How to Prioritize What Matters In the Long Run
As I endlessly respond to my To-Do list, some days I’m left with very little time to spend on what matters most.
“I’ll pray once I straighten up, I’ll work out after the kids are in bed, I had to reply to emails about that event after dinner rather than play with the kids…”
Balancing our roles as a spouse, parent, and homemaker, while working or volunteering outside of the home feels like a juggling act.
How do we prioritize what really matters in the long run?
As the year begins, I’m trying to anchor my schedule around the priorities most important to me and guard them like a hawk. Here’s how.
Step 1 – Naming Your Priorities
The first step to keeping your priorities a priority is naming what they actually are.
After a true come to Jesus morning, I knew my three biggest for the year are prayer, exercise, and quality time with my family.
I also knew these things are most often put on the back burner because of endless distractions that seem to supersede them most days of the week. Satan’s tricky like that.
Keeping First Things First – The $25,000 Lesson
I’m reading a book I’d highly recommend, “Walking With Purpose: Seven Priorities That Make Life Work“ by Lisa Brenninkmeyer, that encourages even the most disorganized of us to live with purpose.
The book mentions how Charles M. Schwab approached a management consultant offering to pay him anything (within reason) if he showed him a tangible way to be more productive.
The consultant, Ivy Lee, handed him a piece of paper. “Write down the things you have to do tomorrow.” Schwab made his list. “Now number these items in the order of their real importance.“
After Schwab ranked them, he continued, “The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on number one and stay with it until it is completed. Next, take number two and don’t go any further until it is completed. Then proceed to number three, and so on.“
Lee went on with advice I think we all need to hear,
“If you can’t complete everything on schedule, don’t worry. At least you will have taken care of the most important things before getting distracted by items of lesser importance.“
Mic drop, am I right? How often do we do this, though?
We are sure this is going to be the year we crush our goals until the phone starts to ding, the lunches need packed, the dishes are still dirty, and there’s really no way we can miss ‘This Is Us.’
Schwab took this approach and was so convinced with its value he named it, “the most helpful and profitable principle he had learned in his business career,” and sent Lee a check for $25,000.
Step 2 – Guarding Your Priorities
Once we list our priorities, how do we ignore the many, “distractions of lesser importance,” and guard them like a hawk?
In Walking With Purpose, Brenninkmeyer goes on to mention a concert violinist who was asked the secret of her mastery of the instrument. She answered with two words:
She went on: “There were many things that used to demand my time. When I went to my room after breakfast, I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted, and did whatever seemed necessary. When I finished my work, I turned to my violin practice.
That system prevented me from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So I reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect everything else until my practice period was complete. And that program of planned neglect is the secret of my success.”
What are the biggest distractions that get in the way of your priorities?
If it’s your phone, could you charge it in a different room?
If it’s your house to-do list, could you do it at a gym, coffee shop, or library?
If it’s your kid’s activities, can you do a babysitting swap with a friend?
Because Lists Matter
Inspired by this approach, I took a morning to reflect on what I did the day before to see if it lined up with my priorities.
- First, I boxed out essential activities (school dropoffs, kid’s activities, etc.) similar to how we block off essential expenses (rent, food, utilities, etc.) in a budget.
- Next, I wrote both what I did in my free slots (house stuff, meals, emails, etc.) and my boxed out slots with wiggle room (exercised during gymnastics, wrote during soccer, etc.).
- Then I wrote out smaller priorities that didn’t make my top three, but are still important to the well-being of my family and growth.
- Finally, I color-coded each priority because I’m a nerd like that and underlined when and if they actually happened.
Screenshotting where I could’ve “planned neglect,” as the book puts it, to keep my priorities a priority was a good gut check and visual reminder of where I can be more present to the, “Play with me, mommy!” instead of the laundry and meal prep and emails and…:/
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12
As this week begins, I will try listing tomorrow’s To-Do list by importance and guarding them like a hawk until the most important things are taken care of. Follow my stories on Instagram or Facebook to see how they go!
What other approaches have you helped you prioritize what matters in the long run? If you try this approach, let me know how it goes!
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