Not sure why that 'oh-so-important' to do list item never seems to get done? You know that it's really important to you, so why can't progress be made? If you are tired of feeling frustrated at yourself and your never decreasing to-do list here is the secret (or maybe not so secret) reason why: there are different types of priorities competing for your attention. So learning about those different types of priorities and how to manage and master them is absolutely essential to unlocking your productivity. And I'll tell you how!
If there is something on your to-do list that has been on there forever the very first thing I would advise for you to do is re-evaluate. There might be a reason you've been putting it off. Maybe you don't actually want to do it or it's not actually that important to you. You can learn How to Evaluate Your Goals with this article here.
Now let's say that your goal passes the evaluation. You might have even read my other article How to Make Successful Goals and have an extremely compelling reason for the goal and have made sure that it is about YOU and your wants or needs! So what gives? Why can't you make progress? You've done all the preparation steps you possibly could and everything should be going smoothly from there right? Well maybe not...and the reason is likely an issue with competing priorities. Sounds simple, but there is actually a lot to learn here.
Let's Talk Priorities
A priority is where you choose to spend your resources (your time, effort, thought power, emotional bandwidth, money, and so on). I typically focus my attention on where my clients are spending their time because that is the easiest way to evaluate how they are currently focusing their priorities - whether they realize it or not!
Priorities should be a reflection of your wants, needs, goals, and values. Making conscious decisions about your priorities and assessing whether or not your current schedule is an accurate reflection of that is very important. If you spend too much time or energy on one priority or one type of priority the others will suffer. And it is important to have some amount of balance in your life and in your priorities in order to feel accomplished, calm, and fulfilled.
Types of Priorities
One thing that you absolutely need to know to become a Priorities Master is that there are actually three types:
▪ Priorities by Commitment
▪ Priorities by Importance
▪ Priorities by Desire
A Priority by Commitment is what it sounds like: the actions and responsibilities that you are committed to and typically need to perform on a daily or weekly basis. These also happen to be where you will usually spend the majority of your time. This includes things like your education if you are a student, your job, your kid(s), or your parent(s) if you are a caregiver. If you have a job and kids that is a double whammy and you've got a very large dedication of your resources to your Priorities by Commitment. And don't get me started if you are a parent, have a job, and are doing school on top of that!
Priorities by Importance are those things that we want or need to accomplish in order to further a goal. They are not on a schedule or required (or else they would be commitments), but they could have a significant effect on you and the quality of your life.
They can include things like:
▪ Physical Health - exercise, eating healthy, cooking at home, seeing the doctor
▪ Mental Health - self-care, quality time with yourself or others, connection
▪ Relationships - finding a significant other or friends
▪ Career Improvement - job searching, training, certifications
No matter how important these may be to us individually they are still extras. The add-ons. They represent the next steps to improving your quality of life or helping you achieve the next-best or fulfilled version of yourself. And they take effort, so they are probably those things that just aren't getting done no matter how much you'd like them to.
Now we get to the good stuff - the Priorities by Desire. These are the things that we do with our resources solely because we get enjoyment from doing them. So these are typically things like watching TV, playing on our phones, eating out of the ice cream tub, napping... These are the things that we will naturally gravitate towards doing with the free time left over after the Priorities by Commitment are complete - if there is any free time.
It's all about EFFORT
Sometimes it gets a little tricky to categorize our activities. Am I taking a hot bubble bath every night because I need it as part of my self-care routine or because I just enjoy and desire them? Am I reading because I want to learn something or because I just really love reading?
Ultimately you get to make the call on which category the activity goes in, but usually I look at two things 1) is it furthering a specific goal? (if so it is probably a Priority by Importance) and 2) does it take effort to start the activity? If it is effortless and you find yourself doing it naturally without really thinking or needing to talk yourself into it it then it is probably a Priority by Desire.
Where are you spending most of your time? Write down an estimated schedule of your day and do some quick math to find out. I actually recommend for you to carry a pen and paper for a couple of days and take notes about how exactly you actually spend your time. It is easy to do something and not remember it or to know how long you did it (did I really just spend 30 minutes on Facebook?!). And if you have a varied schedule (which most of us do) look at an example from both types of schedules.
Calculate how much time you spend in each priority and also in each type of priority: Commitment, Importance, and Desire. You might be surprised! You might be spending the majority of your time on one or two activities or on a single type of activity. But it is likely going to rank like this: your number one will be Commitment, then Desire, and then Importance will be last if it comes up at all.
