Setting Your Priorities

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Setting From The Start

The pace and speed of our lives, both at home or at work, can leave you feeling like you are riding on a galloping horse.  Our day to day incessant busyness , allied with too much to do and not enough time, means that the pressure to produce and check of items on our to do list, seems to decide the direction and quality of our existing time.

However, if we approach our days in another way, we can consciously change this out of phase pattern.  It just requires the courage to do less.  This may seem simple but doing less can be very difficult.  Too often we think that by doing less we are being lazy and this results in a lack of productivity.  Rather than doing less helps us to enjoy what we do achieve.  We learn to do less of what is extraneous, and engage in fewer self defeating behaviors, so we create a rich life that we truly feel great about.

Just doing less for its own sake can be easy, startling, and transformative. Imagine having a real and unhurried conversation in the middle of an unforgiving workday with somebody you care about. Imagine completing one discrete task at a time and feeling calm and happy about it. In this book, you will see a new approach.

The approach is equally useful for our personal life and our work life. In fact, the two hemispheres of our work and personal lives constantly reflect on and affect one another, each changing and/or reinforcing the other. Every life has awesome meaning, but the fog of constant activity and plain bad habits can often obscure the meaning of our own.

Acknowledge and change these, and we can again enjoy the ways we contribute to the workplace, enjoy the sweetness of our lives, and share openly and generously with the ones we love. Less busyness leads to appreciating the sacredness of life. Doing less leads to more love, more effectiveness and internal calmness, and a greater ability to accomplish more of what matters most to us.

Not everything in life can be a priority. Many important things will compete for attention over your lifetime, but there are not enough hours in anybody’s lifetime to give attention to everything that could potentially be a priority. Determining your basic priorities is a key exercise in moving toward more efficient use of your time. Your basic priorities provide a means for making time choices, helping you decide where it is important to invest yourself and where you are able to let go.


Setting priorities is a matter of deciding what is very important. In this case, “important” means significant to you. What activities and roles give your life meaning? These are the components of your life where you would like to succeed the most. Not everything in your life can be a priority.

Many important things will compete for attention over your lifetime, but there are not enough hours in anybody’s lifetime to give attention to everything that could potentially be a priority. Determining your basic priorities is a key exercise in moving toward more efficient use of your time.

Your basic priorities provide a means for making time choices, helping you decide where it is important to invest yourself and where you are able to let go. On a daily basis, you also have to learn to set task priorities. Prioritizing tasks includes two steps.

  1.    Recognizing what needs to be done.

2.    Deciding on the order in which to do the tasks.

How do you determine what work needs to be done? For the most part, it relates back to your basic priorities. To be efficient in your time use, you have to weed out the work that does not fit with your basic priorities. Learn to say “no” to jobs that look interesting and may even provide a secure sense of accomplishment but do not fit with your basic priorities.

You also have to be able to separate out the tasks that require busywork that tends to eat away at your time. Many tasks that fill your day may not really need doing at all or could be done less frequently. Task prioritizing means working on the most significant tasks first regardless how tempted you are to less significant tasks out of the way. Certain skills help in using time effectively. Most of these skills are mental. While it is not necessary to develop all of the skills, each contributes to your ability to direct time usage. Time sense is the skill of estimating how long a task will take to accomplish. A good sense of time will help you be more realistic in planning your activities. It helps prevent the frustration of never having quite enough time to accomplish tasks.

To increase your time sense, begin by making mental notes of how long it actually takes to do certain routine tasks like getting ready in the morning, running a load of laundry or delivering your child across town to baseball practice. Goal setting is the skill of deciding where you want to be at the end of a specific time. Goal setting gives direction to your morning, your day, your week and your lifetime. The exercise on deciding your lifetime priorities is a form of goal setting. Learn to write down your goals. If you are like most people, goals are just wishes until you write them down. Keep your goals specific, as in “weed the flower beds in front of the house” rather than “work on the yard.” Keep your goals realistic or you will continually be frustrated by a sense of failure.

