When was the last time you said something like ‘I just need to prioritise’?
Or ‘I just need more time.’
We say these things so often that they’re almost devoid of meaning. It’s like saying we’re good.
It doesn’t tell us anything anymore.
Ironically, to actually prioritise, we need to prioritise prioritising.
We won’t magically stop feeling overwhelmed without assessing our situations.
We don’t suddenly feel clear that how we’re spending our time is how we want to spend our time.
The discombobulated, out of alignment feeling doesn’t resolve itself on its own.
We need to spend time, even half an hour, considering what our priorities actually are.
From there, we can start to see where what we claim our priorities are and how we are spending our time diverges.
From there, we can see what steps to take to close that gap.
And always, the hardest part is starting so here are three ways to assess your priorities to make getting started easy.
The Jar of Rocks and Sand Method
This concept has been around for decades (maybe the 80s, I don’t know).
Here’s a video summarising the idea. The TL;DR (or watch ;)), you have a jar that represents your life. Rocks, pebbles, sand represent the elements that make up your life. Rocks being the most important, sand being the minutiae of how you spend your time.
The lesson? If you feel your jar with sand first, there is no time for the rocks and pebbles.
So the invitation is to identify your rocks, pebbles and sand.
Here is the challenge though, thinking realistically about how many rocks might fit in a standard jar, you can have four to maybe six rocks, at a stretch.
I would challenge you to land between three to five rocks.
Aim for about ten pebbles. Which kind of feels like a lot to me but if you think about all of the ways you spend your time, it might not be so hard to come up with ten.
My caveat is your sand list should be longer than your rocks and pebbles COMBINED.
Remember, this is all about getting clear on what’s MOST important.
And as the saying goes, if everything is important then nothing is important. So hold yourself to account and be brutal.
The Rank Your Priorities Method
Speaking of everything being important then nothing being, maybe a tiebreaker is more your style.
Instead of forming groups of similar level priorities, write the ultimate priority list.
Start by brainstorming out everything that is important to you. And everything you spend your time on (ultimately, this is about seeing where you’re out of alignment with your priorities after all).
Then put EVERYTHING you’ve come up with in a list of most important to least important.
No ties. You have to make a choice, is something more important to you or less important to you than the adjacent points.
The brilliance of this approach is that our brains are really good at comparison. Most of the rankings will come easily.
It will be pretty clear to you whether shopping for shoes or working out at the gym is more important to you. Actually now I think about it, shopping for shoes is pretty up there for me, just not something I do as often.
Which brings me to another point, we’re largely talking about our day to day priorities. Or maybe over the course of an average week. But there are things we only do every so often, like shoe shopping, that feed into a day to day priority like feeling good in how we present ourselves.
Make note of less frequent priorities, like travel, and also ask if they lead to daily priorities, like saving money. Add those to your list!
The Compare to Your Ideal Day Method
How are you spending your time, your money and your energy?
When it comes to priorities, we’re almost always thinking about time.
We’re always talking about being busy. Or like I said at the beginning, about not having enough time.
Time tends to be the driver of evaluating our priorities.
But our money and our energy are equally important resources to think about when looking at priorities.
When you think about your ideal day, how are you spending your money, energy AND time?
Now, when you think about your average day at the moment, where do those resources go?
The extra for experts here is to track your time, money and energy for a week and see how it compares to your ideal.
Maybe you spend 10 minutes at the end of each day reflecting and making some notes. Maybe you start a spreadsheet and track every half an hour. Maybe you go back through the last three months of spending.
All of these are valid approaches. All of them will offer insight that helps you decide what adjustments you want to make. Meaning: one is not better than the other because it’s more ‘heavy duty’. Do what feels right to you.
Some extra questions to refine your reflections
Before you ask yourself these questions, make sure you’re somewhere quiet and undisturbed. Have the space to tune into yourself. Maybe take a moment to take some breaths or set an intention or simply stare into space and let your mind empty.
When you’re feeling centered, read on.
Is this what is truly important to me or is this what I’ve been taught to value?
No one ever needs to read or see or hear about what you think right now so be really, really honest. Maybe you were raised to prioritise your career but what really matters to you is creativity.
Here’s a hint, if all of your priorities can apply to everyone, e.g. career, health, family, then I urge you to ask, ‘what matters to ME?’. Go deeper.
What is it about this area of my life that is important to me?
I will say this forever, being specific is more powerful.
So if your top priority is family, what is it about family that matters? Is it quality time, sharing experiences, providing a lifestyle?
If a key priority for you is your health is that about exercise, how you eat, working with specialists? Is it physical or mental or spiritual health?
For each of the top priorities on your list, ask yourself this: if your other top priorities are met and well met, would you be ok with this being secondary (a pebble rather than a rock)?
This will help you REALLY put your priorities to the test. This is the question that separates the true priorities from the nice to have.
Here is the sense check, if my identified priorities accounted for 75% of my time, how would I feel?
Is that what you really want?