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How Knowing Your Priorities Will Change Your Work

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Work in progress - what should I do next?

In medicine, when faced with the need to save an internal organ, the choice will be made in this order: heart, lungs, and kidneys; this order is based on the amount of time one can survive without that organ. If you’re a doctor, knowing the purpose each organ serves and how long the body can survive without it provides clarity. In other words, knowing your priorities can be the difference between life and death.

“What does that have to do with me?” you might be thinking, “I’m in business, not medicine.”

Good point.

But if you want your business – and yourself – to be healthy and thrive, knowing your priorities has everything to do with you.

Knowing your priorities will change the way you work.

Knowing your priorities will energize you, like adding a booster shot to your smoothie or a shot of espresso to your coffee.

You Gain a Clear Focus Connected to a Bigger Purpose

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein

Einstein recognized that important work deserved his focus. By knowing your priorities, you identify which things are so important they get your focus first.

As anyone who ever needed glasses can attest focus is a powerful thing. To get the most powerful focus out of your priorities do these three things:

  • Set no more than a few priorities for a given time period, day, week or month. Three or less is magic.
  • Clearly write out each priority, e.g. I prioritize getting 6 hours of sleep every night. (There was a time I existed on 3-5  hours). I’m currently doing this on a mini-whiteboard I carry with me. #priority
  • Know why it’s important, i.e. the bigger purpose. I’m not at my best personally and professionally when I get less than 6 hours of sleep regularly; I yell at my kids a lot and have a tendency to get sick.

You Know Where You Need to Spend Your Time

“The key is not to prioritize your schedule but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey

The demands on our time in this modern day are infinite, yet we still only have 24 hours in a day. The idea that we can squeeze it all in if we can just managing our time better or sacrifice sleep is a dangerous fallacy because we cede our schedules to everyone else’s agenda.

Stake claim on your time by scheduling your priorities. Put what’s important on your calendar, digital or otherwise. When we do that we leash the hours in our day and train them to be in service instead of letting them run wild.

As I’ve developed this habit, it’s made decisions about where to spend my time clearer. And I’ve found that scheduling my priorities also has other benefits:

  • I’m more efficient when I do non-priority things, like choosing what to wear for the day.
  • I’ve started to simplify things that aren’t important often with the same results, e.g. giving my kids quesadillas on a weeknight – and not cooking anything more complex – because it still allows us to sit down and have dinner together (which happens to be one of our family priorities).
  • I’m becoming more present in my interactions with people because I’m not distracted by how I’m going to “get it all done”.

You Get to Say “No” for a Good Cause

“If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.”  – Greg McKeown

In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown explains how saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else even when we are unaware of it. But “essentialists” consciously understand that trade-offs are a part of life. That’s not a negative thing, it’s a liberating thing.

When you have a few clearly written priorities and know in your gut why they are important, saying “no” becomes logical.

For a natural people-pleaser like me, this is a game-changer. Why? Because I am saying “no” for a worthy cause, to focus on something important, not because I’m a jerk.

You’ll Make Progress on Things That Matter

“Your focus will determine your reality” – Mark Batterson

As I consistently focus on what’s important, I’ve started to accomplish things. It’s not magic; clarity, conviction, and consistent action over time work together to deliver results.

Case in point: this blog. I started my business in early 2018. I wrote my first blog, then did nothing for months. I thought I should blog but couldn’t bring myself to do it because I had “so many other things to do” and eventually took my blog down.  A month ago, blogging became a priority. I’m passionate about helping entrepreneurs focus and build their businesses while also having a life. Writing and dialoguing with others is part of the way I get to do that. With this clarity, blogging has become a priority, it’s stayed on my calendar, and here’s the result.

Having a clear focus, knowing where to spend time, knowing when to say “no” and accomplishing things that matter have changed the way I work. It’s energized me personally and professionally. Not to mention, it’s a less stressful way to work and live.