Let’s be honest. Most of your current struggles in regards to productivity and time management revolve around one central concept – prioritizing your life.
Too often, we spend our time doing things that don’t align with our deepest desires because our intentions are foggy.
Most people have a general idea of what they want out of life, but they don’t have a compass that guides us towards the activities that coincide with our core values.
When I talk about a compass, what I’m actually talking about is a concrete plan for how to prioritize your life and be efficient with your time.
Let’s dive into this a little deeper and help you craft a plan for taking control of your time and spending it on the things that matter most.
What Should You Prioritize in Life?
There’s not going to be a “one size fits all” answer to this question, because everyone is different.
However, if you want to prioritize your life then you need some sort of framework to operate within. I’ll share that framework with you guys now.
One of the most common ways people try to prioritize their time is to make a to-do list, which is great! It’s certainly better than having no plan.
However, while this is a great method for focusing on your most important tasks, it isn’t really a concrete solution to the issue of how to prioritize your life.
Instead of starting with what we’re going to do, we should begin with why we’re going to do it. And to do that, we need to begin with our values.
According to Russ Harris, the author of The Happiness Trap, values are “how we want to be, what we stand for, and how we want to relate to the world around us.”
They are simply attributes of the type of person we want to be. Examples of values may include being an honest person, a hard worker, or a loving parent
There’s a big difference between our values and our goals. Goals assume that there is a specific endpoint to be reached. A value is like a guiding star: it’s the fixed point we use to help us navigate our life choices.
The problem is, most of us don’t make time for our values. We focus too much time on work at the expense of our relationships with the people around us. We spend so much time being busy that we neglect our mental and physical health.
If we consistently neglect our values, we tend to feel empty. Our lives feel out of balance, as if there’s something missing. Ironically, this feeling causes us to look for escapes that push us even further away from what we truly want.
Recently, I was reading a great book titled Indistractable by Nir Eyal. Early on in the book, he outlines a simple way to conceptualize your priorities by splitting your life into three separate domains.
The domains were as follows — You, Relationships, Work
These three domains outline where we spend our time. Separating your life into these three categories will give you the starting point for how to prioritize your life.
In order to fulfill each of these domains, you need to schedule how you’re going to spend your time.
Yes, the dreaded schedule. I know that some of you guys are cursing under your breath right now at the idea of keeping a schedule.
But in all honesty, let me ask you a question — what’s the alternative?
Do you honestly believe that it’s a better strategy to wake up every morning without an outline of how you want to spend your time?
Would you rather go through the day with a blank slate and constantly wonder whether or not whatever you’re doing is in alignment with your goals and values?
My guess is probably not.
Furthermore, even though many people claim to feel hampered by a schedule, as humans we actually operate better under constraints.
Limitations give us structure, while a blank slate leads to endless mental chatter as we stew over all of the options we have in front of us.
According to Eyal, the most effective way to prioritize your life is to create a time-boxed schedule that helps you make time for each of the three life domains.
He goes on to say:
“It doesn’t so much matter what you do with your time; rather, success is measured by whether you did what you planned to do. It’s fine to watch a video, scroll social media, daydream, or take a nap as long as that’s what you planned to do. Alternatively, checking your work email, a seemingly productive task, is a distraction if it’s done when you intended to spend time with your family or work on a presentation.”
Keeping a schedule is the only way to know if you’re on the right track. If you’re not spending time doing what you planned to do, the answer is clear as day.
The goal is to eliminate all of the white space on your calendar so that you’re left with guidelines for how to spend your time.
Now that you have an idea of the framework, let’s talk about how to put this plan into action.
How To Prioritize Your Life And Make Time For What Matters
In order to prioritize your life, you need to start by asking yourself though-provoking questions:
How much time do I want to spend on myself, my relationships, and my work every week? How much time do I need to allocate to each of these domains so that I can be consistent with my values?
Everyone is going to have a different answer here.
If you’re married with children, your answer will be much different than the single, 23 year old entrepreneur who is trying to build a million dollar business from the ground up.
That being said, every single person should have space on their calendar for each of the three domains.
It’s okay to value your work more than your relationships, but that doesn’t mean you neglect your relationships completely.
This is something that I learned the hard way.
A couple of years ago, I was trying to build a marketing agency from the ground up, which meant I was consistently putting in 12-14 hour days, seven days per week.
It was brutal. It was lonely. And to tell you the truth, the endless focus on reaching my goals actually drained my passion and motivation to achieve them.
I feel that the endless focus on work did more harm than good in terms of my productivity. Because deep down, I really valued the people in my life, but I wasn’t making time for them. This caused me to constantly feel like there was something missing from my life, which undoubtedly affected my work.
Even though I’m still very much what you would call a “grinder,” I now make it a point to take the weekends off from work and spend time with people in my social circle.
