Priorities for a balanced life.

 

 

Intro

What are your priorities? What does it even mean for something to be a priority? How does my life prove something is a priority? I think about this quite a bit because I think our happiness and satisfaction with our lives have a lot to do with how our priorities match against our actions. If I have my priorities set I have a framework and focus to my decision making and can therefore feel less pressure and tension when I make a decision. We all have so many things we want. I want to be a great husband, a great son, a great health coach, to exercise, play soccer, eat well, get enough sleep, and I need to relax and take some downtime. There are so many things that I want and every single one is competing for my time and energy. Every day I am faced with the question of how much time to prioritize to each aspect of life without stealing from something else.We need to have a strong sense of where things fit into our life in order to have outcomes that match. The most successful people in any field have a strong sense of their priorities. Steve Jobs struggled in his relationships because the success of Apple came first. We over simplify ourselves when we say one thing can make us happy. It is the right balance of all the many parts of our lives that makes happiness. The richest man in the world has unhappiness if his health was destroyed getting there, while the fittest person in the world will be sad if he becomes poor and lonely in the process. The moment we say that the achievement of one thing will make us happy is the moment we set ourselves up for failure. Today we are going to go through a fun exercise to set our priorities so that we can be confident that our life matches up with our priorities and we can let ourselves be content and happy with how our life is going without life slipping us by. First we are going to talk about things to consider when defining our priorities. How to compare our theoretical priorities, what our current actions say about our priorities, how to move toward aligning those priorities, and finally how to make peace with our limits because we know that we are saying yes to the right things and saying no to the right things.

 

Define Your Priorities

I have sat down to define my priorities before and I periodically will sit to readjust what is important to me as life changes. The first thing to do is to sit down and name the top 5-10 things that are important in your life in no particular order. The goal here is to just list everything you want and is important in your life. It may look like this

 

  • Prayer
  • Spouse
  • Family
  • Exercise
  • Health Coach/ Work
  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Recreation
  • Etc.

 

Once these things are down on paper then take a moment to really analyze how important each one is to you in order. As you analyze each one ask yourself these questions

 

  • Is this priority more important than the one after or less than the one after?
  • When life gets busy which one am I ok with ignoring? How long?
  • What is the bare minimum acceptable time and energy given to this priority?

 

Taking the time to ask these questions really starts to prepare you to make the decisions that a priority will require. Most of us have a good feel for what our priorities are the problem is we don’t have a good system for balancing our priorities. Work has always trumped sleep, or family time has taken a back seat to the variety of family activities we do. All of these things are good but too much of some and too little of others is what drives our uneasiness. I love to play soccer and every now and then I think I want to play a weeknight league, but I know if I do that my sleep will suffer as well as my work quality. Work quality and sleep trump soccer so I am very content to not sign up for that weeknight soccer league. I continue to look for ways to fit it in that don’t affect my other priorities. After you ask these questions and thoughtfully examine where your priorities compare to each other make another list with your priorities in order of most importance.

 

  1. Spouse
  2. Family
  3. Prayer
  4. Health Coach
  5. Sleep
  6. Nutrition
  7. Exercise
  8. Recreation

 

This basic priority list gives you a very simple skeleton to work off of. This list of priorities alone doesn’t really do much for you. It gives you a simple sense of where everything in your life stands and you get some easy decisions made. If my wife needs my help I know I will skip my workout to be with her. Life is more complicated than that. What if my family needs so much attention that I never get enough sleep? This is how life works. Family is above sleep on the list so of course I will choose them but eventually the lack of sleep will make me tired and unhappy even though my priorities are in “order” In the next section we will address some parameters so that each piece gets enough attention while staying in its proper place

 

Defining Minimums and Maximums for Our Priorities

Now that we have our priorities in order and set lets get super specific about what that looks like. Im going to use the Family category for my example but you will do this for each one. Family is second on my list with only my wife coming first (Sorry mom!). Ill answer each of these questions and put the answers on my list with that item

  • Family
    • What is the minimum amount of time for this category each day/week/month?
      • How ever long each action takes , probably a couple hours a week
    • What actions does this look like ?
      • At least a conversation or text with each parent and sibling.
      • Visit either parents or in-laws once per week ( they live in town)
    • How long will I tolerate not doing these actions before they move up in priority?
      • After one month of not doing these actions I will prioritize them above all else to satisfy this need

 

All three of these questions open a specific purpose . Question number one gives me a minimum amount of time I can expect to spend on this priority each day/week/month. Most big priorities will be given at least some time weekly in order to make the list. Question number 2 gets into what satisfying this priority looks like in actions. If I do these things I will feel content that I am meeting my goal here. Question number 3 is very important. There are many times in life where we go through a season of life where one other aspect of our life needs more attention than normal. My wife may be pregnant and she needs more attention, work may be finishing a big project, family illness, etc. In these seasons it’s important to have set minimums that you can tolerate for a time.  If for example work becomes very busy it starts to encroach on my family time. I could always draw a hard line and say family comes first but that could hurt me in the long term. Or I could say that I can put family on the back burner for 1 month and if its still not resolved at the end of the month I will need to find a way to get some family time. This minimum can do alot to prevent that one piece never completely overshadows another. After you have answered these 3 questions and fleshed out what each priority looks like you may find that one is actually more important than another. Feel free to shuffle them around to find the order that makes the life you truly prioritize.

 

You VS. Who You Want To Be

Now is where the magic has. If you make this priority list but never put it to any use than you just wasted your time. If we want to move from where we are to where we want to be we need to know where we are starting out now. The next thing to do is take a few moments to look at your time and where you spend it. For every action your perform everyday put it in a category to see how you are currently living matches your priorities. This only works at all if you are ruthlessly honest with your life. It’s a very rare person that can just follow their set priorities overnight. We need to change one thing at a time in order to align our life more and more with what we have decided is important.  Create a list of priorities based solely on the actions you have been doing. Mine currently looks like this

 

  1. Nutrition
  2. Exercise
  3. Work
  4. Spouse
  5. Recreation
  6. Sleep
  7. Family
  8. Prayer

 

This is a very different jumble from the priorities I set out initially

 

  1. Spouse
  2. Family
  3. Prayer
  4. Work
  5. Sleep
  6. Nutrition
  7. Exercise
  8. Recreation

 

I need to sit and think about how happy am I right now. I also need to examine what it means to reorient my life with my priorities in order. At this point I may realize I may have been wrong about my priorities and change them once again. The most important thing I am thinking about is what will I need to give up to live according to my priorities and am I truly ok with what that life looks life. Now that you have a solid image of your current life compared to your prioritized life put it somewhere that you see it everyday and can start to tweak your life in that direction.

 

Closing: Priorities Are A Moving Target

The concept of learning your priorities and living according to them is going to be an ongoing project and I can almost assure that this initial list will be wrong. Be ok with changing them and discovering more about what makes you truly happy. I love recreation, free time, and playing. I love the freedom to work or play because I have that time. I used to try to fill my schedule as much as I could or feel inadequate if I didn’t’ have something planned every evening but after tweaking my priorities its part of what allows me to be able to meet my other priorities and be a little bit happier every day. As you go out and live your life and think not only about your life but for those around you especially those you would compare yourself to. If you find yourself envious of another person’s achievements look and think if you are willing to prioritize the time that they put to their achievement. You may find you don’t want that change and then you are free to be happy and work your own path. If you truly want something you can achievement it. Make sure you truly want it.

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