Ugh, priorities! How many problems have we encountered for not establishing priorities in life?
And still, up to this moment, we are struggling to set our priorities straight.
Well, there is no doubt that this year has given us more than enough opportunities to see what we should be correcting.
However, as much as people talk about priorities, the truth is we usually don’t understand how they work or how they can impact our life.
In fact, a priorities list is not a simple to-do list. Instead, it is supposed to reflect what’s valuable to you, what your goals are, and how you manage your time.
In conclusion? It is not a simple scribble in a piece of paper. Agreed.
Let’s start with the basics: What is a priority?
As I said, numerous people are confused about what a priority is and what it is not.
A priority is “something that is considered more important than other matters” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020)
Simple enough… It is what is more important to you. Nevertheless, priorities shouldn’t be seen in an isolated way. On the contrary, putting something as a priority in our daily life usually means there is a pending goal behind it.
In short, your current priorities are defined by the goals you are pursuing in the long term, like creating a new habit, getting a promotion, or becoming healthier.
Why do you need to set priorities in life?
Have you ever felt like you have so much to do but you aren’t enough to keep up?
Let’s imagine a typical Saturday.
You have your son’s friend birthday party, a work meeting that wasn’t supposed to happen, you have to do your groceries, change your car’s oil, finish your homework, a friend’s bachelorette party at night, a family dinner at your parent’s and another friend just texted saying she broke up with her boyfriend and wants to talk.
Indeed, life is fast, rushed, and busy. However, if you are guided by priorities, you will maximize your time as you’ll dedicate it to the things that are truly significant and relevant, instead of those that won’t contribute anything to your goals or to the person you want to be.
Your time is gold, right? And how you decide to spend it, matters.
Also, after focusing your efforts, you will avoid burn-outs and you will preserve your mental and emotional health during the course of the week.
How to finally set your priorities straight in life?
We previously mentioned that priorities derive from your goals. Therefore, you cannot set your priorities straight if you don’t have defined goals.
Thus, before we get into it, have your goals clear. If you aren’t there yet, make sure to check out this post.
If you do know your goals, it’s time to move on:
Write your priorities
Write them down on a list!
Ask yourself what is truly important to you and what do you want (or need) to dedicate your time to. Scribble at least three things that are a priority to you. Make certain that you understand why they are a priority, so they don’t change along with the circumstances.
Place your thoughts on paper, or in a tablet if you rather, and arrange your priorities by importance and category.
Separate your professional and personal priorities
“Remember that work and life coexist. Wellness at work follows you home and vice-versa. The same goes for when you’re not well, fuelled, or fulfilled. Work and life aren’t opposing forces to balance; they go hand-in-hand and are intertwined as different elements of the same person: you.” (Steginus, 2019)
Personal and professional life are always together in a lifetime, but they should not be scrambled. When they do get mixed up, you become lacking in one of the two areas, either the professional or the personal one.
Therefore, you need to set boundaries. Why? Because if you let one “priority” occupy the time of another, it means one of two things: the displaced one wasn’t really a priority or that your life balance is being affected.
In brief, create two lists: a personal one and a professional one. Each one should have its own priorities independent one from another.
Professional priorities can’t overcome personal priorities
Repeat after me: “I’m a human being”.
And unless you are a workaholic, there’s no way you find pleasure in focusing on work 24/7.
In an age where there is so much competition, stress, anxiety, and information going around, it is fairly easy to get drained and burnt.
Ask yourself: If you die tomorrow of a heart attack but had your bank account full, would it be considered a success? If you end up in an asylum, but your wallet is packed, would you deem it worth it?
You need to have a healthy mind and a healthy body to do your job efficiently. Consequently, you must make self-care a priority above work.
That is if you want to be a functional, healthy, balanced human being.
Be realistic and honest with yourself
When you create your priorities lists, aside from separating the professional from the personal one, you’ll also need to do a reality check.
Look at what you wrote and compare it with your current lifestyle, your goals, and the time you have.
Ensure your priorities are providing space for your growth, for balance, and for the vision you desire to construct. If you write anything that doesn’t comply with those three characteristics, erase it. More than a priority, it is a time-waster.
Finally, understand that there is a difference between the things that you want to achieve, versus the ones that you need to do.
When you write your priorities, be honest in prioritizing your needs above your wishes, since the previous ones are necessary for your daily life.
Edit your list of priorities a.k.a. Don’t try to do it all
When doing a priority list, it is vital to be selective. If you are like me, you’ll probably want to do it all, from getting fit to enrolling in college to obtain a new degree.
Although your enthusiasm and motivation can be overflowing, if you do not focus your thoughts and efforts, eventually, you’ll feel overwhelmed and exhausted.
The idea behind prioritizing is to help you distribute your time in a way that allows you to progress with your goals while taking care of your current responsibilities, all of it while maintaining a healthy balance.
Hence, pick two or three areas in your life you will want to work on and make them a priority.
Time to schedule and plan around them
One of the biggest mistakes when writing priorities is trying to fit them into our already-made-and-busy-schedule.
NOPE. It doesn’t work that way. You’ll only get more exhausted than what you already are.
Once you’ve written and edited your priorities, you need to reschedule your current routine. Of course, there will be things that you can’t change, like your working hours (or can you?)…
Yet, let’s suppose you arrive at home at 6:00 p.m. Aside from cooking and eating, you dedicate the rest of the night to watching Netflix when, instead, you could take advantage of that time to attend that “self-care” priority. See what I mean?
Now, grab a planner or a calendar, or both, and write your new activities according to your priority list. Use time-blocking if necessary.
Analyze and understand your routine and your habits
There is always a logic behind why we pick some activity over another, or why we feel comfortable doing this and not that.
For example, if you think about it, there is probably a reason why you rather do your laundry on Saturdays and not on Mondays.
Therefore, when you schedule your priorities, corroborate that you are picking a scheme that you will follow through. In other words, your schedule should be something that you would do, and that works for you.
Be careful with trying to do so much, that you end up doing nothing instead.
Commit to your new schedule
If you are trying to define your top priorities, it means you want a change.
You created your lists and your schedule, now commit to it! Make yourself accountable. Write your priorities in a note and glue it to the refrigerator, display them on your computer wallpaper, or share them on social media.
Every place you look at must remind you of your new aspirations. Concentrate and, to keep your motivation going, reward yourself weekly for your hard work.
Apart from this, ensure to include time for yourself, for your social activities, and for leisure in your schedule. Remember, you are always a top priority.
Priority-only mode ON
You’ve got your priorities, your schedule, and your commitment. Now, we need to eliminate distractions.
Yeah, you know what that means: phones and TV off.
It is easy to get distracted. No one blames you for stopping your exercise routine every time a notification rings on your phone.
Yet, every time you decide to put your attention and invest your time in something else, you are prioritizing it over something which purpose is much greater: an action or a habit that can change your lifestyle in the long run.
Focus and eliminate all possible diversion from your original work plan.
Not sure what priorities could look like?
Here are examples of things you could be prioritizing:
- Career growth/change
- Financial security
- Healthy lifestyle
- Reducing your impact on the planet
Now let’s get working on those priorities
It is time to get busy and productive. Implement your plan and review it weekly. Remember, if it is not working, it is okay to make changes.
Well, tell me, what are some of your priorities?
Steginus, M. (2019). Self Care at Work: How to Reduce Stress, Boost Productivity, and Do More of What Matters. Melissa Steginus.
Cambridge Dictionary of English. (2020). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.