How often do you look at your to-do list and feel like there’s simply not enough time for everything? If you’re anything like me — and most other people — it probably happens pretty often. And one of the biggest reasons this happens is when you don’t have clear priorities in life.
Priorities help you decide what’s really important in life, making it easier to manage your time and get rid of unnecessary stress and overwhelm. In this article, you’ll learn the importance of priorities in life, the difference between goals and priorities, and how to set your priorities in life.
The importance of priorities in life
You might find yourself wondering why you really need clearly defined priorities. The truth is that most of us are being pulled in many different directions. Friends, family, work, health, and more all demand our attention.
Ultimately, we only have so much time and energy to give, but many of us overextend ourselves because we haven’t clearly defined our priorities. Some of the benefits of priorities are as follows:
- Defining priorities of life helps you avoid burnout by clearing unnecessary things from your calendar.
- They help you decide what to say yes and no to.
- Priorities help you manage your time because you’re more selective about what goes on your calendar.
Now you see the importance of priorities in life, so let's discuss the difference between priorities and goals.
Priorities vs. goals: What’s the difference?
Some people may use the terms priorities and goals interchangeably, but it’s important to understand the difference. First, goals are specific milestones you hope to accomplish. They usually have an end date, and you’ll know whether or not you’ve achieved them.
Some examples of goals include:
- Run a marathon
- Earn $10k in your business
- Save enough for a down payment
- Earn a master’s degree
- Plan a family vacation
- Lose 10 pounds
Priorities, on the other hand, are broader and guide your entire life. Unlike with goals, priorities don’t have an end date. They’re not something you eventually reach or accomplish. Instead, they’re more comparable to values that help you decide what stays in your life and what goes.
For example, someone who had the goal of running a marathon or losing 10 pounds might have a priority of physical health. Someone who wanted to make $10k in their business or earn a master’s degree might have the priority of career success or achievement.
How to clearly define your priorities in life
Clearly, defining your life priorities is easier said than done, but it’s an important step in ensuring that you live a life that’s intentional and in alignment with what you really want.
1. Set aside time to define clear priorities
First, it’s important that you actually set aside time to define what your priorities are. Unfortunately, it’s far too easy to avoid this step and simply assume that we’re living life in alignment with our priorities of life. But if you actually make time for this exercise, you might find that’s not true at all.
It’s also easy to talk yourself out of making time to define your priorities. After all, you have enough on your plate. But the simple act of defining your priorities can actually clear up time in your calendar moving forward.
2. Create a list of everything in your life that’s important to you
The first step to defining your life priorities is a simple brainstorming session. Sit down and write down everything in your life that’s important to you. They can be as broad as your physical health or as simple as the morning cup of coffee you share with your partner.
And remember, don’t just write down the things that you currently have time for. Also, write down those things that are important to you, but you simply haven’t had time for.
For example, maybe mental health is important to you, but your current season of life hasn’t allowed you to make time for therapy. Or maybe extended family is important, but time or financial constraints have prevented you from spending time with them.
3. Review your life priorities list and break items into categories
Once you’ve written down everything that’s important to you, review your list and break it down into categories. For the most part, this step will be pretty simple.
For example, you can probably quickly glance at your list and see all of the things that fit into the category of family. It might include time with your children, traveling to see your parents, family holidays, etc.
On the other hand, you might have several items on your list that fall into the category of financial stability. They might include your retirement contributions, saving your emergency fund, saving for the down payment on a home, or earning money in your business.
Some examples of categories you can use are:
- Physical health
- Emotional health
4. Reorder your list starting with the most important
Alright, here’s where things get tricky. In the previous step, you identified all of your priorities — they were those categories where you categorized the different things that were important to you. In this step, you’re going to list those priorities in order of importance.
I’m not going to lie; this step can be tough. But it’s also a very personal one, so no one else can tell you what order they should fall into. It’s also important to remember that just because something ranks lower than something else on your list doesn’t mean you’ll never make time for it.
Your family may be your first priority, but that doesn’t mean you won’t sometimes have to choose work or mental health over family in your calendar. But knowing your priorities can help guide you when you have conflicts or can’t decide whether to make room for something in your life.
5. Choose your non-negotiables
In addition to defining your priorities of life and listing them in order of importance, it’s also important to list your non-negotiables. Remember, just because something is at the top of your priority list doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you make time for.
Sure, your kids might be the most important thing. But they can’t account for 100% of your time. You also need time for work, hobbies, mental health, friends, and more.
That’s where your non-negotiables come in. And you’ll probably have them in most of the categories in your life. Here’s an example: Perhaps financial stability is a top priority for you, while your mental health is slightly lower on your list right now. However, you decide that paying for therapy is non-negotiable.
Another example could be children. Perhaps you’re in a season of life where your career is a top priority, and you often work long hours. But one of your non-negotiables is that you’ll be there to tuck your kids into bed every night.
Just like your priorities, your non-negotiables are personal to you. No one can tell you what should and shouldn’t make the list — only you can decide.
6. Write down your list of priorities to revisit regularly
You know how they say that writing down your goals helps increase the chances of achieving them? Well, the same can be said about priorities. When you write down your priorities in life and put the list somewhere you’ll see often, it will be easier to make decisions in your life that align with those priorities.
7. Compare your listed priorities of life to your current schedule
One of the most difficult steps of defining your priorities is looking at how they compare with your current schedule. Unfortunately, many of us spend far too much time on things that aren’t priorities to us simply because we have a hard time saying no.
It’s easy to get caught up in saying yes to things because we have a hard time saying no. It’s far easier for it to happen when you don’t have priorities in place.
So now that you’ve defined your priorities, you can audit your calendar and consider what changes you can make to reduce or eliminate things that aren’t important to you in order to make time for the things that are.
8. Create boundaries
Part of making more time in your calendar for your own priorities is setting boundaries moving forward. These boundaries will help prevent you from once again filling your calendar with other people’s priorities.
There’s no doubt that setting boundaries is difficult, especially when the person on the other end is someone you love or someone who employs you. But people who truly respect you and your time will also respect your boundaries.
Set your priorities in life for true happiness!
Having clearly defined priorities in life doesn’t sound all that important, but you’d be surprised just how much it can help you reduce stress and burnout and make more time in your life for the things that are really important to you.
Your priorities may change as your season of life changes, so you can simply repeat this exercise to ensure you’re always living an intentional life that’s in alignment with what you want from life.
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