A priority is a decision. A decision on what the most important thing in your life is so you can focus time and energy toward it.
For some people, this may be health, work, family, education, having fun, or writing a book. There are no rules on what priorities a person should have. But because we’re all so busy with different activities, goals, relationships, earning incomes and managing to sleep, it's important to decide what these important things are so we can make time for them.
By having clear priorities, when scheduling conflicts arise, you can quickly calculate where to spend your time based on these previous decisions about what’s important to you.
The reason why deciding ahead of time is important, is because it means we're acting from our prefrontal cortex (the most evolved part of our human brain), and not just acting from our primitive brain (the one that likes to seek comfort and pleasure). Acting from your prefrontal cortex is what’s going to allow you to reach the goals you have set for yourself.
Listen to this blog as a podcast.
A common priority that you may hear is the idea of “family is the top priority.” In practice, this might look like choosing to spend time with your family in the evenings as opposed to working overtime, or some variation that puts family first. Your priority might be writing a book, which could mean choosing writing over spending time with family.
Where people get stuck with priorities, is not recognizing that priorities will change over time. You will have different priorities at different times of the year and in your life.
Something like “family is a priority” might not be the case at all points of your life. There might be a time where you want to focus your energy elsewhere.
Another way to look at it is, if you went to university, for that time in your life, schoolwork might have been the priority over something like fitness. Or if you were on a sports team in high school, sports might have taken priority over friendships and parties. People in new relationships often put that relationship as their top priority over previous friendships — which is why you might see your best friend a lot less if she’s starting a new relationship.
But a priority isn’t necessarily what’s important or urgent in your life. You probably are still important to your best friend, even though you’re not her top priority right now. Family may always be important to you, even if your priority is writing a book.
Some of these above priority examples may have been decided unconsciously.
How often are you consciously deciding what is, and what isn’t, a priority in your life? Have you written down and looked at where you want to be focusing your time and efforts, or are you just kind of letting your life happen to you?
If you haven’t looked at your priorities for a while (or ever), I want you to ask yourself:
What is the most important thing in your life?
Write that down. Then ask yourself:
What is the most important thing you’d like to create in your life?
Write that down too.
If those are two different answers I want you to look at them and ask if you’re willing to put the second priority over the first one for a concentrated amount of time, say 6 months.
Looking at your priorities this way will ensure that you’re spending your time where you want to be spending it and that you’re going after the life you want to have.
There is a modern kind of perfectionism in the world right now that’s the idea of having “everything in moderation” and having “balanced lifestyles.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with this mentality, but it does mean that if your goal is writing a book, it’s going to take you a lot longer if you’re not willing to sacrifice a balanced lifestyle. If you want to spend 6 nights a week writing for two hours, but you also want to go for the promotion and take all the overtime shifts, it’s going to take you a lot longer to write the book.
Not everything in life has to be perfectly equal at all times. And if there is something you’re striving for, it’s going to come a lot faster if you concentrate more effort and energy towards it.
By asking yourself “what is the most important in your life?” a few times over, you can make a list of your top priorities. As you look at them, ask yourself if there are any you’d be willing to move up the list to gain some traction on them and to develop habits. It’s okay to hold off on some of the other items on your list. You don’t have to write the book and learn German in the next 6 months. You don’t have to do everything at the same time. Remember that priorities will shift. Then set the amount of time you’re willing to put towards the priority before you revaluate. I like anywhere from 3 to 6 months.
Be honest with yourself. Lots of people think family or their relationship is #1 – but is that actually where you want your time and energy right now? If it’s not, you may actually feel irritated and frustrated when you’re spending time with those people. Again, it doesn’t mean they’re not important.
The other key to priorities is understanding that a priority doesn’t necessarily mean it gets the most amount of time in your life. I think this is where a lot of people get confused because they have the mentality of “I don’t have time.”
If you’ve set your priority for the next 6 months to write a book, but you also need to make money with a day job, or you want to write a book but have kids to look after, writing the book will likely not get the same amount of time as those other items and that’s okay.
At the same time, if you want to write and publish a book, you have to make it a priority. If you don’t, and just write randomly when you have time, you’re not going to get the result of a published novel.
Finally, when looking at your priority list, remember that you don’t have to do anything on it. You really don’t. You are choosing to do these things. You could quit your job and live off government checks or maybe move in with your parents. There are other options. I'm not saying you have to take them, but whatever is on your list is a choice, not a sentence. Understanding this concept can be a challenge, but it’s incredibly freeing when you embrace it.
Start making a list now. What do you want to get done in the next 6 months? The next two years? Be honest with yourself and get clear on what’s important to you, why it’s important to you, and how long you will commit before reevaluating.
Listen as a podcast.