How to Prioritize Your Actions
There are simply more things to be done than you can possibly do. You don’t have to be told this of course. All of us have felt the pressure of the many things pulling at our time, vying for our attention and effort.
How do you decide what actions to take? What work do you prioritize? Do you make lists and then try to determine which are most important or urgent?
There is no shortage of literature out there on how to efficiently prioritize your life. You can read book after book on how to setup a system of prioritization in your life. I should know, my audible library is overflowing with books like this. These books have their place of course and I usually am able to find at least one new, helpful tip in each one to add to my own prioritization systems. However, we are often left feeling overwhelmed by our systems with little clarity to show for it.
Things will get dropped.
Over time, no matter how much we master our own productivity, we realize that there are things in our lives, tasks, work, relationships, etc., that simply get dropped. It has taken me a long time to accept this reality. You can minimize the things that are dropped by getting better and better at saying no upfront, but you can’t eliminate it completely. No one is perfectly productive. No one.
So, if we know that some things must get dropped, how do we prioritize the things that must not be dropped?
My simple prioritization question.
One of my top 5 favorite books is The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. If you are serious about success in work and in life and haven’t read this book, it needs to jump to the top of your reading list.
One of the main takeaways from the book is their “focusing question” which is, “What’s the one thing I can do, such that by doing it, everything else becomes easier or unnecessary.” This is a tremendous question to help you zero in on what you should be doing right now.
Over the years, I have modified this question to be more in line with what I want to be about in work and in life. The question I use to prioritize my time is:
What can I do right now that will create the most long-term value?
For me, this question has the power to strip away all of the distractions that bombard me and helps me make the most of the limited time I have on this planet. Let me unpack this question very quickly for you so you can determine if this question may help you in your own journey.
What can “I” (you) do right now? This will help you to focus on things that only you are especially equipped to do. Think about all of the roles you play in your life; spouse, parent, owner, co-worker, friend, etc. There are some things that only you can and should do.
In The One Thing, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan suggest switching this time frame phrase depending on what your goal is. For example, you can switch “right now” to “this week”, “this month”, or “this year”.
What you create has the greatest impact on both yourself and those around you, much more than what you maintain or “get done”. How uninspired would you be if this question was “What can I “maintain”?
Being a financial planner I see over and over again how focusing on the long-term is exponentially more impactful than focusing on the short-term. This also plays into sustainably increasing your true hourly wage over time. When you focus on the “long-term” you perform actions that have lasting and compounding impacts.
This is where the rubber meats the road. What do you think of when you think of value? Money? Time? Relationships? Spiritual growth? Yes, yes, yes. We create value in our lives in many ways, many places, and at many times. Depending on the setting you are in, the value you are looking to create may be different. If you are at work, it may be related to income or revenue that you will create. If you are at home, the greatest value in the moment may be playing with your two-year-old and his trucks.
The last part of the question, “long-term value”, is what will make correct prioritization inescapable, if you adhere to it.
Pro tip: Create long-term value across multiple areas of your life at once.
This is where I have seen this question make the biggest difference in my life and why it has become the compass for my actions, plans, and goals.
Try thinking of all of the things that are on your plate right now to do. Now, it’s likely that a few of the items in your mind begin to rise to the top when you think of what you can do right now to create the most long-term value. Now, evaluate those items and see if there are things that would create long-term value in your life in multiples areas. For example, perhaps you know you should apply for a job that is closer to home and pays a little more but you just aren’t getting around to it. Applying for this job could lead to creating long-term value in multiple areas. More income, which can be invested to create long-term value and bring financial independence closer. More time since you will be closer to home, which means more time with your family. More time with your family means greater long-term value created in those relationships. If you have kids, more time spent with them has a tremendous compounding value effect as the time you invest in them will then be invested in their own kids and relationships in the future, going off of your example.
Examples like this one can get very powerful if you are able to really drill down and evaluate the true, long-term value of the potential actions on your plate. And when you begin to consider the exponential impact of continually stringing together long-term value creation actions over time, things get really exciting.
I wish you all the best as you strive to provide greater value with your limited time.
Kyle Mast, CFP®