenging to maintain focus on our priorities.

To manage these distractions, I suggest adopting “no phone zones.” These zones can be either physical spaces or designated times during which you avoid using your phone. For instance, you could schedule specific times for checking emails and social media or use tools and apps designed to block distractions during focused work periods.

Another effective strategy is using a timer while working. I use a cube timer because, unlike a phone, it offers little chance for distraction. Setting the timer helps me concentrate on the task at hand without the temptation to check notifications.

Finally, practicing mindfulness and meditation can significantly improve your ability to stay focused. These practices involve being fully engaged in the present moment and resisting the urge to multitask or switch contexts frequently. By incorporating these strategies, you can better manage distractions and maintain your focus on what truly matters.


The Lack of Clear (or too many) Goals

A lack of clear goals is a common obstacle to effective prioritization. Without a clear sense of direction, it becomes difficult to determine what tasks and activities are most important. This often leads to reactive decision-making, where we respond to the most urgent demands rather than focusing on our long-term objectives.

My work on OKRs provides a powerful framework for setting and achieving clear goals. When you have a singular goal for your company and one for your team, you can prioritize all decisions against this, making it easier to choose tasks that align with our broader vision.

The Emotional Component

Prioritization is not just a logical exercise; it is also deeply emotional. Our decisions about what to prioritize are often influenced by our fears, desires, and insecurities. We may prioritize tasks that provide immediate gratification or avoid tasks that seem difficult or uncomfortable. This emotional bias can lead us to make choices that are not in our best long-term interest.

It’s critical to have self-awareness when overcoming these emotional barriers. By recognizing our biases and understanding the underlying motivations behind our choices, we can make more rational and effective prioritization decisions. If you hold regular retrospectives in your work, you build up your understanding of which biases you and your team as prone to.


Prioritization is a skill that requires practice, discipline, and self-awareness. By understanding the common obstacles that hinder our ability to prioritize effectively, we can develop strategies to overcome them. My work provides valuable insights and tools for mastering this essential skill. Whether it’s through embracing single-tasking, practicing ruthless prioritization, managing distractions, setting clear goals, or addressing emotional biases, we can learn to prioritize more effectively and achieve greater success and fulfillment in our lives.



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