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 not having clear priorities in life.
Priorities help you decide what’s really important, making it easier to manage your time and get rid of unnecessary stress and overwhelm. In this article, you’ll learn why priorities matter, 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. But there are benefits to doing so including:
- It helps you avoid burnout by clearing unnecessary things from your calendar.
- It helps 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?
These terms are often used 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 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.
In short, priorities are more about what you value, and goals are the specifics that help you stick to your priorities.
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. Here are some steps to help with this.
1. Set aside time
First, it’s essential 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 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
Next, you need to do a simple brainstorming session. Sit down and write down everything in your life that’s important to you. This 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:
Family is a high priority for many, but it's important to define what you want to prioritize.
For example, maybe you want more quality time with your loved ones. Or perhaps it's important to you to make an effort to visit relatives more or change your lifestyle so you have more time on a daily basis with your family members.
Your friendships matter and there are different things you may want to prioritize. Perhaps you want to make new friends or are determined to get together with old ones more often. Find out what about your friendships you want to improve.
Career is a huge focus for many people. You may decide to go after a promotion, switch to working in a different industry or even start your own business. Or maybe you find that you've been too work-focused and want to improve your work-life balance.
When you're living the best life you can have, your finances will be in good order. That means establishing good money habits like budgeting, investing, saving, and paying off debt. Any or all of these can be priorities for you.
Fitness, exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep all contribute to your physical health. It's an incredibly important thing to think about and deserves a place among your priorities.
You can't function well in your personal life or career without good emotional health. Take the time to come up with ideas to improve it, such as journaling, establishing simplicity in your life through minimalism, or spending more time on self-care.
This can take different forms depending on your beliefs. You may choose to spend more time praying or meditating, going to church, or reading books about spiritual subjects.
Your hobbies make life fun and promote relaxation. Perhaps you'll decide to pursue a hobby that you already enjoy more consistently, or you may try something entirely new, like running, crafting, working on a blog, etc. Let hobbies be part of your life priorities so you can live a balanced life.
There are other categories besides these that you may choose to add, depending on your values and goals.
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.
Define your most important things and also make time for non-negotiables
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 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.
So make a point to revisit your list regularly to remind yourself of what truly matters. You can also check to see if any of your priorities have changed and if you need to make edits. You might choose to do this once a year or every few months.
7. Compare your list 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. 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.
Tips for maintaining your priorities of life
In order to keep a good perspective and be sure to keep your priorities on track, you'll need to think about how to maintain them. Here are some ideas.
Lead with a sense of purpose
When you define your true priorities, you can lead your life with purpose, which can greatly improve your life. Defining what matters most and then continuing to remind yourself of this on a daily basis will help you to stick with your priorities and live your life according to them.
If you have specific things you need to accomplish each day to stick to your priorities, then don't allow yourself to get off track.
Eliminate distractions like phones, social media, and television. Save those things for times when you don't need to be as focused.
When you eliminate distractions, you can stay clear on your goals and priorities and save yourself time.
Set your priorities in life for true happiness!
Having clearly defined values doesn’t sound all that important, but you’d be surprised at the difference it makes. It might help you reduce stress and relieve burnout, plus 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.
Above all, remember the importance of priorities in life, and how to decide what yours are. Your finances are a great place to start!
You can check your financial health, save more money, or learn how to improve your money mindset, which will help you with your other priorities, as well.