“I need to do this… and I need to get that done. There’s a fire to put out here… and I want to do that, too.”
Between the things we need to do, the fires that require our attention, and where we want to spend our time and energy, there’s never enough to go around. The needs, the fires, and the wants compete on a daily basis. Our time and energy are limited, and we only have so much to give. Our ability to prioritize where our time and energy goes is key if we want to succeed at the things in life that matter to us.
That’s easier said than done.
Prioritizing can be challenging when everything feels important. My 25-year-old self thought he could do everything at a high level and believed he had unlimited energy. That 25-year-old also began exploring the early edges of burnout, never asked for help, and said “yes” to every opportunity. The result? I was living life an inch deep, a mile wide, and spread thin.
Winning at work was a priority.
Investing in my marriage was a priority.
Parenting my twins was a priority.
Being a good son was a priority.
Strengthening my faith was a priority.
Focusing on my health and fitness was a priority.
Creating adventures was a priority.
Being generous in my community was a priority.
Helping other guys become better men was a priority.
The only problem? Everything was a priority, but none of my “priorities” were getting the attention they deserved.
When everything is a priority, then nothing is.
Over the last ten years, I’ve tried to live with that last sentence as my guide. I cannot make everything a priority. My time and energy are not unlimited, so I need to be radically intentional about where I invest them. That’s what prioritizing is all about. Here are a few things I’ve learned…
Prioritizing Begins With Your Core Values and Purpose
Defining what’s a priority and what’s not begins with understanding your core values and purpose. First, you need to get clear on what your core values are. What fundamental beliefs and guiding principles drive your behaviors and decisions? What are your non-negotiables and the things that you value above all else in your life? Then, based on your core values, what is your purpose in life? Why do you exist, what lights you up, and where does your motivation come from?
When we understand our core values and purpose, we can align our priorities to those two areas. Does this activity fit with my core values and purpose, or not? Answering this allows us to move things up and down the list and, sometimes, eliminate options altogether.
Next, We Should Align Our Priorities With Our Goals
The goals we have in life are often tied to our core values and purpose. When your goals align with your values and purpose, it creates an emotional connection between the goal and the outcome you desire. This emotional connection helps us keep going when reaching those goals gets challenging or boring or when we encounter resistance.
How does this impact our priority setting? When it comes to prioritizing everything on our daily or weekly “to-do” list, the activities we prioritize need to be aligned with our goals. Looking at the list of all the needs, fires, and wants that are potential priorities, we need to ask ourselves which options will help us achieve our goals and which won’t. By separating our activities into these two buckets, we can prioritize momentum and growth over busy work and what will slow us down.
Let’s Pause For Just a Moment Here…
You may be reading this and thinking, “This is obvious and elementary. Of course, my priorities should align with my purpose, core values, and goals.”
Let me challenge you for a moment if that’s what you’re thinking. When was the last time you slowed down enough to do a quick assessment to see if your priorities and where you’re investing your time and energy are aligned with your values, purpose, and goals?
Too often, we go through life on auto-pilot and don’t stopping to think about our priorities and how they’re driving our decision-making. We live life without a lot of thought, and at the end of a week or month, we wonder how we missed out on opportunities and our potential. This applies at work and at home. Unless we intentionally think about our priorities, we’ll let them get hijacked.
With that in mind, here’s the last thing I consider when prioritizing my days and schedule…
Urgency and Short-Term Gains vs. Long-Term Results
One of the last things I consider when prioritizing is time. You’ll notice this is last on the list, not first. Too often, we lead with time as the main driver of our priorities. This needs to get done now, or I have to put out this fire. Yes, timing needs to be considered, but it should come after understanding our core values, purpose, and goals. Then, with those in mind, we can look at these time-crunched tasks and make sure they are as valuable as we believe. If something doesn’t align with your values and purpose or pull you toward your goals, is it really that important? Or is it a distraction?
In the arena of goal-setting, distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Using the guidance above, we all need to keep asking ourselves if the activities we’re doing are really important, or if they are simply things that will delay or derail what we want in life. Eliminating distractions is another powerful way to reset how we prioritize our time and energy.
In our daily battle between the needs, the fires, and the wants, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that everything is a priority. Remember this truth: When everything is a priority, then nothing is. Lean into your purpose, values, and aspirations to define what matters. Prioritize where you use your time and energy based on that, and when the competing demands rise up, stand your ground.
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