HOW TO DEFINE YOUR PRIORITIES IN LIFE AND WHY IT MATTERS
No matter which season of life you’re currently in, it’s helpful to be clear on what’s really important to you. This can help in so many ways to ensure we’re making best use of our precious and limited resources including our time, energy, love, freedom and more. I hope the following tips give you some ideas on how to define your priorities in life and why it matters.
1. WHY IT’S HELPFUL TO DEFINE YOUR PRIORITIES IN LIFE
When we don’t know what’s important, it’s difficult to know what to focus on. Consider the process of decluttering your home, when you think of what to keep and what to throw, you ask yourself some simple questions. Is that item important? Does it add value in some way? Do I use it? Do I need or love it? You don’t want to keep everything but you keep the priorities.
Life is the same. If you let your life become stuffed with clutter then you spend your time and energy tidying, clearing, struggling with the ‘stuff’ in your life, a little like you would tidy, clear and struggle with cluttered worktops and cupboards. That struggle can end up looking like frustration, anxiety, resentment, overwhelm, burn-out.
Clear that ‘stuff’ and you can enjoy your home and your life and make space for what’s important. Read about how less can be more and the benefits of simplifying life.
Defining priorities is about asking the right questions and clarifying the right answers for you.
2. HOW DEFINING PRIORITIES HELPS US EVERY DAY
I’d probably say that it’s more than just ‘helpful’ to set priorities. I’d say they were vital for many of us who ever feel that life is a treadmill, or a whirlwind, or a run-away steam-train! Choose your own analogy but I’m sure many of us can relate to the feeling that life sometimes moves in a direction or pace you don’t want or don’t have much say over. Although we can’t control everything in life, setting priorities can help us make life feel simpler and easier and more of our choosing.
Here are some key reasons why I like to assess my priorities every now and then:
- To get clarity over where I should invest my time, energy and money – This helps me stop saying ‘yes’ to everything, burning myself out on things that don’t really repay me or those I love in some way, or even spending money unwisely.
- Stop me getting pulled away or distracted – I’d rather focus on making my life the best it can be rather than trying to be like everyone else. If I have some time to myself, I’d rather spend it doing something that’s important to me, than wasting it wondering what I should be doing. Read more on how to be intentional with your time.
- To establish healthy and helpful boundaries – Boundaries are your invisible force-field. As broad statements of intent they stop you needing to make some of those tiny decisions you make every day. For example, we have a no screen-time policy in the evening (except for Saturday movie night). My kids know the rules, I know the rules and it saves a lot of arguments! Read more on setting boundaries.
- Structure my day – No matter how busy my day, I factor in a little bit of time to honour my priorities. It could be 5 minutes for myself to help me be a calmer person, spending time chatting with my partner to catch up on the day or reading a book to my kids. These things are important to me so I incorporate them into my day in one way or another.
- Make decision-making easier – Do I do this or do I do that? Do I say yes to this or yes to that? Get clear on what’s most important and the answers to the questions will become clearer by themselves.
- Prevents overwhelm and burn-out as we’re not trying to do everything all at the same time – Oh yes, the biggest relief for me was letting go of as many things as possible. Getting clear on what was important helped me make shorter To Do lists, avoid multi-tasking, have less commitments in my diary, less stuff to remember in my brain. It meant more free time, more flexibility and wiggle room, less stress and more time and space for my priorities.
3. ASSESSING YOUR CURRENT PRIORITIES
Life comes in seasons. You may be finding your way in the world with life ahead of you, planning your career or moving out to live on your own. Or, you may have reached a slower season where your kids have left home, your days seem to stretch and you need something to fill them.
Whichever season you currently find yourself in, exploring how to define your priorities and aligning them to your everyday life will help you make plans and focus your energies on where they need to be, for you.
Your life and what you want from it is made up of a unique set of experiences, skills and priorities. Honour that life right now by focusing on the important and giving yourself space, time and freedom to explore your current priorities. Don’t get hung up on what other people are doing, stop putting things off or making excuses. This is your life and you get to choose how to make the most of it. Assessing your current priorities is a great start.
4. PRIORITIES SHIFT OVER TIME
This might be a good moment to acknowledge that priorities can shift over time. Whilst there are priorities that many of us will consider important, even vital, to a full and happy life, the thing about priorities is that they have to be a priority. Focus on everything, all at the same time, and those priorities stop being a priority. They just become yet another thing on your list.
The way to make sure that you’re focusing on the right priorities for you, as time passes and you and your circumstances change, is to do a regular check-in with yourself to assess your priorities.
- Ask whether the priorities you had last month or last year are still a priority?
- Perhaps something else has become more important to you?
- Has something happened to shift (or make you shift) your priorities?
- Do your priorities still resonate with you and speak to your heart? If your gut reaction is a half-hearted one, it may be time to re-assess.
