Priorities: Definition, Lists, & Tips
What are priorities? How do you set priorities to make the most of your life? Here are some tips to help you determine your top priorities, order them, and manage them.
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What Are Priorities? (A Definition)
Priorities are defined as things that are regarded as more important than other things. So something that is a high-priority is more important (to us) and therefore attended to more often or carefully (or at least that's the goal).
But what happens if we don't actually know what is a high priority for us? Or, what if we're struggling to manage competing high priority things? Or, what if we're just too plain busy to ever get to the high priority stuff? If you're reading this, then you're likely looking for more help setting or managing priorities. So let's talk a bit more about those things next.
How to Set Priorities
In best practice, we would devote most of our time and attention to the highest-priority things. But in order to do that, we have to first think through our priorities. What exactly is high-priority, for us?
The answer likely depends on which aspect of our life we're looking at. Are we setting work priorities, relationship priorities, family priorities, or overall life priorities? We probably need to take a look at each of these life domains to better understand different types of priorities, how they fit together, and how they may compete with each other. So let's talk a bit about each set of priorities to clarify which are your top priorities in each life domain.
Setting priorities for work can help us ensure that we are successful in getting the most important things done, and it can help us climb the career ladder or move into more rewarding roles. To set priorities for work, make a list of the major tasks that you need to accomplish. Then list these tasks in order of importance. Be sure to also note whether one task needs to come before another or is dependent on another task.
For example, I must write articles before I can publish them. Even though publishing articles is high priority for me, writing is higher priority because it has to come first. Below is my list of work priorities to use as an example.
Example list of priorities for work
I try to structure my workday by starting with the highest priority items first. In the afternoon, when I start to get the sleepies, I'll shift my focus to lower priority items like having meetings and answering emails. This way, high-priority things get done early and they have my full attention and brainpower.
Setting priorities for our relationships (either romantic or social relationships) can help us get more from these relationships. Maybe there are some people we want to see more than others. Maybe there are certain activities that strengthen our relationships while other activities just kinda leave us feeling unfulfilled. Or maybe there are tasks that we need to do to ensure that our relationships stay strong.
Take a moment to think about some of your relationship priorities. Here are some of mine that you can use as an example.
Example list of priorities for romantic relationships
My partner and I have agreed upon a code of honesty where we tell each other the truth, even if it's unpleasant. We've found that all the other relationship maintenance stuff doesn't really have the same benefits if we're not sticking to that top priority. So that's why that one comes first.
Friend relationships are a little different. Here are some example priorities for friendships.
Example list of priorities for social relationships
My top priority with friends is just to spend more time together. With all the busyness of life, we can lose track of what's important and how we want to spend our time. That's something I struggle with, so I know my top priority for friendships is to just make time for friends.
Another important priority area is regarding our families—our kids, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. What are the highest priority actions you need to take to ensure these relationships are taken care of? Your answer may differ a lot depending on your family dynamic or the relationships you have with specific family members. So take a moment to think about high-priority actions within your family. Here are some of mine.
Example list of priorities for family
Family relationships can be difficult for some, so make sure you prioritize actions that make them as good as possible. For example, I know that for me, setting clear boundaries is the most important thing. I have a habit of letting people walk all over me (doubly true for family) and I end up getting resentful if I'm not prioritizing that.
The life domains we've already talked about make up some of your priorities, but there are other important areas of life with key priorities. For example, you may have priorities related to your mental or physical health, finances, purpose, and personal growth. Here are some examples of other priorities that may be important to you.
Example list of priorities for life
Video: How to Prioritize
What Are Your Top Priorities?
If you've thought a bit about your priorities in each of the life domains, you're probably now wondering, How do I prioritize my priorities?!
Well, pause here to look over or think about your top priorities in each life domain. Merge these into one long list of priorities, again putting the most important ones at the top. Now, this might not be easy. All of our priorities can seem equally important—and they may be—but do your best to order your priorities.
