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But how do you know what is truly important in the first place unless you’ve stopped to define your priorities?

What is a priority?

A priority is something that merits your attention. It’s something that you’ve previously established as personally or professionally important to you. It’s probably connected to your value system. For example, the priority to be at home on time for family dinner each night connects to my family value system.

Chances are you instinctively know what your priorities are. But it doesn’t hurt to both say them out loud and write them down. Doing so may help you effectively make decisions affecting your business, your life, and your family.

Consider the following suggestions on how to get your priorities straight.

Recognize priority areas

Your priorities will probably stem from value areas: time, career, family, community, health, financial, and emotional. For example: one person may value health above all other priorities while another could value monetary gain and location.

There’s no right or wrong priority. There’s no weighting system. We should never feel ashamed about our priorities. Our priorities are our life’s work and they are uniquely our own.

What matters most is that you are true to yourself by identifying and pursuing only those priorities that are really important to you.

Revisit your priority list

Once you’ve identified (or come to grips with) your top priorities, don’t do anything for a few weeks. Let them marinate.

Revisit the list and see how it feels. Do you still feel strongly about these priorities? Why or why not? Be honest. You don’t want to set false priorities because your efforts and decisions going forward will be misdirected. Worse, they’ll be unfulfilling.


Make any changes needed

Make any changes to your original list of priorities and, if necessary, give this fresh list some additional time to settle.

Determine your top five priorities

If you’re comfortable with your list, it’s time to identify your top priorities. It’s not about weighting them or listing them as ‘number 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.’ Simply acknowledge what’s most important to you.

Prioritizing priorities is unwise because of the internal personal conflict it can create. For example, there’s no need to place a higher weighting on career advancement over family vacation time when both are valuable to you.

You may emerge with a list that looks something like this:

  • I want to rise to the top of my profession in my market
  • No matter how much I love my work, evenings and weekends are reserved for my family
  • Running is a priority so I’ve scheduled runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings
  • My hobby is emotionally rewarding so I’ll continue to devote Tuesday evenings to it
  • I’ll make the time to see my kid play soccer at least once per month

Returning to work

Priorities in place (or refreshed), you’re now ready to accept or resume work. But you’ll notice a difference in the way you go about your business – everything else fits around your priorities.

Some people schedule their priorities into their work calendar. For example,

Mondays, 7-8 a.m. Run

Others simply use their priorities to:

  • Guide their activities
  • Say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to requests from people
  • Test decisions: will this contribute to or detract from my priorities?

Throughout your life, your priorities will change. As we age things matter differently to us. So be sure to repeat this exercise whenever you feel a misalignment between what you’re doing and what you feel is important.