Building your career and living your life according to your true priorities is—for many of us—a refreshing and more intentional way to look at structuring our day, our week, our month, or our year.
So how do I know what to do and what to stop?
Good question. The answer depends on what your priorities are – in other words, which activities warrant your time, energy and focus? They may not be what you think.
Start by taking inventory.
How many projects or goals are you working on right now?
Be honest. I encourage you to take a moment to jot them all down… work projects, personal projects, anything and everything that’s taking your time and focus.
If your answer is anything like mine once was, it’s likely way too many.
It goes a bit like this: we’re motivated to make a change or learn something new. We’re excited. We set all kinds of big goals. We may even create a plan to make it happen. We’re still excited. Then we look at our list. Maybe we combine it with another list. The next thing we know, our to-do list is twenty pages long and our list of projects alone goes on for pages. We don’t know where to start. We get overwhelmed. That’s when…
We get stuck and we don’t do a thing.
What I’ve learned from almost 20 years in the project management world – where I guide customer teams to create a clear vision for new projects from which we then identify goals and break them down into smaller and smaller actionable components – is that we all need a system that helps us get clear on our priorities and then puts our focus on the most important steps to move toward our highest priorities, ideally in the most effective order. That’s how results happen.
In project management, we do this by defining where we want to go and discussing – as a team – how we’ll know when we’ve reached our goals.
How will we know we’ve succeeded?
We then make a plan. Planning is really about identifying the work that we know needs to be done and then breaking the work into categories (such as Content, Design, Technology and Testing). We then break those categories into smaller and smaller pieces (Content Gap Analysis, Content Assignment, Content Editing, etc.) until we have individual action items. We of course need to make sure we have the team members and the tools — and a schedule for getting those accomplished.
The planning process is critical in being able to identify your ‘to-do” and “not-to-do” list but is easy to shortchange when you’re excited and ready to dive into a new project.
Do things change as we move ahead? You bet. Do we adjust course? Absolutely. Do we hit every target? Maybe not. We expect and plan for change – and we work with it within a framework where we are not only clear on our goals but also on the best next steps to take to move in that direction.
Whether you’re working on a multi-year six or seven figure technology project with team members around the globe or your goal is to get in better shape so you can run a 10k race in under an hour…
Our visions become reality as a result of three core components:
- Getting clarity on what you want, where you want to go and how you’ll know when you get there.
- Identifying the resources and tools you’ll need.
- Taking the very next steps to move in that direction.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But it’s not always as easy in practice. Having clear priorities means you know what’s most important to you in any given day, month, or year – and you have – or you learn – the tools, commitment and focus to make your goals a reality.
Give it a try for yourself.
5-Steps to Prioritizing Your Success
1. Get clear on what you want: List your top 10-20 projects or goals. Just jot down anything that comes to mind as being important to you that isn’t currently a part of your life.
2. Pick your top 3-5 goals. Once you’ve completed your list, review each item and circle the top three to five that are most important to you as you look at the year ahead. The ones you want more than anything. As you review your list, everything may feel important – but it’s key that you pick only your top 3-5 priorities.
3. Identify how you’ll know when you’ve reached your top goals. For many of us, success goes beyond reaching a certain number of sales, launching a new product by a set date, or even running a race in certain time… while these qualifiers are important to defining what success will look like, success is also about how we want to FEEL. This is the kicker, and a piece that can easily be overlooked.
Along with our calendars and productivity tools – our emotions play a key role in letting us know if we’re on track or off course – whether at work or in our personal lives. So take a moment to really ask yourself – when you’ve reached this goal, how are you going to feel? Elated? Relieved? A sense of accomplishment? Pride? Freedom? Abundance?
If I have a team that is not bought into a shared project goal and vision at an emotional level, that’s where things start to break down when the inevitable challenges arise. The same is true for us individually. So be sure to define your success both intellectually as well as emotionally.
4. Make your plan and marry your priorities. This is where you start breaking your top 3-5 projects down into next steps. And you commit to it. This is also where you begin to identify the not-to-do list.
5. Know your ‘Not-To-Do List‘ and stick to it. This list stems from all of those other projects that are not on your top 5 list. While many of us may be tempted to rank our second most important items just below the first, this is what creates some of the most detrimental distractions in making our big things happen.
You limit your success when you focus on everything at once.
We are in a world where there’s more competing for our focus than ever before. We need to guard it with our life – because in fact it is our life. Without focus, without staying true to our priorities, not only will we not finish the extra things we try to fit in, but we won’t accomplish what’s most important. Those things that create fulfillment, excitement and happiness. Those feelings and experiences that life is all about.
Creating clear priorities only gets more important with time.
In fact, as you experience more and more success, you’ll likely find that new opportunities and distractions are more abundant (and more tempting) as you grow. They may or may not support your goals. This is not about turning those down… it’s about finding the space to move your most critical priorities forward while allowing for new opportunities and having the chance to indulge in some good old distractions — but only to the extent that it does not affect your ability to move toward your most critical goals.
I am an expert at spreading myself too thin. I love starting new things and get mesmerized by the possibilities. So I constantly have to remember my Top 5.
Without priorities, things don’t get done because you don’t know what to stop doing or when to say no.
So what’s your answer? How many projects are you working on right now? 5? 10? 20 or more?
If most of us sat down and did an inventory of where we spend our time, we’d notice we have a lot more going on than we thought.
The more you have to choose, the more time you spend deliberating over what you’ll do at this moment, which is more time spent not doing one of the things most important to you.
You are confronted with the paradox of choice: The more options you have, the less likely you are to choose any of them.
With clear priorities, you can truly begin.
Priorities are a crucial part of making your goals a reality. It’s something I work with coaching clients on regularly… and will speak to more in this blog.
Take this seriously. Know what you care most about — and get super clear on your “not-to-do” list. Avoid these at all costs.
What important things are you going to decide not to do right now?
Do this and make room for the real game changers.