How to be more productive: Set your priorities straight
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Versión en Español: Cómo ser más productiva(o/e): Haciendo una lista de tus prioridades
I think we've all been there: we want to start doing something, but we don't know where to start. Is it that we truly don't know where to start? Or is it that we keep pushing the start date because we’re not really committed to doing it in the first place?
I know life throws all kinds of obstacles our way. And yes, sometimes it's not about the willingness to do something, but the context of our surroundings. There are certain things that we just cannot do, like wanting to get a tan when it's cloudy outside. But either way, one of the techniques that has helped me in my professional career is setting my priorities. And I mean really setting them, from a realistic point of view, not just saying, "I wish I could do this" because that's not the reality. Let me tell you what I mean.
Before starting, I just want to mention this: everything you're about to read is based on my perspective and what I've learned over the years. Of course, it is not a reality for everyone, but it's what works for me.
How I set my priorities
Every once in a while, I think about my top 3 priorities. This includes everything in my life from work, loved ones, hobbies to mental health. For example, let's say my top 3 priorities right now are:
Be successful at my job
Spend time with my loved ones
They're organized in a specific order because I'll stick to this order when I have to choose between a set of things to do. If I want to watch a movie with my family and also go to the gym, but I can't do both, I'll pick the gym because that's my priority right now. If my priorities were reversed, I'd choose to watch the movie over going to the gym.
Now, this doesn't mean that I always have to select my job or work out before spending time with my loved ones. It means that when I'm managing my time, I'll sometimes have to choose one activity over the other in order to achieve my goals. This takes me to my next point.
Life priorities = actions to achieve a life goal
Following my previous example, you'll notice the 3 priorities are actions that lead towards a bigger goal. "Be successful at my job" can mean a lot of different activities, but these ultimately achieve an end objective such as improving my knowledge and expertise or receiving a promotion.
It's super important not to set your life priorities without a goal in mind. The end goal tells you what kind of activities you should be doing and which ones you shouldn't. For example, my second priority (work out) is kind of vague if it doesn't have an end goal. When will it be enough of a workout? If my goal is to have 6-pack abs, I'd have to spend more time at the gym! But what if my goal is to be fit? Then I don't really have to work out a ton or start taking protein shakes. I'd just have to be consistent in going to the gym at least x times a week.
Take a look at my actions and goals:
Be successful at my job -> increase my knowledge in the area
Work out -> be fit
Spend time with my loved ones -> have more work/life balance
Notice how the first priority results in a goal of increasing my knowledge but not getting a promotion. Why does this matter? If my goal were to get a promotion, I would have to be more focused on understanding what the internal promoting process looks like in order to have a shot at it and act upon what I need to do to receive one. Instead, my goal is just to increase my knowledge. This gives me more room for experimentation, reading, or learning. I'm not focused on a promotion because that's not my goal. This helps me filter my actual daily activities.
The key is to be as realistic as possible
This point took me a LOT of time to understand. It requires a lot of trial and error, so don't worry if you don't get it at first. To paint a picture of what I mean, I'll tell you about a time when I wanted to read more books.
It's not a long explanation; I think a lot of us have suffered from this. In sum, I wanted to read more books. There's a ton of information in books that you may not be able to get online, and I have a lot of books in the queue. I asked for advice, I tried to "make myself" read more, I bought more books, I did a lot of things in an attempt to read more, but none of them worked. The reality? There was always another activity I wanted to do instead of reading: watch Netflix, play video games, spend time with my family, etc.
The thing is, my life priorities at that time looked like this:
Watch all my Netflix queue
Finish playing Zelda Breath of the Wild
Spend time with my family
So, naturally, whenever I had free time, I ended up doing anything but reading. And I didn't do this on purpose!
So what do I mean when I say you have to be as realistic as possible? Sometimes you want to do things like reading or creating an open-source project, but you never actually get to them. You don't get to them because those activities are not part of your top 3 life priorities. You have to accept the fact that you prefer to watch Netflix or play video games instead of reading, and that's ok! There are some things in life that we are not ready to do, yet and we can't really force them unless we set our priorities straight. This is easier said than done!
My advice to you
It's not helpful to worry or beat ourselves up because we didn’t achieve the goals we wanted. It's been years since I had a "new year's resolution list." I don't do that anymore because it ends up being a huge burden for my mental health. Instead, every time I want to start doing something new, I have to plan my time according to my life priorities. If my current priorities are not what I want (or need) to do, then I have to re-assess them.
There's no shame in admitting that your life priorities are not what society calls "productive." Sometimes my priorities and goals look like this:
Sleep 8 hours a day -> get some rest
Spend time with loved ones -> improve mental health
Eat at least 2 meals a day -> improve physical health
Other times they look like this:
Create content at least once per week -> grow an online presence
Walk at least 1 hour a day -> improve cardio
Be better at my job -> learn more things and gain more experience
Speak at more events
Whatever your life priorities and goals are, make sure they're what's best for you. There's no use in creating "fantasy priorities" that you're never going to do. You're only fooling and hurting yourself by not being realistic.
I hope this post was helpful for you. Feel free to leave me a comment with any questions or contact me if you want to talk!