If you happen to be one of those hard-working and self-sacrificing individuals who rank Commitment first and then Importance and don't have a whole lot of time spent (if any at all) in Desire then you need to make self-care and activities for fun a higher priority and shift them into your Importance list until you get more used to spending time on yourself. Thank you for your hard work - now you deserve a break! For you go ahead and insert "self-care" instead of "important items" into the below advice and follow like normal.
How to GET IT DONE!
So now you know what a priority is, the different types of priorities, and you have a good idea about how you yourself are spending your time and efforts. And you are probably no longer surprised why that super important item is still on your to-do list. Because once you are done with your commitments and your resources are becoming strained you will gravitate towards activities that don't require effort - the ones that you easily desire to do and not the ones that you need to motivate yourself to do to further your goals.
Here are some ways that you can be proactive and adjust your schedule so that you make time for those must-do items that have been stressing you out.
1) The very first thing I would ask you to consider is if there is any way to reduce your commitments. Your day is probably already full of them. And the best way to have better balance is to reduce or simplify the commitments you already have where you can. And don't be afraid to get creative! Can you join a local group to take turns driving the kids to school, can you make easier meals, can you work less overtime, can you show up to work 30 minutes later, is there any way to save on drive time, can you hire a cleaning lady or a nanny to come by once in awhile? Look at each of your commitments and ask if there is any way to make them faster or simpler or adjusted to have more time handy in the beginning or middle of the day and not save all your free time until the end of the day when you are exhausted and doing more work is the last thing on your mind.
2) Do them first. This isn't an option for every person or every schedule, but the absolute best way to make sure progress gets made is to work on that item first. Some people wake up early to have time for self-care or to exercise or work on important items. This is Prioritizing by Importance at it's finest. But not everyone is a morning person or has the desire to cut into their sleep schedule to do work first thing in the morning.
3) In that case the next best thing to do is to schedule them during your peak window. Everyone has a time of day that they are the most mentally active and alert. For most people this is the window between breakfast and lunch, but everyone is different. Make it a habit to work on important items for at least 20 minutes a day during your peak time. If that means doing squats in front of your desk or meditating in between classes then why not? There is no rule that says that you can't make time for important activities in-between the committed ones. It just isn't your habit right now, so it will take some effort to develop and get used to. Or maybe for those around you to get used to - but don't let that stop you. That 20 minutes a day will add up to about 10 hours a month! Set an alarm to remind you it's time to switch gears.
4) If you can't do important items at the start of your day and you can't work them into your daily schedule during your peak window then you've got one option left: schedule 2-3 half days of work a month to dedicate to working on your goals (because trying to cram in 10-12 hours of work into a single day isn't very reasonable or effective). Write it in your phone or planner, ask people not to distract you, and make it a commitment to yourself.
5) Rank your Priorities of Importance in order so that you know what to work on first. As a general rule I try to rank faster ones higher so I can knock them out, but if you always do this the longer ones will never be gotten too, so you do have to bump up the priority of longer items if they have been on your list for too long.
6) Consider keeping a Habit Tracker (I use this one). This is a visual chart of the days of the week and the habits that you want to develop and whether or not you worked on it. It helps you to stay consistent and to be aware of how many days it has been since you last worked on your habit, goal, or important item.
7) Motivate yourself by drafting an "I want" statement. Write down "I want to do X so that I can accomplish Y" on a post it note and leave it somewhere that you will see it and be reminded of it. See if it helps remind and motivate you. For some people this is actually de-motivating because they feel pressured, so it isn't for everyone.
8) One last option is to make a deadline. Let's face it... a lot of us are procrastinators. People who work better under pressure or have trouble motivating themselves to act if there isn't a sense of urgency. Or people who work better at planning and scheduling if they know when something is due. If that is you then seriously consider setting a deadline - something reasonable, but also close enough that it gives you some sense of urgency to work on it sooner than later.
You Got This! Now that you are armed with the knowledge about the different kinds of priorities and how to make Priorities by Importance...well... a priority... I know that you are incredibly capable of making the necessary adjustments to start working them into your schedule. Just remember that it takes time and effort to develop new habits. So be patient, be kind, and be determined - because you got this!
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Happiness & Wellbeing Life Coach
I will help you to set goals, get motivated, and really hone in on the roadblocks that are preventing you from succeeding - whether it is for a personal, relationship, career, or health oriented goal I will be a friend in your corner rooting for you and guiding you along the way!