The Dirty Little Secret about “Priorities” that Keeps You from Being Your Most Productive

Everything doesn’t matter equally, and that includes our priorities.

You may be surprised to find that the idea of having more than one priority in your life is a relatively new concept. According to Google Ngram, a language research database of more than 25 million books, prior to the 1940’s the word “priorities” hadn’t even entered our everyday vocabulary. In fact, at times, it was just about as popular as rarely used words like “divaricate” and “gallus”.

Google Ngram’s Analysis of “Priority” (1800-2008)

The reason reveals something we’ve lost sight of in modern times: we can’t really have more than one priority. When we give a task “priority” status, by its very definition, what we’re saying is that the action in question takes absolute precedence over everything else. There’s only room at the top of the list for ONE Thing.

That’s not to say that multiple things in our lives can’t hold importance. But when it comes to the decisions we have to make about where we must spend our time, there’s always ONE Thing that stands a cut above the rest. Our focus and productivity demands that we give our priority the attention it deserves.

 

Sifting Through Priorities to Find Your ONE Priority

It’s easy to mistake cutting out “priorities” in our life as forsaking the things that are important to us. That’s not the case. What we’re actually doing is identifying what takes precedence among a list of things that we consider significant. By doing this, we’re narrowing our focus on the ONE Thing that will allow us to take the largest step on the path toward achieving our biggest goal.

One of the reasons why we attempt to hold a number of priorities is because there are multiple ways to achieve the same objective. Finding the best possible path requires us to ask the best possible question. That’s where the Focusing Question comes into play.

With the goal you’re trying to achieve in mind, ask yourself “What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

More often than not, we can find our one true priority by simply asking this question. But it’s also entirely possible that none of the tasks previously deemed important are the correct answer. If that’s the case, then use our Goal Setting to the Now process and Long Term Goals worksheet to determine the answer. Ultimately, finding your main priority is the first step you can make toward reaching your goals.

Transform Your To-Do List

Like we talk about in the book, to-do lists are a hindrance to productivity. They muddy the lines between routines, busy work, should-dos, and must-dos. Above all, they bury our priority. That’s why it’s crucial for us to transform our to-do list into a success list.

When looking at your to-do list, use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you rank each task in order of importance. By ranking the urgency and importance of a task, we force ourselves to ask the question whether or not an item on our to-do list is something we could do, or something we should do.

Once we’ve eliminated all of the could-dos from our list, the task that will have the greatest impact on your ONE Thing should be your priority for that day. Until you complete that first action item, everything else on your list should an afterthought.

Dealing with Chaos

The sacrifices that we make when focusing on our priority means that some things are left unattended. And that’s okay. We’re not advocating that you abandon everything on your plate. We’re simply saying that you need to dedicate your most productive hours and energy to the things on your success list. That requires us to block off those precious hours from distractions or conflicts so we can utilize that time to its greatest extent.

You’re not alone if you find that managing your own time isn’t always easy. Sometimes it feels like the chaos around us creates an environment in which it is all too easy to succumb to old habits or to cheat with our time. It’s important to become a master of your own time and to seek out accountability partners that will help keep you focused on your priority. Find like-minded people – by surrounding yourself with people who are also trying to achieve greatness one step at a time, you’ll be better equipped to handle all of the uncertainty that comes with success. Reach out to a mentor, take a time management course, or simply challenge those around you to hold you accountable. When it comes to achieving our fullest potential, we simply can’t do it alone.

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