Priority & Focus
In this post, we discuss prioritization and focus. Separately or together, these two tools can reduce stress, increase the feeling of accomplishment and improve personal success rates.
It may be helpful to have a piece of paper or journal to write down your thoughts.
You’ve probably seen the “advice” available on the internet saying:
Swap out the words ‘too busy’ with ‘it isn’t a priority’.
In my opinion, this can help highlight two sides of the same coin. The first being where I am wasting time and energy. And the second being where I need to set a clearer personal boundary with my time.
Last month I spent more time than anticipated cooking and making changes to my home. As a result, my mindfulness goals took a hit. The activities I spent time on were important and worthwhile, however not originally my priority.
Pre-pandemic my calendar was packed with travel, work, family and social events. Often I found myself ‘too busy’ when in reality I needed to truly sit down with my calendar and prioritize.
Prioritization and optimization of time are directionally helpful. Before prioritizing it is important to know that we are human and there are only so many hours in the day. The fact is there are seasons in life when we just have too much we are trying to accomplish. In those seasons, prioritization and efficiency might not be ‘enough’. Instead, activities need to be paused, responsibility needs to be further shared or additional help is required.
In addition, recognizing the place flexibility and adaptability have in life is also important. Certainly, sometimes, in-the-moment prioritization is necessary, however it should be the exception. If you find yourself having to consistently put aside what you had planned to accommodate in-the-moment ‘needs’, most likely something is awry.
Typically too much if this type of reprioritization leads to finding ourselves in a life we don’t even enjoy. Maybe evening finding ourselves, not just months, but sometimes years away from a goal or dream. This scary moment is when we need to get back in front of the mirror and do two things:
- Figure out if our goals and dreams are still what we want. After all, if we find ourselves not prioritizing something for a long time perhaps it as simple as it is no longer important.
- Begin the prioritization and focusing process to make progress on that goal and dream.
Have you thought through your goals and wishes? If not, make it your number one priority. Maybe even stop reading right now and write down the top 3 things you’d like to accomplish this year. My goal setting post from the first of the year may provide inspiration.
Once you have your goals front of mind, first, recognize the steps it may take to accomplish each one. Next, note down the progress you have previously made and how you are feeling about the goal today. (For your reference, two of my progress reports for 2021 from this year are: January Mid-Month and February Start).
Before prioritizing, it can be helpful to put the associated length of time next to each activity.
Priority Setting Time!
Now that you have a handful of smaller pieces related to each of your goals, it is time to prioritize and schedule. Priority may be obvious. For example, if you have an exam coming up – studying for the exam will become the priority.
In some seasons, priority is an independent decision. This vast freedom can quickly cause lack of direction and feeling lost. If this is your current season, I recommend completing the purpose setting exercise.
In either scenario force rank the goal itself and then the tasks within. Now is time to sit down with a calendar. Start scheduling blocks of time for the tasks related to your goals.
Tip: For higher priority goals, block DOUBLE the time. For lower priority goals, block an additional 15 minutes.
Yup – that means if you think something will take 1 hour, block yourself 2 full hours. Make the commitment to use the time scheduled. The extra time allows for a calmer pace, more margin and gives yourself the space to feel at ease.
In summary, proactive prioritization results in healthy personal boundaries!
Now that prioritization and scheduling are complete, it is time to focus. Focusing during the blocked times WILL result in increased peace, better outputs (this blog is a great example: jk jk) and a higher chance of getting into the flow state.
Just think of how relaxed you would feel knowing all of your activities are scheduled and the time you have blocked is dedicated to concentration of one task. No more worrying about what has to be done – the time will already be set aside!
If procrastination is a trait, this exercise will at the very least illuminate the consequence of your chosen delay. (Do you really want to trade in sleep, exercise or time with loved ones?).
Step 1: What are your top priorities right now?
Step 2: Next, think about the last 3 days. How did you spend the majority of your time?
- If you spent the majority of your time and energy on your top priorities yay! Keep it up.
- If you spent the majority of your time on less important or less impactful activities, it’s time to realign!
Step 3: Realign the next 3 days to focus and spend the most time and energy on the top priorities. If these 3 days are blissful, rise and repeat.
- Schedule blocks of time for your priorities.
- Add margin into your schedule.
- Focus and ENJOY!
Last Tip: A priority CAN include relaxing - so don't feel bad scheduling Netflix time. :)
This practice can take effort and the ability to say ‘no’ to the things that simply don’t fit. My hope is that your next 3 days are blissful, however the long term results reveal the true measure. Therefore, if at first you do not succeed, try again! The immediate results may feel good but strange. Most importantly, the long term application will result in accomplishing big goals!
About the photo
The feature picture of this post is from a trip to the West Coast I was able to take in 2017. I made it a priority to stay in touch with friends from Philly and to travel outside of my work travel. At the time, I was living in Connecticut and they had moved to San Diego, California. This picture also represents bliss to me. Being near water, memories of good food, laughter and gorgeous sunsets.
Funny also how now, during the pandemic, I wish I could more easily be home to see my family and friends from New Jersey.