How often do you get to Friday afternoon, and feel like you achieved almost nothing… even though you had your nose to the grindstone all week? Do you wonder where the time goes every day, leaving you scrambling to get through important work and wishing you had more time for your family?
Too often, this sense of overwhelm comes from a lack of clarity about what truly matters to us. We only have the time and energy to invest deeply in a few areas of our lives, and without a crystal-clear picture of our personal priorities, we get swamped with everything competing for our attention.
You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.
Right now, we are at the forefront of human history. It’s the first time — ever — that information is instantly accessible to anyone, all over the world. The advent of the Internet changed everything, for everyone.
You can learn anything you want, from economics to physics to language. You can start businesses, find partners and friends, and change your whole life, just by opening up a browser.
While this is exciting, it can also be paralyzing, and this paralysis can seep into our work lives, our relationships with others, our spiritual lives and our health.
With so many choices and no clear path to success or fulfilment, more people are stuck than ever before. With so much information out there, we’ve forgotten how to prioritize.
Prioritize [verb]: to designate or treat (something) as being very or most important.1
The history of the word priority is an interesting one. Derived from the Latin word prior — meaning first — priority spent hundreds of years as a singular word. There was no such things as ‘priorities’. You could only have one.
But with the steady increase in output and expectations in the 20th century, we worked out how to pluralize this critical function. We went from prioritizing one thing to many things — and it has crippled us.
Priorities determine goals. Goals determine actions. Actions determine outcomes, and outcomes are what make a life.
When we can’t prioritize, we’re distracted and depressed, frustrated and fearful. We get stuck in a loop of desire followed by disappointment. We don’t get to live the lives we want.
Fortunately, there’s a solution. There is a clear path to free yourself of this loop so you can start working towards the freedom, fulfilment and fun you really want for your life.
How to Get Clarity On Your Priorities
All of us have different priorities, and that’s a good thing, but it does mean that we have to put some real effort into determining our priorities, instead of just going along with what everyone else is doing.
To get started on developing this clarity, we first have to take an honest look at how we are spending our time every week — how we actually spend the time, not how we hope or plan to spend the time.
This is easy to do at work with apps like Toggl, which automatically track and log your computer activity and generate reports to give you a breakdown of the work day. We have to be a little bit more hands-on in our personal lives and keep note of how much time we spend with our families, how much time we spend exercising and doing other activities like errands and hobbies, though there are sleep tracking apps like the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock to take care of that element.
We recommend tracking all your time for at least a week, preferably two, to get a good sense of where you are spending your time. Once you’ve got a clear picture, you can assess whether your time is going to the things you really care about.
For some of us, the thing we really care about will be growing our business as much as possible, and we’ll see that all the time we spend playing video games after work, for example, could be better spent on strategic thinking. For others, our families will be our priority, and we’ll realize that every time we log into social media at work, waste 20 minutes, and then end up staying late to catch up on work, that’s 20 minutes we’re not home with our kids.
If you’re not completely clear on your personal priorities yet, rate these items on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being least important to you and 5 being extremely important:
- Spending time with your spouse or partner
- Spending time with your kids
- Spending time with your extended family
- Spending time with friends
- Working or building a business
- Time in nature
- Volunteering or doing community work
- Having time alone to recharge or to build your spiritual life
Anything that you rated with a 5 — and there should only be a couple of those if you’re really honest with yourself — are your personal priorities. Those are things you are extremely dedicated to, that come before everything else.
You might be uncomfortable with what you find. You might think that people will judge you for your priorities or give you a hard time. Let them. Your time is yours alone to allocate, and much too precious to spend on things that don’t really matter to you — even if they matter to other people.
On the other hand, you might find a deep sense of freedom and clarity knowing what you really care about. You can use this information to limit the time you spend on other things, and feel confident and empowered that you’re investing your time in the way you really want to.
How to Stick to Your Priorities
Getting clear on your priorities is the first step. But life has a way of sucking us back into old habits, and so we need to have some strategies in place to keep us focused on our true priorities.
These three strategies are simple to implement and can make all the difference in sticking to your guns:
Firstly, accountability has a significant, measurable impact on goal completion and productivity. If you know you are going to have to tell somebody what you did this week to move the needle on your top priorities, you’re going to get it done. This is the concept of reciprocity at work — they’re helping you, so now it’s your turn to deliver on what you promised. This is why we recommend weekly 4-1-1 meetings, because it’s a non-negotiable way to keep you accountable (and you can download the Kick-Ass Guide to Accountability to learn more about 4-1-1s at the end of this post).
Secondly, making a public commitment creates additional motivation. The external social pressure of keeping your word and avoiding cognitive dissonance (the mental discomfort that comes from the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another) pushes you to do the work. Tell the important people in your life about your priorities, and ask them to call you out if they see you doing things that don’t align.
Finally, if for some reason you can’t engineer accountability, write your priorities down and stick them somewhere unavoidable. Measure yourself daily — on a strict ‘yes or no’ basis — on whether your actions are tangibly moving you towards that goal. You can do the weekly 4-1-1 solo if you have to as a way to keep yourself honest and focused.
Now, if you lead a team of people, and want to help them do extraordinary work, and to stay happy and engaged in the business, the Kick-Ass Guide to Accountability is a powerful tool you can use to implement 4-1-1s with all your direct reports. Even if you don’t lead a team and want accountability on your own or with a group of trusted friends, this system is the best way to do it.
Based on the 4-1-1 — the accountability tool we use internally at Keller Williams Realty and The ONE Thing — the Kick-Ass Guide is a way for you and your people to map out your most important professional and personal actions for the coming year, month, and weeks. It’s a single-page document that is based on the long-term goals you’ve set, which you can work through weekly to review the previous week and to map out the week ahead. Get the Kick-Ass Guide to Accountability here and start putting accountability to work as you invest in your top priorities.