Being able to prioritise is a vital skill that helps to keep you focused and effective. It’s important to be able to prioritise in order to ensure you are doing the things you need to do, and not spending valuable time and effort on things that are not important in the big scheme.
No one person’s priorities look the same as another. Even though couples often share the same basic life goals, even they are likely to have different priorities. This occurs because ideally, a couple is working as a team and each member may take on responsibility for different parts of the workload. All of this is to say, you can’t just copy someone else’s priority list, it is something you have to work out for yourself.
Some people are actually a bit overwhelmed by the concept of setting priorities, and especially when considering them in the grand scheme. As always, we can break the act of creating a priority list down to basic steps. Simplifying in this way creates more achievable mini-goals that can lead you through prioritising successfully.
You need to know your personal values, your end goals and your position in the team (so, which responsibilities fall under your banner) to be able to prioritise effectively. If you’re in a partnership or a team, your partner/team members should be part of this preparatory stage. If not, you can do the preparation on your own. Simply consider your own personal values and your end goals.
The next step is simply to list all of your current responsibilities and activities. It may help to list them under headings according to type, but you don’t have to. Obviously, this can take some time, but it is an excellent way to really get a better grasp of where you’re spending your time and energy and in the long run, it should help you to live more efficiently. I find that if I simply list everything I do on an average weekday, plus anything I do differently on a weekend or holiday, that just about covers the basics.
Now we begin to consider each individual item on our lists. There are questions to ask about each item here, and they relate to how the activity fits in with your goals, and whether it lines up with your values. This is actually the stage where you’ll begin paring things out of your list. So here:
brushing my teeth
– how does this activity fit in with my goals? It is an activity I do to stay on top of my dental health, which fits into my overall goal of taking care of myself.
– does this activity line up with my values? I highly value my health and self care, so yes.
having my morning cigarette
– how does this activity fit in with my goals? This activity in no way fits in with my goals. It is contrary to my goal of staying healthy and active into old age.
– does this activity line up with my values? This activity has a negative impact upon my health and wellbeing and also has a heavy financial cost, so no.
Once you’ve thoughtfully considered every item on your list, you are in a good position to be able to start removing things. The things that need to leave your list are those that do not align with either your goals or values or both. It’s just that simple. For now, you can take those things to a separate list so that we can consider how to go about removing them after we prioritise the items that are left.
The next step for prioritising your (hopefully now a bit shorter) list is to consider each remaining item’s urgency and importance. Those items of high urgency and high importance go to the top of the list. Items of mixed urgency/importance are somewhere in the middle, and those of low urgency and importance go towards the bottom. If you struggle to think in these terms, there are quite a few prioritising apps that can assist.
Many people find that a prioritisation matrix or grid is very useful when prioritising a list of items. The way you use such a tool is by considering each item and placing it into one of four boxes according to its urgency and importance. Generally its placement into a specific box correlates to whether you need to complete it right away, complete it later, delegate it to someone else or not do it at all.
Another method of prioritising is to take each item and figure out its placement by deciding whether it is more or less important than other items on your list. You repeat this process with each item until you have a list of priorities in descending order of importance. Obviously, you’ll aim to work through the most important items first.
If you are struggling with this step, as many people do, I’d suggest you look into one of the many prioritising apps available online. For example, the Prioritize Me! app looks to be an excellent tool for listing and prioritising goals and creating to-do lists and more. I’ll link here to a good write-up on some of the best prioritising apps currently available.
Now it’s time to remove those non-helpful items. Sometimes, this is a matter of simply stopping whichever activity is no longer serving you. More often though, such as in the case of quitting smoking, you may need to plan an exit from the activity. This then becomes a goal in itself, which is in line with your end goals and your values. So the steps in your plan to quit smoking, for example, become part of your current to-do list.
Now, if you have done the preparatory work and you’re already working from the perspective of your end-of-life goals, having just prioritised your current activities puts you in an excellent position to power forward and start reaching them. If you haven’t completed the step of setting life goals according to what is really important to you, I would suggest you read the series of articles I’ve written about this topic, starting here.
Either way, prioritising your activities is something you need to maintain an active awareness of. You will most likely need to tweak things here and there, and at times you’ll probably need to make some larger changes to your strategy. Staying mindful of how your priorities are serving you helps you to remain efficient, productive, and striding confidently towards those life goals.