What To Prioritize?

Prioritization of duties is a key skill to master if you want to get anything done.

Without the proper prioritization, all your projects will fall by the wayside in a jumbled mess of inconsistency and stress.

But how do we calculate importance? Is what you want more important than what you need to do, or should you set aside your dreams because you have deadlines?

Well, thankfully we have a really handy graph which pretty much outlines everything we need to think about, in order, to set our priorities straight. This is called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It's a pyramid not because triangles look pretty, but because it perfectly shows a hierarchy of importance between all the layers - If the base falls, everything else will fall with it.

It is a really helpful representation of importance to keep in mind when deciding how to plan your week. But if you're like me, you might be wondering what each layer means. The picture here makes a good job of describing what is what, well except for self-actualization... But let me break it down into an even more understandable and relatable format and explain exactly why the layers are in this order.

Physiological Needs

Physiological needs are needs that you literally need to live: air, water, food, shelter, clothing.

It's pretty obvious then why these are at the bottom, if you can't secure these needs your attention should be on getting them met in a manner that allows you to survive. This will be your full time job, you won't have attention to spare to start thinking about your safety needs.

If one of the tasks you have is to procure these resources needed to survive, these should be at the top of your to-do list. However, for most of us this won't be the case as grocery shopping usually isn't an urgent matter.

Safety Needs

Safety needs are needs that ensure you are stable: physical security, resources, health, property.

Notice how physical security is only one aspect of safety needs. Safety isn't restricted to physical safety, economic and medical safety is just as important. Stability and predictability are essential to our lives for us to be able to move forward and plan the future. If we can't plan the days ahead then there's no way to plan for months or even years ahead.

Not only will it be hard to plan but we cannot move up and think about building relationships and connections. Money destroys relationships. This is a very common phrase I hear thrown around all the time, which is very true. But it's not money's fault inherently. The falling apart comes from the uncertainty of the future. We don't like living in fear of what's going to happen. It creates enormous stress which leads to tempers flaring and then the destruction of relationships.

This is as true for money as it is for personal safety, employment, and health (although society pretty much removed the option of leaving someone because they're sick).

If you have tasks that relate to keeping your job or your house, getting out of danger, making money, or being healthy, those should be second on your to-do list.

Love And Belonging

Love and belonging refers to meaningful relationships: friendships, intimacy, family, fitting in.

As social creatures, we depend heavily on what people think of us. We need people to like us in order for us to feel like we matter. It sounds shallow, and some of you may be thinking that this doesn't describe you, but you'd be wrong. However, this doesn't mean one must have a large social group. A small group of friends is enough to meet these needs if they are quality friends.

If these needs aren't met we start to feel like we don't belong, like there's something wrong with us and that's we can't make connections, which leads us to lose hope and stop trying and fall into a very dangerous downward spiral. In other words, we lose all self-esteem.

Tasks that work towards finding or creating meaningful relationships OR helping you fit in, such as being less awkward, creating a better outward image, these should follow safety-related tasks.


Esteem needs are related to feeling good about ourselves and being valued by others: respect, self-esteem,

status, recognition.

This is where it may start to get a bit confusing. Our perceptions of ourselves are closely related to other's perceptions of us, that's why it's important to work on both, however, usually bringing up one brings up the other as well. One of the ways to build esteem is fitting in and making yourself more attractive socially, which is essentially love and belonging.

The other way is taking care of ourselves and making us more likable to ourselves. This includes working towards our goals, removing stress, and bettering our mood. Positive perceptions of ourselves bring confidence which promotes positive perceptions by others. These needs are closely tied to love and belonging and usually working on one helps the other, however, esteem is a byproduct of love and belonging and comes after.

Without esteem we cannot work on self-actualization, that is reaching our potential, because we either lack the confidence to do so, or other people will bring us down or otherwise not help us since we provided nothing to make them believe we are worth the effort.

Tasks that work towards bettering yourself fall within this category and should be placed under love and belonging.


Self-actualization refers to feeling fulfilled and reaching our potential: unique to each person.

The peak of Maslow's hierarchy is self-actualization. The point we should strive for, which is the most important section of our lives, is reaching our potential. It is the most important section because this will bring prosperity and happiness, however, it is at the bottom of my list since these are tasks that require everything else to be met first, which goes against our natural disposition that importance = priority.

Without every previous criteria met, any effort in reaching our potential is ineffective at best or futile at worst. Thankfully, for most of us the first two layers are met by right of birth, love and belonging, and esteem, are the ones most people will be focused on but there is a lot of material and research on how these two layers can be met, the hard part is implementing them.

But for self-actualization, these tasks are unique to each individual, and depending on your choice, the support may or may not be there to help you, many of us will have to figure out this layer by ourselves which is what makes is most daunting and difficult. However, nothing good comes easy, the higher the risk, the higher the reward - usually.

Self-actualization tasks should ironically be at the bottom of your prioritization order, however, you must do everything in your power to get down to these tasks and start crossing these off your list!

. . .

Maslow's hierarchy of needs offers a good way to understand what should be most urgent in our lives. It may get a little confusing or counterintuitive, but the reasoning is solid so trust the method. Your tasks should be prioritized based on the order of the pyramid, which may feel like it contradicts what we believe should be important, however, it does not. The bottom layers are important because without those we can't move up, but the layer we should be aiming for is the top layer, so it is important that we do everything we can to meet all needs until we reach self-actualization.


Hi, I'm Matthew, my mission is to spread knowledge about motivation, productivity, and enabling people to achieve the best that they can be! I have a vast background in psychology and a passion for self-improvement. I literally can't remember a time when I didn't have a psychology book in my hands. On top of that, I've traveled around the world from a very young age, and seen many different courses of life, forming friendships with highly successful people, as well as people who are willing to do anything to make ends meet. My own life took me down a roller coaster of highs and lows, and I'm forever grateful that I've been able to overcome everything it threw at me. Now I want to take the opportunity to give back, and help others learn tools and methods for becoming who they were born to be!


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