When you learn how to prioritize your life, you can focus with intention on what matters and accomplish your most important goals.
Priorities are tricky.
There are things you really want to prioritize at the start of each year — like spending more time with family, pursuing a passion project, or starting a business.
And there are things you have to prioritize, like looking after your kids or showing up at work.
Then there are all the distractions that get in the way of accomplishing what you really want.
A high-paying job seems too good to pass up, even if it means spending less time at home. Day-to-day activities like answering emails, running errands, or scrolling on social media eat up more time than you care to track.
That’s why it’s essential to identify your priorities and then learn the tools to place them at the forefront of your life.
When you learn how to prioritize your life, you can put your core values into action. You commit to your long term goals and build the life you want.
Try some of these approaches to start putting your priorities first, even when distractions come up.
1. Develop a Personal Leadership Philosophy
“Developing a Personal Leadership Philosophy (PLP) empowers you to declare YOUR truth and stand tall within it, to operate from a position of strength that ennobles you.”
– Deb Calvert
A Personal Leadership Philosophy means to get super clear on your values, then to commit to those values through your goals and habits. These fundamental truths form the foundation for your life, whenever you have decisions to make in any area — whether it’s your career, relationships, or lifestyle.
Developing a PLP, you’ll have a better idea of your priorities, and others will also know what they can expect from you. It will help you set your own direction and resist external pressure when people try to steer you away from your priorities.
Ultimately, your PLP will help you gain clarity on how to make decisions—when to move forward and when to say no.
2. Identify your core values
What matters to you the most?
Which qualities do you admire above all else?
When do you feel the most like yourself?
These are all clues to help you uncover your unique list of core values. Fitness, wealth, generosity, religion—these are all examples of values.
Clarity on your core values makes big decisions easier, as well as knowing how to act in day-to-day situations. Being clear on your values is key to setting meaningful priorities.
To start, make a list of your values. Narrow down to the 3 to 5 things that matter to you the most.
3. Connect your values with your big goals
The priorities you pursue have to align with your core values, in order for you to find a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
That means looking at your values and determining the actions needed to live them out. It’s a process of connecting the dots between your values and your goals.
Let’s say you value creativity; what type of activities or passions will allow you to express yourself? If you consider generosity an important value, perhaps it’s time to pivot careers into the nonprofit sector, or give volunteering a bigger share of your calendar.
Evaluate your current situation. Challenge yourself to generate new ideas to further incorporate your core values into your day-to-day life.
4. Create a “100 Aspirations” list
What do you want out of life?
Many people have some idea of their dreams, but few take the time to really answer that question.
So I want you to write down a list of 100 Aspirations. Close your eyes and envision the life of your dreams. Write down all of the things that come to mind.
These heart dreams can fuel your excitement and motivation to stick to your priorities when distractions and difficulties inevitably occur.
When you get clear on specific goals, the ones that light you up, you are one step closer to creating the life you want.
5. Develop daily habits to achieve goals
Most big changes will require you to put in consistent effort over a long period of time. Figure out what daily habits will lead you to your aspirations, and prioritize them in your schedule.
If you want to publish a book, spend 20 minutes each day writing. If you want to build a better relationship with your partner, set aside quality time, without phones or other distractions, to enjoy each other’s company.
Small habits, followed consistently over time, are the stepping stones to achieving big goals.
Each time you complete a daily habit, the brain releases dopamine. Often called the “feel good” neurotransmitter because it does just that—dopamine makes us feel good. When your brain gets a hit of this rewarding neurotransmitter, you’ll want you to repeat the associated behavior.
And over time, those repeated habits lead to big changes.
6. Manage commitments
In her article, Deb Calvert recalls a time when she turned down THE dream job.
She made a commitment.
She was raising a child with special needs and put that commitment above all else. She understood her values (family) and her goals (a flexible work situation).
She wasn’t willing to compromise on her priorities, even for an incredible opportunity.
Managing commitments is not the same as multi-tasking or trying to squeeze everything you want into your schedule.
Learning how to prioritize your life means learning to say no.
When you manage commitments in alignment with your priorities, there is far, far more that will never make it onto task lists, project plans, and daily schedules than will make it to such places.
That’s a sheer fact of math or physics, however you want to look at it.
We all have to get clear on our committed course. Or else, we’ll fall short when it comes to the things that really matter most, without even realizing it.
