Note that this blog post is part of a series. You can access all the posts at 52 Weeks to Better Life Balance Series.
Living a life of smart priorities is one of the best ways to become much more effective, to make the most of your time, and reach your goals with less effort. (Leo Babauta)
Over the past few weeks of 52 Weeks for Better Life Balance, you’ve been identifying what is important to you at this time in your life. You’ve reflected on last year’s successes and challenges, your hopes for this year, the roles and domains you’ve embraced in life, goals you would like to achieve within your roles and domains, and your core values.
Being aware of what matters helps guide us when making decisions about our lives and how to spend our time, ultimately leading to better life balance. But there may still be moments when it is challenging to determine which of all the important aspects are the MOST important? Where do we focus now, in this moment, this hour, or this day? This is where priorities come in, to help bring order and organization to what matters most at this time in our lives.
Why Have Priorities?
Priorities are simply identifying what is important to us and where we will direct our attention. You probably have a long list of what matters to you, and the truth is, we simply can’t concentrate on all of them, at least not at once.
Establishing priorities makes life and decisions a bit easier. It gives us a more clear picture of where to focus our efforts and energies, what goals to zero in on, and how to spend our time. When we don’t set priorities, we run the risk of wandering aimlessly, spending time on things that are insignificant, and not really knowing where we are heading.
Many of us feel this way already; we race through each day trying to get as much crossed off our to-do lists as possible. And then we wonder, is this what life is about? Where is this all going? Priorities help give us direction and clarity in our lives.
Your Priorities for the Year
This week you will be setting your top priorities for the rest of the year. One way to do this is to review your core values and roles/domains that you listed in the previous weeks’ exercises. Gather them all into one list, if that helps.
As you review this list, think about what is most important for you to concentrate on this year. What do you really want to accomplish? What have you been itching to get to for some time?
You may find yourself saying, “I want to do it all!” I know, I know. Me too. It is another fact of life that we simply cannot focus on numerous priorities at the same time. However, this doesn’t mean we will never get to all of what matters. We are simply making decisions about what to attend to first, taking one step at a time, and then moving on to what is next.
So what might your top priorities be? Perhaps there is a core value that you really want to develop, such as creativity or spirituality. Or maybe there is a role or domain in your life that you want to improve upon, such as being a parent or community member. Other examples of priorities that people tend to set include the areas of family, finances, friends, extended family, career, hobbies, physical health, healthy eating, partner, education, and friends.
Note that some categories might seem too vast to be just one priority. For example, if you tagged career or work as an area of importance, consider whether there are specific aspects within this realm to focus on. One particular project? Relationships? A specific skill? For example, happiness expert and sociologist Christine Carter discusses setting priorities in her book The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and at Work and shares her own top areas for the year. She actually lists three main priorities related to her work:
- Write this book (The Sweet Spot)
- Work toward being a truly great speaker
- Maintain my website, newsletters, and online classes
Ranking Your Priorities
Once you have a list of your priorities, broken down or categorized in a way that suits you, challenge yourself to put them in order of importance or in order of when you would like to hone in on them. Perhaps it makes more sense to focus on one aspect before everything else, because it will involve the most work or will be the hardest change. Or maybe a deadline is involved, such as training for a race by a certain date.
The Magic Number of Top Priorities
If your list of priorities is long, like mine, you may be wondering how many priorities are too many for the year. What is the ideal number? In her book, Christine Carter mentions time management expert Peter Bregman, who suggests that people “pick their top five priorities and spend 95% of their time doing only those activities, saying ‘no’ to virtually everything else.” Others recommend attending to only two or three. See what feels right to you. Remember, you can concentrate on any priorities that do not make your top list later in the year when you are ready. You are just deciding what to zero in on first.
Let Your Top Priorities Be Your Guide
Your top priorities will serve as your guide for the rest of this year. I agree with Peter Bregman’s idea of spending the bulk of your time saying “yes” to your top priorities and “no” to everything else. However, I’m not sure 95% of my time is a realistic goal for me. There are key aspects of my life that didn’t make my top priority list, such as my hobbies. This does not mean I’m going to ignore my photography hobby, because it still matters. I’ll aim to fit this aspect into my schedule as I can, but it won’t be the main focus.
Think about how you might start including your priorities more intentionally in your daily life. Keep in mind that you might have different priorities for certain times of the day. Experts suggest this ritual: each night before bed, identify three tasks or actions related to your priorities that you will tackle the next day. Also decide when you will work on these tasks; will you do them first thing in the morning (author Brian Tracy’s “eat the frog” principle)? Or if they are not related to work, perhaps later in the day when you return home? Be sure to make your tasks or actions small and attainable.
Next week we will be reviewing our time tracking data, and will consider how our priorities are fitting into our days. In a few weeks, we will also talk more about setting goals and creating new habits based on our top areas.
Action Step for Week 6:
This week you will be setting your top priorities through the Top Priorities of the Year Exercise. After you have identified your top areas of focus and ordered them, you will be refining them a bit more and setting goals for each one. These top priorities will play a significant part in the rest of your 52 Weeks to Better Life Balance journey. Also begin to find ways to intentionally include your top priorities in your daily life.
Finally, use this week to finish tracking your time from Week 3’s action step.
Readers, what are your top priorities for the year? Which priority are you most excited about tackling? Share in the comments below!
Be sure to join Women, Work, and Life’s Facebook page where we will further discuss each week’s post, action steps, and insights. I will also be sharing articles there for further reading. If you are not on Facebook, you can follow me on Twitter @EmilySeamone. Also, sign-up for my newsletter to keep on top of the blog series as well as other posts and information. I look forward to seeing you in all these places!
In addition, I am conducting a study on career change for better work-life balance. If you have made a career or job change to improve your work-life balance, I’d love to hear about your experiences! Please complete the following survey and be entered for a chance to win a $75 Amazon gift card: http://goo.gl/forms/x9NtU2JT64