Before you jump into today’s post, I want to stop you and make sure you’ve read the post of mine from last week. While you could read today’s post and still gather something from it (hopefully!), that first post really sets this up – or at least that’s how I intended this whole priorities chat to go. I always like to tell the whole story of something instead of just sharing tips or whatever, so I hope that first post better lets you understand the WHY behind this post! And it might make it more personal for you too 🙂 OK but after that’s read, jump into this one…
The funny thing about “priorities” is that we all intend to have them and might even think we do, but following through and actually living a life that reflects them is a different story. This blog post has been a long time coming because I’m realizing that in order to – as cheesy as it sounds – live your best life and be your best self, you’ve GOT to figure out what’s most important to you. And that a lot of us, myself included, might think we know that, but we might not – and we definitely might not be living our life with those priorities at the forefront of our daily actions.
This whole topic and post are about why it’s important to define your personal priorities (because they’ll be different from mine or anyone else’s) and then how to start living your life with those priorities truly in mind – and with habits that keep them in practice! First up, the WHY!
Why it’s important to define your priorities.
Your top priorities in life impact everything. Literally, everything starts there. Your priorities shape your actions, your days spent on this Earth, the decisions you make, how you spend your time, and the type of behavior you’re willing to tolerate from other people. Or at least they should be if you are truly looking to live your best life.
Usually, I’d say it makes more sense to list out reasons WHY I think you should define your priorities. But in this case, I think it makes for a stronger point to explain what happens WHEN YOU DON’T define them. Read through this list and I bet you’ll be able to relate to some – if not many – of these examples.
If you’re not clear on your priorities, you’ll:
- Have trouble managing your time and making progress on your goals. Actually, you’ll have a hard time even setting goals – much less following through on them.
- Have a hard time following through on your commitments. You’re likely to overwhelm yourself with too many responsibilities because you’re disillusioned into thinking that you can do it all. Sorry to break the bad news dolls, but you can’t do it all. And not everything is equally important. You have to draw the line somewhere.
- End up going through the motions of your life in a constant reactive state, falling victim to what’s urgent and pressing on you in the moment. And then by the time you’ve reached the important tasks, you’re exhausted and spent and end up pushing it off until later.
- Struggle to quickly and confidently make decisions because you lack clarity on your values and long-term vision for your life.
- Fall victim to living out what you think your priorities should be based on other people’s or what you’re reading or consuming.
You’re not alone, this is hard for everyone.
I’ll admit, it’s uncomfortable to define your priorities because it forces you to deal with the inevitable reality of trade-offs. It forces you to face the fact that you cannot do it all and that prioritizing requires sacrifice. It requires you to push some things down the list or even scratch them off all together. But it’s better to be in the driver seat, making this decision, than letting it happen to you. It’s better to know what you’re sacrificing upfront, rather than be surprised or upset by it later.
Do you see why I feel so strongly about this?! It’s SO important to define your priorities SO THAT you can live a life that reflects them. I’d say the hardest part is figuring out what they are and then looking at whether your time and energy align with them. If you need help figuring out what your top priorities are, keep reading.
How to define your top priorities.
You can’t prioritize what’s important if you don’t KNOW what’s important to you…
So let’s figure that out! I’m going to walk you through the process I personally went through about two years ago when trying to define what was most important to me. It was incredibly helpful and has changed my life for the better! I hope you’ll be able to find the time and answer these questions for yourself.
Step One: Set aside the time to do it.
This is important because casually thinking about it while you read this article doesn’t count. You actually need to find some time in your schedule and sit with a piece of paper and a pen– I’d say at least an hour or two, and make it pleasant. Grab a cup of tea on a weekend day, light a candle, make the space feel open to thoughts. Come back to this post when you’re ready to really think through this exercise I’m about to guide you through. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Step Two: Create a list of things you consider to be priorities.
If this sounds overwhelming, let me help guide you through it. By definition, priorities are the tasks, experiences and actions that fulfill your personal values. If you don’t know what your personal values are, that’s okay, we’ll figure it out together through this exercise.
Note: When answering these questions, I want you to be honest with yourself. We have a tendency to feel like certain things should be a priority in our lives and put unnecessary pressure on ourselves because of it. Try not to do that. It’s hard but TRY.
Question One: What are the things in your life currently, that if removed or destroyed, would most impact you (and leave a big, gaping hole)?
- These are things that you want to maintain, but could also be areas of your life that you want to IMPROVE.
- Note that it will be specific and different for each person but consider the following: your health, your partner, your family, your friends, your job, etc. But this is just the starting place. Keep reading.
Question Two: What are things in your life that you have now, but you would like to be better?
- Also, think about why you want them to improve – not why you think they should improve but really how your life, your days, your world, would improve. This is important.
- Things to consider: Relationships with friends, working on your marriage, health, home organization, closet organization, time for reading.
Question Three: What do you most desire?
- Think about your personal longings and dreams. What do you hope will happen? What do you hope to accomplish (and why)?
