Self - February 11, 2019

How to Make Time for Your Priorities (and Prioritize Them!)

how to schedule your priorities and live them out

If you’ve been following along, I’ve been writing about priorities over the past few weeks. I know I know, it doesn’t sound too exciting, but you guys, I promise it is more exciting and relevant than it may at first seem! Just bare with me, okay?! I am SO SO passionate about this stuff because applying these things has changed my life!

Let’s review if you’re just jumping in. First, I shared a personal post about a time when my life was incredibly unbalanced. I shared that I came to realize my life was unbalanced because I lacked priorities. I kept letting all the urgent and pressing demands of life and work distract me from taking care of the things that were truly important to me. And so I found myself living a life that didn’t align with my personal values and the things that I really cared about. After that I post, I shared the exercise I used to help me figure out and clearly define what my priorities were.

And today, as promised, this post is going to be about how to actually incorporate these priorities into your life. Because while making your priorities list is great, you’re missing out if you don’t actually LIVE them out.

By this time, hopefully you’ve had time to let your own list marinate a bit. Don’t move forward if you haven’t done that. If you’re not sure about a couple, use the tips in this post to test out a priority you think you might want, but aren’t sure about, and see if it feels right after carving out time for it. Or does it feel like it’s just another thing on the list and not something truly increasing your happiness and state of life?

Before We Get Started, Remember This Is a Process

Before we get started, I just want to remind you that THIS IS A PROCESS. I’ve been working on this for about 6 months now and it has been a slow and steady journey. But over time, I have made significant progress and I can confidently say that I live a much more balanced life than I did a little over a year ago.

Also, different seasons of live might have different priorities. Remember that you’re always evolving and growing, and as such your priories might be shifting as well. Like, my priorities won’t look the same one day when (well, if) I have kids because obviously their needs will come before my own. But even still, it’s important to be intentional about what is important in our lives and making an effort to actually live them out in our every day life.

Step One: Assess Where You Are

In order to make any change in your life, you’ve got to first be honest with yourself about your NOW. If you know where you ARE, then you’re better able to figure out where you want to be.

Think about how you actually spend your time RIGHT NOW. What does a typical week ACTUALLY look like? Not what you *hope* it looks like, but how the hours actually pass. Look at your calendar or whatever you use to keep track of commitments, and highlight what is NOT included in your list of 3-5 priorities. Maybe you notice a lot of work events but growth at work isn’t a priority, or its making you miss time away from your family or workout classes, and family and health ARE priorities.

Then, go a step further and spend a week or so really analyzing your day – minute by minute. Are you catching yourself going to the TV on autopilot at work before spending time reading or developing your brain (which might be a priority?). Are you spending any time prepping food for a healthy lunch the next day if health is a priority? Are you spending your commute talking to friends and family because they are a priority? I’ve been using the screen tracking feature on my iPhone and it has been pretty eye-opening for me to see how I’m actually spending my time versus how I think I’m spending it.

So often we think we don’t have time for things, or we are trying to do TOO much. Hopefully now that you have that defined list of 3-5 priorities, you’ll be able to identify what’s in your schedule that is NOT a priority. But think about writing out how you spend each hour currently, and just taking note for a week. Then you start to make the changes…

Step Two: Eliminate

Now that you have highlighted areas where you are spending your time/energy that doesn’t fall into your list of 3-5, it’s time to start eliminating. But you want to do this VERY slowly. Don’t be scared to do this in small chunks – too much change isn’t always a good thing, feel out what’s best.

It’ll look different for everyone, but eliminating certain tasks, commitments or habits might look like the following:

  • Letting a friend know you aren’t able to make book club any longer
  • Telling your boss you can no longer volunteer to run the softball team at the office
  • Setting boundaries for whether or not you’ll work on the weekends, after a certain time, etc.
  • Canceling cable
  • Going through your bank account and canceling services that aren’t within budget

Again, go slow if you need to, but gradually try to eliminate any of this “waste” over the next couple weeks. If you want to do it all at once, totally fine, but know that you’re not failing if you don’t. Making room for priorities can take time.

Before jumping into step four, I want to talk about why I do tings from a weekly perspective.

Weekly Organizing versus Daily Organizing

Weekly planning helps keep our schedule in perspective, whereas daily planning keeps us focused on urgent and pressing tasks or deadlines.

One of the most helpful things I ever did was start looking seriously at how I was spending my time on a weekly basis. It helped me maintain perspective and remember that maybe not every single day will look perfect, but that my week as a whole could better reflect what was important to me. So maybe I couldn’t workout or focus on my health every single day, but seeing that I was prioritizing it 3x/week was more realistic and helped me to keep focused on the bigger picture.

