I am one of those people who likes to go in 200 directions at once. I have so many interests and want to learn and experience so many things that it is difficult for me to decide which direction I want to go. I like to think of it as a “diversity of interests.” Doctor’s, on the other hand, might call it something like ADD. Personally, I like my name for it better. In fact, Let’s call it IDD – Interest Diversity Disorder.
In my pursuit of these many interests, I’ve read countless books, articles and blogs on self improvement, health, business, spirituality, gardening, hiking, skiing, backpacking, writing and even reading (yes you can read about reading).
What I’ve been able to do with all of this information is build a good, detailed road map. The only problem is…
You can have the best, most detailed road map in the world, but if you don’t know where you are going, it won’t do you any good.
In the information age, finding that road map is the easy part. But, our time and resources are limited, we can’t travel every road. How do we know which roads to take?
There is no activity that will impact the direction and progress in our lives more than that of setting priorities. We can have all the determination, discipline, motivation and inspiration that we want, but if our efforts are scattered or misdirected, they will have little impact. If I wholeheartedly work toward a goal now, then wholeheartedly work toward a different goal a few hours from now, I am not likely to achieve either goal.
There are so many possible directions that we can take our lives, and without making conscious, and often difficult, decisions about what direction we will take, we can find ourselves on the default path, overwhelmed and underachieving. But, once we closely examine our priorities and choose where we will expend the majority of our efforts, we will most certainly achieve those things that are most important to us.
More often than not, if we find ourselves falling short of our goals, it it because we have made something else more important. That something else might be a job, a TV series, a game, home maintenance, social life, family, etc. Perhaps that is not a bad thing, but what is important is that we consciously examine our priorities and decide what is important. If your family is more important to you than your career, then choose to put more effort into your family life and understand that your career may not be as successful as it might have otherwise been.
How to Set Priorities
Setting priorities is the process of determining what our values are, where do we ultimately want to be and what sacrifices we are willing to make.
What are your values?
It’s impossible to set priorities if we don’t know what really matters to us. Values can be imposed on us by our bosses, family members, friends, community groups, advertising, etc. But, unless we determine for ourselves what is really important, we will have difficulty maintaining the focus and discipline necessary to accomplish meaningful goals.
Determining our values is a personal activity that takes time and focus and a searching of ones own heart. But, if we take the time to be thorough and clear about what we value, we can then begin to set priorities that will move us in the direction of something meaningful to us.
There are multiple ways to go about determining values. I particularly like the one presented by J.D. Meier at Sources Of Insight in his article Finding Your Values. In his article, he suggests that rather than trying to rank values from most important to least important, that you instead start by picking the 10 most important values, then pick 5 of those 10, then the top 3 from those, and finally, your top value.
Here is the list from his site:
Knowing then what is most important to you will help in deciding what tasks are most important, and what can wait or be eliminated.
Where do you want to be?
We have our detailed map and a point A. Where’s point B? Can you go on a road trip with a point A and a bunch of roads? Maybe if the goal is to explore aimlessly, but not if the goal is to get somewhere. Where do you want to be 5, 10, 20 years from now? How do you want to look back on your life in the final days?
Based on the values that are most important. You can now get a sense of where you ultimately want to be and what sacrifices you are willing to make….
What sacrifices will you make?
As you go through the values exercise, you probably noticed that the most difficult part of the task was not finding the values to include, but in determining which values to cut. Setting priorities always involves sacrifice. Your time is limited. In the words of Leo Buscaglia, “No one gets out of this world alive.” Perhaps he hadn’t considered space travel, but the fact is, we’re all going to die. And furthermore, things usually take longer than we think they will. So in order to get where we really want to go, we have to choose which roads we’re not going to travel. We need to decide which side trips and tourist traps will keep us from moving toward those priorities that are inline with our top values.
In the words of Brian Tracy, “There is never enough time to do everything, there is always enough time to do the most important things, and to stay with them until they are done right.”
So what are your priorities? To answer that question, first examine your values, then decide where you want to go, and finally, determine the sacrifices you will make.
In this way, even people like me with “IDD”, can learn to stop going in 200 directions at once, and start accomplishing whatever it is we put our minds to.