Standard shifting is adjusting your standards as circumstances change. Your standards are what you use to judge whether something is good enough, clean enough, pretty enough, done well enough. Perfectionists have very high, rigid standards, and they have trouble adjusting to the changing demands or circumstances of their life.

Develop the ability to shift standards so you can be satisfied with less than perfect when your time demands are high, instead of feeling as if you are somehow falling short. Time planning is outlining ahead of time the work you need to be done in a specific period. Sometimes time planning is as simple as writing out a “To Do” list to ease you mind from holding on to too much detail.

At particularly stressful times, the “To Do” list may expand to include a more specific calendar of when tasks will be done. While a detailed time schedule can be too confining to use all of the time, it is a good way to take the pressure off at exceptionally demanding times.

Recognizing procrastination is a skill in itself because procrastinators can do an incredible job of hiding their procrastination from themselves. Procrastination is needlessly postponing decisions or actions. You might disguise the procrastination response with an excuse like waiting for inspiration, or needing a large block of time to concentrate with your full attention, or needing more information before tackling a project.

It takes skill to differentiate between procrastination excuses and legitimate reasons for delaying a decision or action. Without the ability to recognize when you are, procrastinating there is little chance of overcoming this immobilizing habit.

Assume Ownership of YOUR Time.

Most individuals would be surprised if somebody reached in their wallet without asking and helped themselves to the money found there. But how different is that from letting other people help themselves to your time? Take possession of your own time and do not allow other people to make commitments of your time without your permission.

It is not selfish to keep other people from consuming your time. Give your time freely when you want but do not make the mistake of undervaluing this resource, or feeling guilty when you do not allow other people to waste it. Think of a time lately when somebody wasted your time. How could you have dealt with the situation better?


Continually check yourself to see that you’re working on the most significant things. Helping your child talk through a problem, he/she is having or discussing the day’s events with a spouse or friend may be more significant than getting the dishes done or a load of laundry completed. Do not think of priorities only as tasks that need doing. As you remind yourself to direct yourself to the most important tasks first, you will find yourself letting go of tasks that really did not need to be done in the first place.

Say “No”

It is not that saying the word is so difficult. It’s more the feeling of guilt that many women experience as soon as they use the word. Try centering on the significant things that will be done because you used that two-letter word to decline something which was not a part of your priorities. Considering your past week, what are some things you should have said “no” to?

Protect Blocks

Think of your day as numerous large blocks of time with the blocks divided by natural interruptions. Where you have control, keep your blocks whole, scheduling appointments and meetings, running errands at the beginning or end of a block instead of in the middle. Having an appointment in the middle of a block leaves little time at either end to tackle a major piece of work. Keeping your blocks of time as big as possible gives you a feeling of having more time that is available.


There is that “D” word. Delegating means assigning the responsibility for a task to somebody else. That signifies you no longer have to do the task, nor do you have to remind somebody else to do it. Being able to delegate some tasks is a way of freeing up some of your time for the jobs that only you are able to do. As somebody else learns to do a job, do not be tempted to take over if they are not doing it quite right. You have to learn that “done” may be “good enough.”

Buy Time

There’s an intimate relationship between time and money, where one can often be substituted for the other. The more hectic your schedule, the more reasonable it is to buy time by selecting goods and services that save you from investing time. Paying somebody to mow your yard or transport your kids to baseball practice are examples of purchasing time. What are some of the additional ways you are able to or do buy some time?

Breaking Down Tasks

One of the sources of procrastination is that some tasks can seem too overwhelming to even begin. Learn to break down a large task into manageable pieces and then begin with a piece you know you can handle. The most challenging step on major undertakings is often the first one. Besides, you will have a greater sense of satisfaction as you complete each individual portion of the task and this can keep you motivated to the end.

Take Action!

Think of a major task you have ahead of you. How could you break it down into manageable pieces?

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