Stop saying, “I don’t have time for that”. Start saying, “That isn’t a priority”.
Today, I want to walk you through the importance of intentional prioritization. If you ever find yourself claiming that you don’t have time for something that you really want to be doing, the issue likely isn’t time, but priority. You make time for whatever you prioritize. That’s just how it works. If there’s something that you’d like to be doing but aren’t, then by that very fact, that thing is not a priority. Whatever you’ve prioritized, that’s what gets done. It may just happen to be that you’re spending two hours every day watching Netflix. If this is the case, and you claim not to have time to work out, it’s not that you don’t have time to work out, it’s that you’ve decided Netflix is higher in priority than working out. Though really, you could do both of these things at the same time, but that’s a different post.
It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a priority. What matters are your actions. Nothing changes just because you think about how you want to do something, you’ve got to actually do it. By facing and intentionally choosing our priorities, we can give ourselves guidelines for how to structure our time. Currently, the things you are getting done are your priorities. Anything that isn’t getting done, isn’t a priority. First I want to walk you through this whole “intentional prioritization” concept, and then I’ll explain step by step how you can determine your priorities, and find a way to make the important things actually happen.
You could be doing any one of an infinite number of things right now. You could be cooking, watching YouTube, sleeping, holding your cat up in the air like in the beginning of The Lion King, whatever. You can, at any moment, being doing pretty much anything. But right now, you’re reading this. That is because, consciously or not, you’ve prioritized my blog over anything else you could be doing, and I’m quite flattered. By spending this time reading my blog, you’ve decided everything else that you could be doing right now is less important than this.
By that logic, any time you are scrolling aimlessly on your phone, you’ve decided that in that moment, scrolling is Priority Number One. Maybe if you stepped back and thought about it, you’d say that working on homework is more important than scrolling aimlessly through your phone. But since you’re scrolling aimlessly, not doing homework, in that action, you’ve prioritized scrolling over homeworking. Homework isn’t a priority. That isn’t inherently a good thing or a bad thing. We each get to choose our priorities, and if you want to prioritize scrolling, then scroll away. But the fact of the matter is that in that moment, scrolling is the priority. Your actions belie the fact that you, consciously or not, find scrolling more important than homework. If you thought the homework was more important, you’d be doing it.
What I’m getting at here is that if you “don’t have time” for something in your life, what you’re really saying is “that’s not a priority right now”. I’m not necessarily saying you’re wasting time. I’d love to spend more time reading, but as things are, I’m already busy doing productive things for the majority of my day. To read more, I’d have to cut out some other thing that I love, enjoy, or need to be doing. By reading less, I have more time to do other things that are higher in priority. If and when I decide to make reading a priority, I’ll have to cut back somewhere else and decide which thing needs to move down the list of priorities instead.
In order to live your best life, you need to be consciously deciding where you want to spend your time. Intentional prioritization gives you the guidelines for how to structure your time. I’ll walk you through the steps of intentionally prioritizing, and how to use your list of priorities to plan what you do in a day. This is an activity that you can, and probably should, revisit every few months. Our priorities change over time, which is perfectly fine. By knowing what your priorities are at any given time, you have given yourself the power to consciously spend more time doing the things that you value.
First, we’ll list our priorities. I know, that sounds obvious. And some of them will be. But we want to be thorough here, and the definition of “priorities” in this case may be a big broader than you’re used to, so we’ll go step by step.
Start with the non-negotiables. Typically, work and family will be items number one and two on the list, since these are very important to most people, for obvious reasons. Still, think carefully about which order you want them to go in. There may be times in life where work related things will try to push themselves to the number one spot in your life. Decide ahead of time if that’s okay with you, or if you’d leave a job that starts asking for 60-80 hour weeks. You may have to make that decision one day, and it’s better to show up to it knowing what is important to you, not your company. It’s perfectly okay if work is your first priority as long as you’re the one who put it there.
Do you have any other non negotiables? These have to be things that you already do. Maybe you need alone time in order to recharge after the rest of your day, or getting eight hours of sleep is super important to you. Don’t add working out as a non-negotiable if you don’t currently work out. Clearly, it’s negotiable. It may one day become a non-negotiable, but it isn’t right now.
Next, move on to the regular priorities. This should include all the things that you try to do every day, find yourself doing often, or wish you did more than you currently do. These will often be things like eating healthy, cooking at home more often, working out, going to bed early, spending time with friends, reading, meditating, cleaning your home, creating, etc. Add all of these things next on your list.
Finally, add anything that you find yourself doing regularly to the list, even if you don’t think of that thing as something we would typically consider a priority. If it’s something you do regularly, then some part of you is prioritizing it, so get it on the list. This will include stuff like Instagram, Reddit, Netflix, Twitter, and any other “time wasters”, as well as habits you’d like to break, like constantly going to get fast food instead of cooking your own meals. It doesn’t matter that you don’t think of it as a “priority”, if you spend time doing it, put it on the list.
