Mental Health: ABC Task Prioritization


Given that almost everyone’s schedule and duties have changed drastically over the past few weeks, you may be finding it more difficult to complete the tasks you need to get done – or even forgetting what tasks you are supposed to do altogether. In today’s #HBHealthAtHome mental health video, Dr. Doug Terry shares an easy way to create and manage a “to do” list by giving some pointers about how to prioritize your tasks so you can get things done efficiently.

The new trick is to prioritize your to-do list into three categories, A, B, and C. Super-simple, where the tasks in the A section of your to-do list are the most important things, the things that you really need to get done within the next 24 hours or there might be some consequences.

For example, If I don’t pay my rent in the next day or two, I might forget and get a late fee, and nobody wants that. Or if my sink breaks today, calling a plumber is definitely going to be in the A section of my to-do list.

As you might guess, the B section is things that are important, but a little less important. Or I might not need to do them today, but I might need to do them within the next three days. For example, if I had stuff at the dry cleaner, I might not need those clothes today, but it might be important for me to get them by Friday; otherwise, I might forget. Or if I have an unimportant work task where my boss says, “Get this done by the end of the week,” well, that would go in the B section; because again, I have a few days to accomplish that.

The C section is full of things that aren’t as important, but you’d really like to do them, like calling a friend back or scheduling a play date or a dinner with a friend or working on a project that you’ve been meaning to get done, like cleaning out the garage.

That’s how to sort these tasks on your to-do list into those three categories.

Now, as a general rule, you want to accomplish the tasks in the A section before you do the tasks in the B and the C section, right? An exception might be, if you’re at a store accomplishing something in the A section, buying a certain item, and you also pick up some other items that might not be as necessary.

Another really important thing is to break big tasks down into smaller tasks. For example, if you have a really big assignment at work and that assignment has several components to it, putting each of the components on your to-do list. It’s a lot easier to get them done if they’re broken up.

You want to review your to-do list each day and cross out the things that you’ve done and constantly add new things. The worst thing that can happen is if you forget to put it on your to-do list, and then you forget about it altogether. So it’s important to have your to-do list with you at all times, whether that be on your phone or just on a pad of paper that you can keep in your pocket or your purse.

If you notice things, for example, things in the C section that are getting carried over from week to week, you might be procrastinating on those things, and it could be time to move those up if they’re becoming more important.

As always, if you need help keeping things on track or would like to speak to someone at Home Base, please visit or call our clinic at 617-724-5202.

About the Author: Dr. Terry is a neuropsychologist at Home Base and a faculty member in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. He specializes in the assessment of neurocognitive and emotional difficulties and provides clinical services in Home Base’s outpatient Traumatic Brain Injury program and Intensive Clinical Program (ICP). Dr. Terry also works in the MassGeneral Hospital for Children™ Sports Concussion Program and is a researcher for the Harvard Football Players Health Study. He has an active research program and has published over 30 peer-reviewed publications on traumatic brain injury and concussion in athletes, veterans, and civilians. He has lectured nationally and internationally on these topics.