Don't worry, no one else will see your list. So try not to feel guilty or worry about what anyone else thinks. Just focus on what's really important to you. But keep in mind that your priorities can change over time, and that's okay too.
I've gotten pretty comfortable sharing all sorts of things about my well-being on this website, so here's my top priorities list to see as an example.
Example list of top priorities
My current top priorities reflect my current life, and your priorities likely will too.
So far, the way we've talked about priorities is a bit like an ordered list of goals. Even if we've managed to order our priorities, and focus on the top ones, there will inevitably come times when our top priorities will compete with each other. Here's how:
Priorities compete for time
The most basic way that priorities compete with each other is they compete for time. There are only so many hours in the day. If we spend all day doing our top priority, then we'll have no time for our second priority. But if we spend an equal amount of time on each priority, we'll move forward so slowly on all of them that we may get frustrated and give up.
I've found the best way to deal with this is to focus on one or two time-intensive priorities at a time. For example, growing my business and managing my health issue are both time-intensive. I'd love to spend more time with friends and go to the gym, but those things just don't get to be top priorities right now.
Don't forget about your second-tier priorities and make a note of them somewhere. But also it's key not to do too many time-intensive things. This can burn us out, which is the opposite of what you want.
Priorities compete with your values
Another challenging way that priorities compete is by pulling at different values. For example, my priority to overcome my health issue requires I eat well, sleep well, and decrease stress as much as possible. It's consistent with my value of work-life balance. But my priority to grow my business is somewhat inconsistent with this value. It requires hard work, lots of time, and engaging in many stressful activities.
When priorities compete with values, they can be more difficult to execute. For example, many entrepreneurs work long hours and push themselves hard to grow a business. In order for my priorities not to complete with my values, I have to pursue them in ways that are consistent with my values. So I work no more than 8 hours per day, try to get some sun and exercise in the middle of the day, and set my goals according to what I know fits me.
When looking at your priorities, try to make notes of any potential value conflicts. You may need to think about how you act on these priorities in ways that don't conflict with your personal values.
Even when we know what our priorities are, we can sometimes have a hard time doing the things we know we should do. That's when the Eisenhower box (see below) can come in handy. It can help show us how to stop doing the low-priority things that suck up the majority of our time.
This box breaks tasks up into Urgent/Important, Not Urgent/Important, Urgent/Not Important, & Not Urgent/ Not Important. When we know which tasks fall in which box, we can make decisions that help us better stick to our priorities. For example, we might decide to delegate cleaning the house to the kids or delegate mowing the lawn to a yard services agency.
Taking Action on Your Priorities
Another thing to consider is what things make it easier or harder for us to stick to our priorities. For example, are there people who make it difficult to stick to your priorities? Are there situations that make it hard to stick to your priorities? Or, are there things about you that make it hard to stick to your priorities? Understanding our own unique roadblocks can help us devise methods for getting around them.
For example, my husband and I both work at home. I know that if I get talking to him, I can end up spending hours just having fun with him, and my other priorities get neglected. So, we've set ourselves a schedule where we can only chat during established break times. Now we can both get some work done.
Another challenge I have is that I get obsessive when I'm in the middle of a project. Just as my family time can bleed into my work time, my work time bleeds into my family time. Even though I have a rule for myself that I'm not allowed to work on weekend evenings, I spent all of last weekend working on a project. By the time Monday rolled around, I was really in need of a break and had missed my opportunity to spend weekend time with loved ones. Arg!
Anyway, all this is to say that paying attention to your patterns and habits can shine a light on what you're doing well and what needs to be structured or changed. That way, you can effectively execute your priorities.
Articles for Learning More About Priorities
Need some more help with goal-setting, manifesting, and working with your priorities? These articles may be helpful.
Books to Help You With Priorities
Want some more guidance? Here are a few books that may help you keep learning about how to successfully set and manage priorities.
Setting priorities can help provide a map for getting to where you want to go. As long as we can stick to those priorities, we can create the lives we really want.