7. Reflect on progress
You become what you think about.
In an interview with Brian Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist Lanny Bassham talks about the “Principle of reinforcement.” The more you think about or talk about something happening, the greater the probability that thing will happen.
Bassham recommends some reflective questions to help you achieve peak performance:
- What went well so far?
- What did you learn?
- What kinds of solutions can you come up with for the future?
When you reflect, don’t worry about what could go wrong. Instead, focus on your accomplishments so far. Think about what you want to happen next. Brainstorm solutions and new ideas to move forward. Talk to others, in a humble way, about what went well.
Then write it all down in a reflective journal to track progress. This will leave a positive imprint that will guide you to succeed in the future.
Because I consider relationships a core value, I often reflect on how I’m doing, what is working, and how I can improve connections with others.
In terms of fencing, I sit with my journal after practice sessions and review: What did I learn? How did my skill set improve? What will I aim to work on tomorrow?
I recommend taking a pause every so often to evaluate progress. I check in with myself once every 14 days to reflect to myself in a journal or with another person regarding:
- What went well?
- What insights did I have?
- How can I continue to focus on specific aspects of my PLP so I’m even more true to myself next week?
8. Allow obstacles to MAKE you, not break you
“Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.”
– Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
One of the active ingredients for my consistency to commitments is this:
Accept (and respect) the challenges.
Struggle is a part of life. High-stakes, novel circumstances, unexpected happenings, complexities, pressure—these things offer the most potent and powerful life lessons.
Rather than fight against the current, go with the flow. Don’t deny the struggle or play victim.
Accept the challenges and see them as learning opportunities for growth catalysts. Refer back to your highest priorities and see how they can guide you moving forward.
Ask yourself: What is this unpleasant situation teaching me? Do I need to pivot or tweak my daily habits to get closer to the goals I want to achieve?
9. Stay consistent
Consistency over time = Results
Commitment is a cycle of events that continues through thick and thin. Don’t give up, even when nothing goes right.
It’s not easy to stay consistent with your priorities over the long term, so make sure you are doing everything you can to feel supported and motivated.
Use these strategies to stay on track:
- Turn to your support system: Regularly check in with friends, family, and mentors. If you want more support and accountability, consider working with a coach.
- Adapting: Know when to keep fighting, or when to change directions.
- Trust the process: Know that daily habits and consistent effort will pay off in the long run.
- Taking breaks: It’s essential to take time for rest and reflection.
10. Recognize when it’s time to pause
Sometimes you need to take a step back to make a huge stride forward.
Look at Olympic silver medalist Epee fencer, Ana Maria Popescu. When an opponent starts to chip away at her during a match, she signals the director for a time out.
This gives her a moment for a mental “reset”. She takes the time to step out of the situation. When she gets back in the match, she redirects the momentum in a favorable direction.
Studies show that strategic breaks have the power to refresh your brain and help you stay motivated when taking on difficult tasks.
Regroup. Recalibrate. Reevaluate your priorities. Reflect on where you can improve and come up with new strategies that work. You can always get back into the ring, this time with a clear head.
11. YOUR priorities versus THEIR priorities
Sometimes what we think we want isn’t the same as what we actually want.
Very often people compare themselves to others. They think they want the fancy car, the high paying job, or the big house. This kind of comparison will have you chasing after someone else’s priorities.
You may also feel pressure from family to do certain things that really don’t make you happy. They may have expectations for you to stick with a job because it pays well, even if it makes you miserable.
What you need to figure out is: what does success mean to YOU?
12. Develop your mental focus
Once you’re clear on your priorities and goals, you have to focus and do the work to achieve them.
If constant distractions, overwhelm, and procrastination are keeping you from prioritizing your life, improving focus is something to work on.
There are internal factors that can affect your ability to focus, including mental and physical exhaustion, or too many distracting thoughts. Then there are external factors, like your environment, too many demands on your time, or unforeseen events.
Being focused is a skill you can learn and practice.
If you’re ready to take charge of your days, we’ve put together a course just for you. It provides some incredible tools and resources to help you clear space in your mind and your calendar.
Then it walks you through a simple, yet super-effective process for planning your days to achieve your long term goals.
You can check it out here:
Learning how to prioritize your life is a lifelong process, one that we are all continually learning and practicing. We’d be honored to accompany you on your journey.