When Priorities Collide: Making Room for What’s Most Important

When it comes to your calendar, have you ever found yourself struggling to make everything fit? It can be difficult, if not impossible, to fit in time for work,  for friends and family,  for hobbies and recreation, for health and exercise, not to mention possible side projects or additional education.

This is especially challenging when the things you’re trying to fit  in are all worthwhile in themselves. How do you decide how to spend your time? How do you ensure that you’re not neglecting those things that are most important to you?

Here are a couple of exercises I’ve found helpful in wrestling with this challenge:

First,  list out the major areas of your life, and then put these areas in order of importance to you.  What’s the very most important thing in your life? Is it your family, your career, your faith, your health? Now, what’s second? What’s  third? and so on.

Now many of these items will be deeply interrelated with each other, and it can be difficult to choose between them. But for the sake of the exercise, decide how would you order them if you had to. Where does your family, for instance, relate to your work, and where does your work relate to your hobbies, and where do these relate to your physical and mental health?

Yes, this can be challenging. But taking time to consider the relative importance of all these ‘important’ things can be immensely helpful when two perfectly good things are vying for your time. If you’ve already taken the time to consider which has priority in the current season of your life, you’ll be better able to say no to a good thing for the sake of something else that you value even more.

Second, list out your non-negotiables for the most important areas.

If family is a priority, for instance, what are the non-negotiables you’re going to commit to this area of life? Maybe it’s being home a certain number of evenings per week, or spending a minimum amount of time with them every day.  Or, if health is a priority, maybe your non-negotiables are a certain amount of sleep each night, or number of workouts per week.

This is essentially deciding on what the big rocks are in your life–the most important things that are going to happen regardless of anything else.  And if other things come up that require time, they’re going to have to fit into whatever time is left over after these non-negotiables have been accounted for.

The benefit of being clear on what these are is it can help ensure that whatever you deem most important in your life gets enough regular attention for it to stay strong and healthy.  And if there’s time left over, and you want to pursue something else, you can do so with the peace of mind that you’re not neglecting these other, more important things.

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Most of us have more things we’d like to do than we have time to do them. Which means we’re going to have to make some hard decisions. But by being clear on those things that are most important to us, and by deciding in advance what we’re willing to commit to in these areas, we’ll be in a better position to decide where to spend the limited time we have.