Great! Now you’ve got a big list of all the things you currently do or want to be doing. It’s roughly in order from highest priority to lowest priority, but take some time to look over the list and reorder any priorities that seem out of order to you. Consider your values. If you value having a healthy body, then consider moving anything related to keeping yourself healthy up the list a bit. If you value expanding your mind, consider moving things like reading and creating up the list. Moving the important things up the list will move other things down the list at the same time. Decide what is most important to you. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day, so you’re not going to be able to do everything on the list. Decide what matters most.
It may help to think about your ideal future self. What does their list of priorities look like? You want your list to look just like that. Does your ideal future self go for a five mile run every morning? Then working out, getting enough sleep, and eating well should all be near the top of your list. Does your future self own a house? Then your present self needs to be saving money, so things like shopping and eating out need to move down the list. Which things on this list will do the most to move you toward a life that you love to live? It’s okay if you don’t know the answers exactly, just do your best to order the list in a way that makes sense to you.
Here are a couple other things to consider as you’re making your list:
1. Are you prioritizing others over yourself? Should you be? Sometimes, the answer is yes. If you have children, they will of course be very high on the list. But often, we put our own health and happiness low on our list of priorities, which doesn’t make any sense. Even if helping other people is important to you, you’ll be better able to do that if you’re feeling well. Make yourself a priority. Bump everything related to your health up one or two spots. It’s worth it. Prioritizing yourself makes getting to all of the other priorities easier, since you’ll be feeling more energized and motivated.
2. Be conscious of conflicting priorities. You won’t necessarily have to eliminate them, but you will need to balance them. Nights out for food and wine with friends are important and good for your mental health, but if you’re trying to lose a few pounds, you won’t be able to go out with them a couple times a week. Think carefully about which priorities may conflict and which is more important to you. Over time, their order may switch, and that’s okay. We just need something to work with for today
Now that you’ve got a big ol’ list of priorities, work your way from top to bottom and decide where the line is between high and low priority. High priority activities are the things that matter a lot to you, and that you want to be doing frequently. Low priority tasks are the things that you typically don’t find all that valuable. Maybe there isn’t a clear demarcation between high and low priority things, but there should be a general zone in which things start to become pretty unimportant to you. Obviously, you’re still going to spend time on low priority things. That’s okay. The goal here is just to make yourself aware of it and to know that in those moments, by doing something “low priority”, you’re missing out on the time and opportunity to do something high priority. By being aware of how we’re using our time, we can make conscious decisions to use it in a way that we want to be using it.
Typically, the amount of stuff that you’ve decided is high priority will be more than you can actually get done in a day. That’s okay. The aim here is just to try to spend more time doing things higher on the list, and less time doing things lower on the list. If you really want to start trying to fit as much of this into your life as you can, start at the top of the list and bite off as much as you’re sure that you can chew. Maybe try dedicating time each day to the first four or five things on the list. If it turns out that you still have more time in your day after incorporating the first few things into your life daily for a few weeks, add in one or two more things. Generally, spend as much time doing high priority things as you can, and as little time doing low priority things as you can.
Now that you have your priorities, how do you stick to them?
Use a calendar. If you want to work out, sleep, meditate, read, cook, whatever, block out a recurring event on your calendar to do these things. Schedule it in. Be realistic with yourself about how long each of the things you want to do takes, and give yourself a bit of extra time. If you can fit your priorities onto your calendar and still have time left over, then that extra time can be put toward lower priority items. If there isn’t enough time on the calendar to do all of your high priority tasks, then you’ll have to decide which high priority thing temporarily becomes low priority.
Set timers. You can use this for both high and low priority things. If keeping your house clean is a high priority task, try setting a thirty minute timer twice a week and cleaning as much as you can in that thirty minutes. On the other hand, if you really, really, really want to get on Instagram but know it’s a low priority task, set a timer for ten minutes, scroll for ten minutes, and then get off of Instagram and go do something high priority.
Know your list of low priority time wasters. Remind yourself of the things lower on your list frequently so that you can catch yourself when you’re doing them. If you know you’re a chronic Netflix binger but Netflix is dead last on your list, when you find yourself going to watch Netflix, decide that no, this is low priority, and I’m instead going to choose to work on something high priority that will move me toward my goals. Acknowledge that deciding to watch Netflix instead of working on something you value more would be saying through your actions that Netflix is higher priority to you than the thing you’re claiming to value more. Since you know that’s not true, go do something instead that is higher priority than Netflix.
Your actions are what matter. It doesn’t matter what you think your priorities are. If you think that you want to get in shape and aren’t doing it because you “don’t have time”, evaluate how you’re spending the rest of your time. If you have time to sit around and watch YouTube or sleep for twelve hours every night, then your actions are saying that YouTube and sleep are higher priority for you than getting in shape.
Even if you don’t currently spend time doing things that you consider to be low priority, your actions show that the things that you are making time for are more important to you than working out is. That’s perfectly okay. All that means is that working out is lower in priority than the other things that you do spend time on. Find a balance that works for you. Your time goes to your priorities. Intentionally choose priorities that you value and act on them regularly, and you will create a life that you love to live. I no longer want to hear that you, “don’t have time”. I’d rather hear that, “it’s not a priority right now”.