Funny enough, these breaks help me avoid burnout and re-charge my motivation, which means that I come into the week excited to get back to the grind.
Getting back on track here, the key is to set up your schedule in a way that aligns with the type of person you want to be.
To give you an idea, here’s a breakdown of activities that would fall under each domain:
Domain #1: You
Taking care of yourself is at the center of these three domains because the other two depend on your own health and wellness.
If you don’t give yourself adequate rest, your work will suffer. If you don’t make time to improve your skills and learn new things, you’ll stagnate.
In terms of scheduling, here are a few examples of things that would fall into this category — Meditation, reading, exercise, sleep, hobbies, practicing a new skill, etc.
Domain #2: Relationships
The important people in your life shouldn’t settle for whatever time is left over.
To make sure that you deepen your connections with the people around you, and achieve the social life that you’re comfortable with, schedule in time to spend with those you care about.
Things like drinks, picnics, poker nights, attending sporting events, coffee runs, phone calls, and parties would all fall into this category.
Domain #3: Work
For most people, a majority of this time will already be on your calendar. However, work isn’t just about the 7-8 hour block that sits on your calendar.
Within that giant time slot, there are an infinite number of ways you can spend your time.
When scheduling your work, make sure you focus on your most important tasks. Usually, these are things that you are least motivated to do.
If you’re a salesperson, actually taking sales calls is the activity that has the greatest impact on your productivity. Checking and replying to emails on the other hand, is an activity that is lower on the priority list.
If you’re a blogger, the most productive thing you can do with your time is to actually write blog posts. Right now, there’s a million different things I could be doing to my site.
I could be making small tweaks to improve my site speed, or make subtle changes to the visual layout of my home page, but ultimately the activity that’s going to move the needle for me is sitting down and typing out words.
Figure out which work activities make you the most money, and find a place on your schedule for those activities while trying to squeeze in less important tasks that don’t require much brainpower.
Putting Everything Together: How to Prioritize Your Life Goals & Values
Alright, so let’s just recap what we’ve covered so far.
There are three different domains that the activities you schedule can fall into — you, relationships, and work.
Each of these domains deserve a place on your schedule, and how much time they deserve comes down to who you are and what your values are.
The only thing left is to actually get started and make a rough template for how you want to spend your time.
Keep in mind that this schedule doesn’t have to be perfect, and will likely be revised multiple times. In fact, I actually recommend scheduling in 15 minutes at the end of every week to review your calendar and make adjustments as needed.
There’s literally a million different scheduling tools out there, so I’m not going to get into the weeds about which one is the best option. For the most part, they all do the same thing, so don’t obsess over which tool you should use to create your schedule. I use Google Calendar. Nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.
Start off by scheduling in “You” time. Reference the guidelines provided above for activities that fall into that category
Next, figure out how often you want to engage with your social circle/family members and make room on your calendar specifically designed for these activities.
If you want to hustle during the week and then take the weekends completely off to refresh and enjoy the company of your closest friends (which is what I do) , that’s awesome.
If your work schedule is fairly flexible you really value the time you get to spend with friends/family, squeeze in a few phone calls/social outings during the week. That works too.
How much time you spend with other people is completely dependent upon who you are.
Lastly, the rest of your calendar should be filled with your most important tasks at work. Focus on the activities that move the needle, not the ones that keep you busy. If you want more information on how to maximize your output at work, check out Brian Tracy, who is the one of the godfathers of productivity.
To give you an idea of what this looks like when it’s done properly, here’s a written-out version of what my Google Calendar looked like for last Monday:
- 7-8 AM: ME – Wake up + Morning Routine
- 8-10 AM: ME – Write 1,000 words minimum
- 10-11 AM: WORK – Morning Team Meeting
- 11-1 AM: ME – Gym Time + Lunch
- 1-6 PM: WORK – Sales Calls
- 7-7:30 PM: RELATIONSHIPS – Call a friend in contacts
Keep in mind that during the week I’ve decided that my schedule will be me/work heavy, which is why there’s not much time allocated to my relationships.
On a weekend, this would look completely different. Typically, I’d have a 2-3 hour block in the morning for writing and then nothing else work-related for the rest of the day. The afternoons and evenings are filled with activities that prioritize myself and my relationships.
Everyone will have a different preference for how they want to spend their time. Just make sure that the schedule you set up aligns with your values, and everything else will take care of itself.
I hope you enjoyed this article about how to prioritize your life!
Making time for the things that we really care about is difficult when life seems to throw endless distractions and responsibilities at us.
And while we can’t be perfect, a schedule gives us something to aim at. It gives us an ideal to chase.
If you want to live life on your own terms, you need to be intentional. You can’t just roll out of bed and expect to flawlessly execute the perfect day.
Clarity is power.
And when you have clarity about how you want to spend your time, you give yourself a fighting chance at living the life you want.