- When doing this exercise, BE HONEST with yourself. It’s hard sometimes to admit some things to ourselves like, well I really just want to be loved (that’s OKAY!) or I want to be successful so I’ll feel good about myself and others will think I’m impressive (that’s OKAY TOO!). The key here is to be direct and honest and keep asking why.
- Here are some common examples of desires to get your mind going: Career success and satisfaction, to start a family, find a husband or true love, deep relationships with friends and a strong community of people to do life with, to help people and contribute to society, to make a difference or cause change, to leave a legacy and be remembered, to be liked or admired, To be happier or experience more joy in your current circumstances, to heal from the pain or hurts of your past etc.
Question Four: What are you most unhappy with in your life right now and why?
- Thinking about what you’re most unsatisfied or unhappy with gives you another perspective into what might be missing from your life. It will also help you see areas that you’d like to improve. These areas might also be symptoms of bigger issues too or help you realize that you’re neglecting one area of your life and it is impacting another.
- Some examples to get you started:
- You’re feeling stressed at work and it’s spilling over into your personal life, distancing you from the people you care about most.
- You’re hanging out with people that you don’t totally feel comfortable with, and you’re not being your true self with them – this could be in a romantic relationship too.
- You’re watching a ton of TV but aren’t making time for hobbies that actually give you happiness.
- You’re living life based on what you think you should be doing for success, even when it doesn’t feel right to you.
- You’re tired all the time and it’s starting to take a toll on you.
- You’re gaining weight and you want to stop your unhealthy habits before things get too out of hand.
Step Three: review step two and create a list of priorities.
Look over everything you’ve written and write out a list of 6-10 things that are important to you. This might take some time because I know you want to write everything, but we’ve got to make a clear list. We can deal with the details and specifics later, but make a neat list of one-lined items (bonus points if you can put a WHY behind each one). For example:
- Improve my health because it is good for my mind and body and sense of self-confidence.
- Invest in friendships because spending time with friends brings me joy and I know that I was built for connection and community.
- Take better care of my home because I often feel overwhelmed and stressed when things pile up, so I think getting organized will help improve my life overall.
- Get to sleep on time because I know that more sleep will positively impact multiple areas of my life.
- Build a business so that I can follow my dream or to find more freedom with my schedule.
- Put more love back into my marriage.
Step Four: narrow your list to your top 3-5 priorities.
This is important because this is where most people get tripped up. Unfortunately, you cannot do it all and you will HAVE to CHOOSE what is MOST important from all the things that are important to you (aka the list above). It’s okay, you can do it!
Narrowing down the list you just made in step three is really important. You just listed out 6-10 of your top priorities, which should have gotten your brain going and helping you to refine your list of ALL THE THINGS that are important to you.
But, from this list I think it’s really important to highlight your MOST important priorities – the ones that WILL have a trump card over all the others. This doesn’t mean the others aren’t important, it just means that you’ll have some sort of hierarchy since you won’t be able to realistically live out ALL of them at ALL times. And personally, I think it’s important to keep the “TOP” priorities list UNDER 5.
Here are some tips for narrowing down your list:
- Is this priority connected to my long-term goals and vision for my life?
- Is it really a priority or do I just feel like it should be?
- What is my WHY behind said priority? For instance, if getting a promotion at work is a priority, think about why you want it. Is it for money and will that money truly impact your happiness? Is it for status and does that really matter? Will it excel your career and let you travel the world which you’ve always wanted to do? Sometimes exploring the why can reveal new truths and insights to us that will help in getting more perspective.
- Would I be willing to sacrifice for said priority? And why?
- Would this priority truly impact my life on the regular?
- What would my life look like if I choose this as one of my top 5? And will that really matter?
Realize that if you don’t choose your “TOP” priorities, then your circumstances or other people will choose FOR you.
Keep in mind that these priorities do NOT have to be forever. I like to think of priorities as an evolving list that changes with the different seasons of my life. Some seasons might call for work to be a priority, others for health, and then others for family. It does not have to be set in stone.
Step Five: write the list out & review a week later.
Okay so you’ve gone through all these steps (hopefully!) and now I want you to write them out! I keep them in a list in my NOTES app on my iPhone! Then walk away for a bit, spend some time away from all this introspective, priorities-based thinking. It’s important to let it all sink in and put some space and time between you and your list. And then look at it again a week or so later and see if you agree with this list! And if you still stand behind what you wrote down!
Now that you KNOW what your priorities are, the next step is to assess how your current life aligns with them. And then once we’ve done that, we’ll start taking baby steps to honestly living out our priorities each and every day.
This blog post has gotten WAY too long, so I’ll have to cover that one in another post in the coming weeks! If you got to the end of this, I’m REALLY proud of you! I may or may not have spent WAY TOO much time on this post, but I believe so strongly in doing a reflective exercise like this and think it’s important.
Next up, we’ll talk about how to actually INCORPORATE these priorities into your life (which is where I think a lot of us get stuck), but at least we have them now. So let them sit and we’ll be back on this soon!
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