Learning How to Prioritize in Your Own Life

Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. ~ Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

You know what it’s like – too much to do, too little time. What gets left behind or neglected? Do you suddenly discover you’ve forgotten things that should have been done? How do you determine the priorities in your life? I’m glad you asked.

Setting priorities simply means consciously deciding which items on a list are more important. It suggests that some things are superior to others and should, therefore, rank higher or take precedence. You’ve heard of triage – the process of determining who gets treated first in a medical emergency. You can do the same thing with your day and your life.

If you are overwhelmed with too much to do, if you suffer from terminal busy-ness, or if you simply feel that you could be more effective, let me suggest some ways to prioritize your life.

What matters most? Don’t allow the urgent to crowd out the important. Learn to say NO to some things that you’d like to do that don’t truly contribute to your life goals. Put the most important items at the top of your list and … do them first! Don’t let them slip by or get shoved aside because the phone rings or something else grabs your attention.

Work backwards. Start with your dreams. Where do you want to be … in a year, or in ten? Do your current activities support where you want to go? Think of your life in terms of a mission statement. Think about – then write – a statement of intent for your life: what you hope to accomplish, the legacy you want to leave, how you want to be known. Keep that vision in your mind (and on your desk!) to help you set priorities that line up with your mission.

Does it pass the ‘Blessing Test’? We are blessed to be a blessing (Gen. 12:2), so this works two ways. Does it bless you? Does it bless someone else? Sometimes you need to take care of yourself – down time, fun time, learning time. Make sure you include priorities that bless you. You can’t give what you don’t have – which means if you’re stressed and run down, there’s no energy, joy or peace to share with anyone else.

Sometimes, you have to focus on someone else’s need. It becomes a priority to help out, nurture, share or lead. You need both to live a balanced, successful, fulfilling life.

Get organized. We all know that organized people get more done. If your thoughts, your schedule and your environment are cluttered, your activities will also be unfocused. Allow extra time for appointments. Clean the clutter off your desk and out of your home. Carry a calendar. Make a To Do list.

Pass it on. Don’t try to do everything yourself. You can and should delegate some of your busy tasks. Ask for help. Form a committee. Get your family involved. If housework steals time from more important goals, hire someone. I used to tell my husband, “Don’t try to change the oil in the car. Let the mechanic do it. It’s his specialty. Do what you do best, and let someone else do what they do best. That way, you’re both blessed.”  

Let it go. You can interpret this in two ways. First, some stuff should not even be on your list. “What matters most? Pass it on!” Second, don’t waste time trying to make everything perfect. Use the 80/20 Rule. If it’s 80%, it’s probably good enough. You can go back and fine-tune later if need be. Excess time spent perfecting one thing steals effort and energy from other projects. Move on.

Be flexible. No amount of prioritizing can eliminate every distraction or account for the unexpected. Flexibility is therapy for your mental health. There’s a reason it’s called a ‘chill pill’. Learn to adjust your schedule and plan to compensate for the distraction without getting upset or uptight. Then refocus or readjust your priorities as needed.

Review often. Ask yourself,Did I accomplish what I wanted to? What do I need to change in order to be more effective? Is there anything I’m doing that I shouldn’t?” Life is all about seasons. Understand where you are at this stage in life and change your priorities as needed. Don’t continue to do things just because ‘you’ve always done it.’ Make sure your activities line up with your current and future goals, not your past.

Let me finish with this comment. The Bible clearly says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). That means give Him first priority. Schedule daily time with God. Seek His wisdom; ask Him for help with everything, not just the big things. As you set your relationship with God as your highest priority, you will find that all your other priorities will adjust to fit.

Setting priorities means finding out what matters most. Learning to prioritize with skill and flexibility is the key to maximum effectiveness and personal satisfaction. The process will increase your organizational skills and de-stress your life. You’ll discover that your priorities will align to create your optimum lifestyle, a life of peace, joy and blessing. And that’s what really matters most.

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