You will never be able to do everything that you want to. Some things are going to be left undone. What you can decide though, is what gets left undone. When you schedule your priorities, you get the important stuff done. The rest doesn’t matter that much.
I schedule my priorities weekly. If you prefer a monthly timeframe, this is fine too, especially if you have monthly goals to achieve. The idea is to get past the trap of daily to-do lists that are based on external pressures rather than your inner purpose.
How to schedule your priorities
1. Decide on your priorities
By definition, priorities have to be few. You must resist the temptation to try to do too much at the same time. It is much better to decide on a few select priorities and doggedly focus on these until they are achieved. You can then choose another set of priorities with confidence that you will also be able to get these done.
There are a few ways to determine your priorities:
a. Three focus areas a year
Successful organisations tend to have three strategic thrusts a year. These are what propel themselves ahead of the competition and position themselves for the future. Why shouldn’t you do the same? Decide on three areas in your life that you want to change this year and focus on what you really want to achieve in these areas.
b. One habit a month
You can change your life in 30 days if you simply work on forming one new habit a month. Your choice of habits could be based on your three focus areas a year, or simply stand-alone habits that you would like to incorporate into your life.
c. Key roles
Of all the roles you play in your life, decide which are the most important this year. This way of prioritising emphasizes who you want to be rather than what you want to achieve. If you find it difficult to narrow down everything you want to be to just a few key roles, try imagining what you want to see written as the summary of your life.
2. Translate each priority into a weekly or daily action
Once you have decided what your priorities are, do something about them every week. Meaningful change takes time, and requires repeated effort over an extended period in order to materialise.
For example, if one of your priorities is to buy a property, weekly actions could include:
- visiting one property
- interviewing one real estate agent
- reading a report on property trends
- checking on the amount currently set aside for a downpayment
If your priority is less tangible, like becoming more patient, then weekly actions could include:
- listen without interrupting anyone all week
- standing still instead of fidgeting while you wait
- meditating 10 minutes a night
3. Set aside weekly planning time
This is the key to making all the above work. So many people make resolutions that don’t happen because they do not have this routine of working on what matters every single week.
Find a time that works for you. I find that Sunday mornings work best for me. In my mind, the week begins on Monday, so I plan for it before it starts. My schedule is also more predictable on Sundays than on other days of the week so this planning session is more likely to happen on a Sunday than on any other day.
When you first start doing this, you may need half an hour just to sit down and think about what actions you want to take this week for each priority. As you get the hang of this, it is possible to plan your week in a quick 10 minute session.
This planning time should include:
a. Review of the previous week
Tick off the actions that you succeeded in taking the previous week. Give yourself a pat on the back if you managed to do all of them! If not, just move the action to this week instead or break it down into smaller steps to make it more manageable.
b. Actions for this week
When I first started this weekly planning, I was ambitious and wrote down a few actions for each priority. While I sometimes managed to get all these done, but more often than not I managed only one or two. After a while I settled for just one action a week per priority, and anything more was a bonus.
c. Schedule the actions in your planner
Now you have to clinch the deal by actually writing down each action in a specific time slot on a specific day that week. You are basically booking your own time to do the things that really matter. When others later ask for that time slot, you can truthfully say that you are not free then or that you have a prior commitment.
If you really have to accommodate someone else’s request, re-schedule whatever action was planned to another time slot. Just as you would re-schedule an appointment with a friend if you had to cancel the first time. And you should not re-schedule any action more than once. That would not be fair to a colleague, friend or in this case yourself.
4. Find a format that works for you
I’ve used both pen-and-paper and electronic organisers. The pen-and-paper format works better for me as I can see details of the entire week at a glance. I use Google calendar for events from next week onwards, but plan the current week on paper.
Schedule your priorities this week
Your first priority should be to get planner of some sort. I started with the Passion Planner, which got me into the habit of proper planning. After two years, I got the hang of planning and now use my own weekly template.
Start scheduling your priorities today, so you can love your life because you are doing the things that really matter.