The word ‘priority’ refers to things that hold greater importance to a person than other things. Meaning, if your children are more important to you than your car, your children have greater priority. I’ve covered some ground on priorities here already, and the reason for this is that understanding what your own priorities are and making sure that they’re in line with your values and goals creates the most powerful driving force to you succeeding in reaching your goals.
I’ll give you an example of how priorities being out of alignment hinders your goals:
Imagine you have done the background work of coming to understand your true values, and have set life-long goals according to those. Let’s say that taking care of your children and raising them to be productive and compassionate adult human beings is one of these goals.
So it would be safe to say that taking care of those children in the present day should be one of your top priorities in terms of your daily actions, but instead you spend more time fixing and maintaining your vehicle than you spend interacting with your children.
Do you see how if you are prioritising your car, your children become a lesser priority, and this is much less likely to result in you meeting your goal of raising productive and compassionate people?
The word priority can refer to a conceptual type of priority, for example, my family in general is a high priority to me. In this usage of the word, ‘priority’ is actually very similar to the word ‘value’. My family is a high priority to me; I highly value my family.
Conceptual priority doesn’t directly relate to any specific action and is also not a goal in itself. However, having a conceptual understanding of what your priorities are lends itself easily to the formation of both goals and actionable items.
There’s another use of the word ‘priority’ which relates directly to action. If you’ve ever written an effective to-do list, you may be familiar with this usage. Used in this sense, a priority can be an action point with urgency. ‘My priorities for today’ can be a list of actions that you need to complete, arranged in order of importance. You may simply list the top 3 most important things you need to do today, and you’ve created a list of action priorities.
Prioritised action lists, or to-do lists, can be extremely powerful in terms of increasing productivity and moving you more swiftly towards a goal. In simply recognising which actions are most important, you simultaneously manage to strip away all of the things that are not high priorities. These are the things that slow down your progress and distract you. Prioritising your to-dos can give an intense focus and intention to your work.
Action priorities are changeable and flexible, and their thoughtful use leads to movement and progress. Using action priorities with careful and measured consideration, rather than doing things automatically, optimises the effect. If you are choosing an intentional, directed lifestyle, it’s important to frequently examine your action priorities and ensure they line up with your goals.
Given that prioritising has such potential power, it is very important that you understand how forming priorities comes from the framework of your larger goals. In this way you can ensure you’re using the tool of prioritising effectively; your actions will be directed by and aligned with your goals. Doing this requires an awareness of what is important to you in the grand scheme – what those conceptual priorities are, what your values are, what your end-of-life goals are. If you haven’t done that work yet, I suggest you start reading some other articles on this website. I recommend the series about setting life goals that begins with this link.
Once you understand what your values and your goals are, you’re going to break down long-term goals to daily action points. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do this all at once. With most long-term goals, the steps in your immediate future are quite obvious, if you put some thought into it.
For example, if you have a long term goal of becoming a published and recognised painter, but you don’t currently know anything about painting, your first goal is obviously to find out where you can begin the learning process. You may not even know the next step until you complete the first one.
One surefire way that prioritising can lose its potential power is if you’re not really thinking in terms of your long term goals when you decide what is important to you right now, today. Let’s face it, we are often tempted to ‘live in the now’ rather than living our lives with a mindfulness of where we want our lives to end up. It can seem tempting until you begin to consider the potential consequences of such rudderless living.
You essentially need to choose one or the other lifestyle, because inhabiting the middle ground here will most likely frustrate you on both ends – you will not be living fully for today, and you will be spinning your wheels trying to progress towards your goals. Far better to be all in or all out and live your life with intention, the way you want it.