Do you feel like you’re doing ALL the things? Are you overwhelmed by your to-do list and have NO idea where to start? I get you! I spent most of my adult life feeling like I was spinning my wheels and getting absolutely nowhere. Which is INSANELY frustrating because I was working so hard but was completely dissatisfied and exhausted. I wasn’t anywhere near accomplishing my goals, heck, I didn’t even have the time or energy to say the word “goal”. And the truth is I wasn’t accomplishing much else either. My life felt like it was in chaos, my relationships and health were suffering, and my future was less clear than ever! I just couldn’t stand the constant busyness and lack of peace and clarity any longer! That’s when I realized that it was time for me to identify my priorities and prioritize them!
Step 1: Make a List
Because my life was in such disorder it was difficult for me to keep track of anything. This led to all kinds of urgency which then led to anxiety. So, I knew I needed to get clarity around exactly what I was doing and what needed to get done. And like so many other things in my life that started with a list.
Why This Matters
Making a list of everything you’re doing or feel like you need to get done helps you get it out of your head. A lot of the overwhelm and stress comes from trying to remember everything. Plus, it’s a whole lot easier to make decisions about your priorities and what needs to be done if you can see it written out before you. It’s very important to list EVERYTHING here (including screen time like social media, surfing the net, and hate to say it… reading blogs). Not everything you do in your day is necessary or a priority. Sorting out what’s what will help you identify your priorities and prioritize them.
Step 2: Is This Mine?
“Is this mine” is the single most powerful and impactful thing I started asking myself because of this exercise. It literally changed my life in incredible ways. So, of course I want to share it with you here!
Sorting out what’s yours and what isn’t is a great way to identify your priorities because it will give you insight into why you’re doing what you’re doing and where you can make some adjustments. Later these adjustments will help you make space for your priorities in your life.
Why This Matters
You may be wondering what I mean by “is this mine”. Here’s the thing, we often find ourselves doing things that aren’t our responsibility. When I started asking this question, I discovered that I was doing things for others that I resented. Sometimes the person I was doing them for not only didn’t appreciate it but also wanted me to stop. I learned that I was a people pleaser who was overdoing to try to prove my worth. I needed to start letting go. And I also discovered that one of my big priorities in life is helping others (I was clearly going about it the wrong way though).
In addition to all of this I also learned to ask for help and I learned to delegate, barter, and hire out. This helped take my chaos level down several notches so I could actually focus on my priorities, and it will do the same for you!
Go through your list now and check off whether each item is yours or not. Be very thoughtful about this. I usually write the name of the person who should be handling it or the word delegate for anything I want to offload in some way. And while you’re doing this be sure to reflect on why you’re doing things that aren’t yours. It just might give you some insight into something you’re struggling with or a priority you have.
Step 3: What Really Matters
The only things left on your list now should be things that are yours. These items will range from things you don’t enjoy to things you love doing, but most of them are likely pretty mundane.
Discovering what you NEED to do, SHOULD do, and WANT to do can tremendously help you identify your priorities and prioritize them. Now before we do this step there are some important things we need to think about!
Needs are usually things that are essential. Meaning there are negative consequences for not doing them. And I don’t mean someone will be upset with you. I mean you will be dissatisfied with your life, won’t be accomplishing your goals, or will potentially face a crisis. Things most people need to do are eat healthy, work, pay bills and taxes, connect with others, and feel purposeful (among many other things).
Be cautious and thoughtful when marking something a need. Keep in mind that there are things we all need that are less tangible or obvious, like self-care. (I know… you may have just added that to you list and marked the need column, that’s awesome.) And there are also things we may be tempted to mark as needs that aren’t necessary at all like redecorating the house or cleaning the baseboards every week.
Needs aren’t always exciting priorities, but they must get done. That means we have to dedicate resources to them, as in time, energy, money, whatever they require.
It’s important to know that often needs that are less tangible are more important to our overall priorities. If you marked something as a need that doesn’t have obvious tangible consequences if you eliminated it from your list it’s likely because this is part of a longer-term goal or dream and that matters A LOT! You may have just identified a life priority, your purpose, or your passion. Yay, you!
Typically, things that fall in the should category are a little hazier. Taking a moment to think about why you think you should do something can be very helpful! Do you think you should because of how it benefits you or how others will perceive you? I found that a lot of my “shoulds” reflected my concerns about the opinions of others or pressure to adopt the priorities of those around me. When I got to this point in the exercise, I eliminated several things that I’d marked should because I realized I wasn’t me who thought I should, it was someone else. That’s SO not my priority!
What I ended up with were mostly shoulds that helped me avoid urgency in the long run. Things like I should hire someone to clean my gutters now so I don’t have a huge mess to clean up (or worse) this fall were pretty common on the list. (BTW… I totally delegated that one to my hubby, but you get the point).
Examining your should list closely can give you a good indication as to what things aren’t your priorities which can also help you identify your priorities. What have you been doing because of your fear of OPO or to avoid the judgement of others? Those are likely things you need to let go of. This is about prioritizing your priorities, not someone else’s!
We often think that wants are the least important and if we have limited resources, we should eliminate them. That isn’t entirely true. The things we want can be very meaningful and enriching to our lives and also give us tremendous insight into our priorities and goals. If you do this exercise often enough, you’re likely to find that as you gain more clarity many of your wants become needs (for example, self-care, as I discussed above).
In addition, taking the time to really think about what you want to keep in your life can help you identify things that matter to you. You will likely notice that things like “spending more time with hubby / kids / friends” are on your want list and you’ll realize that’s because you prioritize these relationships. Honor that.
Live According to Your Priorities
There’s an old saying that you can tell what a person’s priorities are by looking at their schedule and bank records. But here’s the thing, most of us aren’t using our resources towards our priorities because we’re too overwhelmed to figure out what they are. Taking the time to assess your priorities allows you to live your life according to them. It calms the storm and helps you focus your attention (time and money) on what’s most important to you in life. In addition, it gives you the ability to manage all the little things that you don’t want to do but that contribute to you living the life you dream of.
Learning to identify your priorities and prioritizing them is absolutely essential to every aspect of your life!