“…you can experience incredible levels of satisfaction both personally and professionally if you take the time to work out what matters most to you.” - Matthew Kelly
I’ve been waiting two whole days to get into this topic! This is by far one of the most influential and life-improving strategies I’ve incorporated into my life over the past two years.
Prioritizing your priorities!? What does that even mean!?
This gem of an idea comes from the book, Off Balance by Matthew Kelly.
It’s the kind of book that as you read it you think to yourself “he’s talking directly to me!” It’s also a book that I’ve reference, shared and promoted time and time again to anyone who is struggling with finding that thing that we call “Work-Life Balance”.
One of the big ideas that Kelly puts forward is that “balance” doesn’t actually exist. Noone and nothing is ever completely balanced. We’re continuously making tiny adjustments to keep ourselves stable. Instead, we need to consider that everything comes in what he refers to as “seasons”. That these seasons may last a year, a month, a day, an hour or however long they do, but that all seasons pass. We have seasons of being incredibly busy, seasons for rest and rejuvenation, and seasons where what’s important to us during that time takes priority over everything else.
The other brilliant idea that I took from this book (and this is the piece that I’ve implemented in my life and helped to bring into the lives of others) is that we’re not necessarily taught how to make decisions properly. Because we’re not taught or provided a strategy on how to make effective decisions, we tend to either say yes to everything or we say no and end up feeling guilty about it. Kelly brings forward a process that you can go through in order to make better, more confident decisions and to prioritize what’s most important to you.
Prioritizing Your Priorities
Step 1: The first thing we have to do is to start by really understand what we mean when we say “priority”.
We live in a world where everything seems to be a priority and everything tends to be important to everyone. If we keep living that way, we likely end up burning out or feeling as though we’re not living in alignment with our values.
Here’s what I mean by that. When I first left University and was in my first job, I thought I had landed my dream job. I thought that I was going to head in the direction of having and exciting career in event management and sport administration. I also, on top of that, was trying to do a tremendous amount of activities outside of my regular work: learning to play guitar, going to the gym 5 days a week, hanging out with friends as much as I could, reading a book every two weeks, and making sure that I was taking time to cook healthy meals. The trouble with all of this is that I didn’t know what was most important to me. I just labeled everything as important and really quickly fell into a pretty dark place of disappointment and exhaustion. I was reading a lot of self-help kind of books at the time and started to let myself believe that I could do everything all at the same time. I slowly and sadly started to learn that I couldn’t. As I became more overwhelmed with everything I wanted to do, I started to notice that I began feeling really bad about not achieving everything I had told myself that I wanted to achieve. I was struggling just to manage the challenges of my first job and living in the city. Eventually I burnt out. I became really upset with myself and really hard on myself. I started telling myself that I was a failure.
What I eventually learned is that too much self-help can turn into self-hurt.
Looking back on this, I realize that my biggest challenge was that I didn’t know what my priorities were. I didn’t take the time to sit down and really go through a process of understanding what was truly important to me and why.
Enter prioritizing your priorities.
How to prioritize your priorities:
Step 1: In order to make more confident decisions that are aligned with your values and what’s important to you, you need to actually know what is. The first thing you’re going to do is make a list of all of the things that you would consider to be important to you right now, at this point in time in your life. Don’t filter anything, don’t try to cut things down, just write everything down.
Step 2: Now that you have a long list, take a look at it and see if there’s anything that can be put together into a “bucket”. For example, friends and having a social life might be bucketed into the priority of “Relationships” or Working out and eating healthy could be bucketed into a larger priority of “Health & Wellness”.
Step 3: Now that you’ve trimmed things down a bit by bucketing them. Go ever further and narrow down your priorities to a maximum of 5. If it helps, think about what on the list you’ve created is a priority for you over the next three months. Three months from now revisit your list and see if anything has changed. If it has, great! Make those changes. If not, keep focused on the priorities you’ve already established.
Step 4: Once you established what your 4-5 priorities are for the time period you’ve decided on, you now go through the process of prioritizing these priorities. Where a lot of people tend to go wrong is right here. Most people will establish their priorities but not make decisions based on what is most important between those priorities. As a result, those people end up saying yes to everything or end up putting other people’s priorities before their own.
Warning: This is going to change your game!
Take a new sheet of paper (or a new page on your computer) and write down the 4-5 priorities you’ve just established. Don’t try to put them in order just yet. The task is to simply just write them down.
· Friends & Family
· Personal Development
· Health & Wellness
Now that you’ve done that, take the first two (Friends & Family and Personal Development) and ask:
Which is more important to me this week?
If Personal Development (things like reading, journaling, reflection, etc) is more important to you that week it gets a check mark. If spending time with friends & family is more important to you that week, it gets the checkmark. The main point is that only one of these two things gets a checkmark.
Next, you go through that same process but with Friends & Family and Health & Wellness. Which ever is more important to you that week gets the checkmark.
Again with Friends & Family and Work.
Again with Friends & Family and Spirituality.
The end result is that Friends & Family will have between 0 and 5 checkmarks.
Step 5: Do it again. This time take Friends & Family out of the process and start with Personal Development.
Again, you’re asking the question “this week, what is more important?” and giving whichever you believe is more important that beautiful little checkmark.
*Note* You can use this on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.
Go through this process until you have nothing left to compare.
At the end, you’ll have a 0-5 checkmarks around each of your priorities. The priority with the most checkmarks is your most important priority. The one with the second highest would then become your second highest priority and so on.
· Friends & Family = 2 checkmarks
· Personal Development = 1 checkmark
· Health & Wellness = 3 checkmarks
· Work = 0 checkmarks
· Spirituality = 4 checkmarks
This then becomes:
My Priorities this week:
2. Health & Wellness
3. Friends & Family
4. Personal Development
Now that you've established what your priorities are for the week (or month, or year), everything you decide to do, to take on, or get involved in should align with these. Because you know what your priorities are and why they are important to you, it becomes a lot easier to turn away less important requests of your time and energy. It keeps you focused on what's most important and what will bring the most satisfaction into your life.
Important! You notice that work is at the bottom of the list, right? That doesn’t mean that work isn’t important (it definitely is). What that means is that by making sure that I’m keeping myself healthy, I’ll be better at work. I’ll have more energy and I’ll bring more focus and productivity to the work I do. By making sure that I’m keeping in touch with my spirituality, I’ll also be more connected at work. I’ll pay more attention to what’s going on around and inside me. By making time for friends & family, I can ensure that I’m not feeling burnt out. And by investing in my personal development, I can take what I learn and share it with others in the work that I do.
This is a fantastic process for breaking down those big hairy audacious goals into smaller, more focused weekly actions.
The great thing about this strategy is that you can also use if your managing projects and your workload at work. I use this each week as a way to keep me focused on my major priorities and the tasks & goals I have connected to them. It works great and I can much more easily say no to something that isn’t aligned with my priorities or at least delay the ask until I have more time (after I’ve focused on what’s most important).
Let’s just end this part of the conversation by saying this. Balance doesn’t exist. Work-life balance was really find and great for my grandparent’s generation but it doesn’t sit well with me and mine. I don’t want to divide my work and the rest of my life. I want them both to have meaning and purpose and I want them to be integrated, not separated.
I really recommend giving this a try.
Sunday we’ll take this and I’ll show you how I use this in my planning for the week. We’ll look at what I call Set Yourself Sunday.
Want to go through this in a bit more detail? Check out this interview I did with my friend Sahil Dhingra on his show Reconnectfully Yours on the topic of reaching your goals and realizing your fullest potential.
Matt Tod is an international speaker, leadership facilitator, writer and lover of all things Zombie-related.