5. PRIORITIES AND INTENTIONAL LIVING
The cornerstone of living a life of purpose and a life that truly serves and supports you to be the best version of you (for you and those you love) is to define what’s important to you. Defining your priorities is key to living a life on your terms, rather than a life that’s dictated to you by what appears in your social media feeds, your To Do list or how many hours there are in the day.
Life may be a little busy every now and then and many of us struggle with financial worries, family problems or health issues but your life as a whole is more complex and intricate than this. Your life is made up of individual days in which you make millions of little decisions that shapes those days (and ultimately) your life.
Knowing how to define your priorities, get clear on what matters and you may find your days and decisions will have new meaning, direction and focus, even if they don’t always go as planned!
6. GOALS VS PRIORITIES
I’m a great fan of setting goals as they help keep me focused. I like to plan, organise and tick things off. I also know that sometimes I prefer to stay flexible and see where life leads me, so goal-setting is useful but not the only tool for a full and happy life. That’s where priorities come in handy!
- Goals help you achieve specific targets. They’re useful for planning and building motivation, structure and accountability.
- Priorities are more loose in definition but perhaps more important in shaping our life.
- Goals help us develop our priorities but defining those priorities is the foundation work that comes before it.
Looking at it another way, how would you know what goals to set if you didn’t first work out what you wanted to achieve, do or be?
7. EXAMPLES OF LIFE PRIORITIES
Here is a list of different areas of your life. Some might be important to you personally, or in your current life stage, others might not seem so important or relevant right now. There are no right or wrong lists so don’t feel you should be adding or subtracting things when you don’t want to. Priorities have to mean something to you in order to be a priority for you.
Take a moment to look through the list. Grab a notebook and make your own list, adding in anything that I haven’t listed.
- Mental health
- Work-life balance
- Leisure interests and hobbies
- Personal development
As you can see, these areas might be more important in some seasons of life than others. That’s why it’s important to stay flexible and re-assess them regularly or whenever you can feel life shifting in some way or you have some big decisions to make.
8. HOW TO DEFINE YOUR PRIORITIES
There are some different ways you can start thinking about your priorities and what matters to you. Here are some ideas that you might like to try. An important point to note is that understanding your priorities isn’t a once-and-you’re-done kind of task. It takes time to get a picture of your life, what’s important and really feel into that, on different days and in different moods. Priorities don’t just change because you’ve had a bad day and you’re feeling grumpy!
- Keep a diary or journal – This helps with daily self-reflection but over a period of time, it’s useful to build up a picture of how you feel about your life rather than just how you feel on a certain day.
- Develop a daily gratitude practice – Write a list every day of things you’re grateful to have in your life. Do you notice a pattern and does this help you understand what might be most important to you in life? Read more about daily gratitude.
- Ask yourself some searching questions – What do you enjoy? How do you like to spend your days? When do you feel most content? When do you feel least happy, fulfilled or most unsettled?
9. HOW TO FIT THESE PRIORITIES INTO YOUR CURRENT LIFE
If you’re beginning to think about what’s important to you in life but it’s also beginning to feel a little daunting or confusing, don’t worry! Just like when we begin to declutter, the room often gets a little messy before everything starts falling into place. We’re sorting, organising, throwing and re-arranging and it’s a process. Defining your priorities is a process too.
Here are some ideas and things to think about when fitting your priorities into your current daily life:
- Can you create a list of daily, weekly, monthly or yearly priorities that can guide you and help you stay on track? Keep it safe, refer to it often and re-assess it when it no longer feels right.
- What needs to change? Do you need to get rid of stuff (declutter your home, your schedule, your life) to make some space? Read more about decluttering your home and life.
- What are the trade-offs? Do you have to put something on the back-burner for this month or term whilst you give your time and energy to something more important right now?
- Are you setting a target? Is there a benchmark by when you know you’ve achieved something? Do you have a timescale or specific goal? Make a note on your list, on the calendar on your phone, that notepad on the fridge. Don’t forget, if you have a target, you need to remember to refer to it!
- Do you need accountability? Make a pact with yourself to do what you say you’re going to do. Tell your partner or a close friend. Share your plans if you need a little support or encouragement. If you need a lot of support or encouragement, again double-check the priority you’ve chosen is indeed as important as you thought it was!
10. KEEPING IT REAL
Learning how to define your priorities isn’t meant to trip you up or give you yet another thing to think about or do. They’re designed to help you feel good about yourself, your life and every day. Don’t aim for perfection but instead aim for a life that honours your priorities and allows you to be present with them as much as possible. If something’s not working, ask yourself why. Stay flexible to change, be consistent and take baby steps if big steps feel too scary.
RESOURCES FOR INTENTIONAL LIVING
Intentional living is a fancy way of saying you know what you want from life and you make that happen and I believe that simplicity gives us space for that. This is the core message for my website and I hope it’s a message that you might like to explore for your own life.
Learning how to define your priorities is a key element of an intentional life – a life that’s on purpose, not on auto-pilot.
If you’d like to learn more about living intentionally, here are some helpful posts: