Priorities (AKA What’s Really Important)
When something is a priority, it’s important. It’s protected. It should be done or thought about before other things. Also, when everything is a priority, nothing is.
The thing is, depending on how you classify your priorities, higher priorities might be based on someone else’s expectations, consequences, importance to your daily life, importance to your larger goals and purpose, or deadlines. In the absence of clear criteria, we tend to use urgency and priority synonymously. The more urgent something is, the higher priority it is, but when urgency controls your priorities, you spend most of your time putting out fires.
Urgency is pretty clear. When something is urgent, it is time sensitive or has a pressing deadline. If not, it’s not urgent. Importance is less clear, that is, what makes something important or not important isn’t as obvious as a pressing deadline.
Let’s explore some ways to look at what’s important. If something is important, it adds value to your life. It contributes to your passion or purpose, or it betters your life or the life of those you care about. If something is important, there are consequences if you don’t take action.
The thing is, when something is really important, we tend to know about it and can plan things around it. This means we can use our time well and give important things the time they truly deserve. This will keep us from spending our time putting out fires that don’t truly require our time and attention.
Colonel Blum wrote a widely respected and distributed article about the difference between important and urgent, and looking back at his career, what he would have done differently. Something is important if you can say yes to the following three criteria:
It is important to someone who’s important to you.
Your personal presence makes a difference.
The opportunity is not going to come around again.
One way to balance urgent versus important tasks is to use the Eisenhower Matrix (check out free worksheet here). Using urgent and important, we can create four quadrants: Urgent and Important, Urgent and Not Important, Not Urgent and Important, and Not Urgent and Not Important. Once things are divided into the quadrants, then the quadrants tell you how to approach these tasks.
Urgent and Important: Do this now
Not Urgent and Important: Decide when you will do this (schedule it and give it the time it needs)
Urgent and Not Important: Delegate this to someone else
Not Urgent and Not Important: Dump this. It doesn’t need done.
Another way to think about prioritizing is to think of Priorities and priorities and how they nest together. P-Priorities are the big picture things you want in your life and for those in your life. How you want to feel, what sort of life you want to live, the things in your life you don’t want to compromise. p-priorities are the ankle-biter things that come up on a regular basis that need attention but may or may not move you toward the P-Priorities. The p-priorities can be established for the day or for the week. Knowing your P-priorities helps you respond to what’s really important when things pop up and vie for your attention.
When examining opportunities, determine if these opportunities or tasks support your P-Priorities. When looking at the things filling your plate, determine how well the p-priorities feed or serve the P-Priorities. Look at your day’s priorities, do they help serve this week’s priorities? Do this week’s priorities support this month’s priorities? This year’s priorities? If your day’s or week’s priorities don’t nest into or feed your month’s or year’s priorities, then it’s probably just busywork and not helping you life the life you want.