I now spend a little bit of time every Sunday (or Friday afternoon) planning the week ahead. I lay out my calendar and start scheduling in my priorities. I use flexible blocks of time to set aside time for doing certain things that are important to me, but I leave enough flexibility so that I can shift things as needed.

  • Finding overlap – I also try to overlap things or create synergy between priorities if I can: like call my mom while on a walk (health and family), listen to the Bible while cleaning (scripture reading and house chores), or workout with a friend (health and relationships). Organizing my time from a weekly perspective helps me to plan things better than if I did it each day or when I “felt” like doing some planning.
  • Planning to plan – When I look at things from a weekly perspective, I’m also able to think through certain situation that may need planning. Many things become urgent because we haven’t given enough thought to preparation. For instance, one of my 2019 goals was to focus on my health. Specifically, I wanted to cook more. But if I don’t detail out how I’m going to do that each week, it will not happen. So sitting down on Sunday night helps remind me: okay, I need to figure out WHAT I’m going to cook, WHEN I’m going to go to the grocery stores, WHEN I’m going to actually cook, and etc.

Step Four: Schedule in your priorities & start prioritizing

Now is the fun stuff!

Now is the time to start adding your list of 3-5 priorities into your daily life. Not to say that you need to spend X amount of time on X priority a day (that might be impossible), but I will say you want to get to a point of balance. There isn’t a magic formula for how much time you need to spend on a priority a week to make it prioritized, but the important part is that the MAJORITY of your life is spent around your 3-5 priorities.

Remember, you will still have to spend time on things that are outside of this list (pretty sure no one’s priority is taking out the trash or going to jury duty). But the greatness comes when you eliminate everything in your CONTROL that isn’t a priority and instead, prioritize the priorities!

I suggest making a list of ways you can do this, with some examples being:

  • You have a long commute to work that won’t change, but now you spend it calling a friend (if your priority is friends) or listening to a podcast (if your priority is self-development or learning).
  • You hire a meal delivery service because your priority is health and you know you don’t make the best choices when you have to cook/shop for yourself. You still have to feed yourself, but the hard work is done.
  • You plan a weekly date night with your husband to watch a show you both like instead of watching The Bachelor in the other room. You still get your downtime, but you’re taking your priority (Relationship) and eliminating what’s not (reality TV).

Once you have the list or an idea of how to fit your priorities in around daily life, you can start finding your own formula of time that works for you.

Fill in your calendar and try to make time for each priority either every day OR a few times a week. For example, if a priority is self-care, one hour a week probably isn’t enough. You need to find ways to add this in every day or more often. And remember, you can really BREAK DOWN your priorities so that it feels more manageable. Examples:

  • Spend 10 minutes each morning reading from the bible or practicing faith if faith is a priority
  • Have a standing Wednesday call with a friend if friendship is a priority
  • Go over your spending every Friday and Tuesday to stay on track with a budget priority
  • Take a bath a few times a week instead of showering if that’s what relaxes you and self-care is a priority
  • Watch a YouTube video a week on something within your industry if career is a priority, or even ask yourself “how did I better my career today?” before leaving the office.

My point is, these priorities should naturally blend into your life without really forcing it – they’ll stick more that way and will be easier to manage.

Side note: remember the importance of rest and renewal. I’m all about scheduling the heck out of everything but we have to remember the importance of actually scheduling time to REST and REJUVENATE. It’s incredibly important and actually helps us perform better in other areas of our lives as well.

Step Five: Weekly Assessments

A really easy, quick way to check in on your priorites is to take daily or weekly assessments of your time. You can get snazzy and have a highlighter per prirotity and go through each week to make sure you’re taking time for each, or you can just go through your week in your head. If you find yourself missing a priroity or really not spending tiem on it or spendign too much time on non-priority items, you can catch yourself. Set an alarm on your phone to do this daily or weekly. This can also help you see if your list is unrealistic or difficult to maintain.

I honestly think I could write an entire additional blog post JUST on weekly assessments, but at this point, I’m afraid I might be boring y’all with all my priorities talk! All that to say, I think following up each week to see how you’re doing (and be honest with yourself) is incredibly helpful in following through! You learn what works for you and what doesn’t! You can also see which goals might have been a little too aggressive or not realistic for you, right now. And then you can adjust.

Remember, this is all a learning and growing process and will look different for everyone. I’d love to hear from you if this content resonates with you! Happy prioritizing!