Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, Organized Executive, and Success.

Defining and Supporting Your Priorities

In order to reach your goals, it is essential to define just a few key priorities in your life, and expend most of your energy supporting those priorities instead of spreading yourself thin trying to keep up with too many priorities.

Deciding what is important to you is a key to winning back your time. In today’s information and communication overloaded society, if you don’t decide what’s important to you, anything can compete for your time and attention and dissipate your day, your week, your year, your career, and your life! Once you decide what’s important to you, you can then determine what it actually takes to maintain or achieve what you’ve designated as important. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said, in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “There is no inherent problem in our desire to escalate our goals, as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way.”

Getting real about what you want means being honest with yourself. It also means taking the time and trouble, in an interruption free-environment, to compose a list of priorities and reviewing your list often until your priorities sink in. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know which road to take?

What’s Important to You?

The great paradox about priorities is that if you have too many of them, by definition, they can’t all be priorities. Do you have 15 or 18 things that you list as top priorities in your life? If so, you’d better look again — no one has time to pay homage to 15 or 18 top priorities. Life doesn’t work that way.

To help you identify what your priorities are, let’s look at what have traditionally served as top priorities for many people. I’m not saying that your list has to match this; it probably won’t. This is, however, a starting point:

1. Family

For most people this is numero uno. If family is a top priority, one of your goals may be to listen to your spouse in earnest for 35 minutes three times per week (Won’t he or she be pleased if you listen at all, never mind three times a week!).

There are a variety of other goals you can choose to support your priority. Here is a quick list of other goals related to family:
  • Have an annual photo of the family taken each December.
  • Send flowers to your wife, unannounced, once a month.
  • Buy life insurance to ensure your family’s prosperity in the event of your demise.
  • Begin an annuity so you can easily afford your child’s college education by the time he or she is ready to enter college 12 years hence.

2. Society (Social Priorities)

This priority deals with participating in your community. It could mean being involved with religious, social, fraternal, or community groups. Here are some goals that may support your social priorities:
  • Recycle your paper, plastic, glass, and other materials every week.
  • Run for Town Council next term.
  • Host a foreign exchange student during the next academic year.
  • Coach a community league team.
  • Volunteer every two weeks at a local homeless shelter or kitchen.
  • Tutor a student from your local elementary or high school.
  • Participate in a community theater or choral production.
There is an inherent efficiency in identifying your priorities and establishing some goals to support those priorities. Any other way of proceeding in life is analogous to jumping on your horse and riding off in all directions (Editorial note: This is covered extensively in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Managing Your Time. For more information, visit

3. Health and Well-being

After a decade and a half of staying in top shape, I came across a report by the Journal of the American Medical Association that claims the number of overweight Americans has been steadily increasing over the past decade:

“One-third of people over age 20 tip the scales in the wrong direction. On average, adults weigh eight pounds more than they did a decade ago,” says Dr. Robert Kuczmarski and colleagues at the National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Maryland. “Comparisons …indicate dramatic increases in the prevalence” of overweight people, Kuczmarski said.

Overall, 58 million Americans are overweight. “While our caloric intake increases, our caloric expenditure decreases,” said Dr. F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York City, in an editorial. “Sedentariness has become a way of life.”

Among dozens of goals you could have in support of your health and well-being priority, here are 5:
  • Join a health club within two weeks, and set a goal of working out four times per week for at least 30 minutes.
  • Practice the art of forgiveness by making three calls this week to people with whom you hold long-term grudges, and tell each of them that you forgive them.
  • Get a good night’s sleep at least five times per week.
  • Have an annual check-up every January.
  • Imbibe 50% less alcohol per week, starting this week.
The great thing about having well-being as a priority is that it gives you license to engage in all kinds of social and personal behaviors that you might not have otherwise.

4. Wealth

There are all kinds of wealth: intellectual wealth, spiritual wealth, and economic wealth. Far be it for me to say that accumulating economic wealth is evil. The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. It doesn’t say that money, per se, is the root of all evil.

Here are some of the goals you could choose in support of economic wealth:
  • This week, redirect your employer to automatically invest x amount from your bi-monthly paycheck.
  • Join an investment club this month. Meet with the members regularly, learn about investment opportunities, and participate in intelligently selected group investments.
  • Live within your means for six months.
  • Open a retirement account with your credit union next week.
  • Bring your lunch to work at least three times per week.
  • Choose an automobile that gets better gas mileage.
You get wealthy by developing habits of wealth. You add to your net worth a little at a time. Gradually, inexorably, the wealth begins to build. Study after study of wealthy Americans reveals that the majority became wealthy slowly, lived within their means, and woke up one fine day to find that their nest egg had grown to a sizable sum. What a way to win back your time, by developing habits of wealth, breaking the cycle of deficit spending, and eventually accumulating a sum that enables you to do what you want in life!

5. Career Growth

Independent of the monetary rewards, there’s a high level of inner satisfaction among those who are highly learned and well respected in their chosen fields. You can choose various types of goals to support your career growth priority.
  • Read one new book a month by the top authors in your field.
  • Return to school to get a graduate degree in your field.
  • Undertake original research over the next six months, and publish your findings in an article in a prominent industry journal.
  • Join your professional association or run for office in your professional association.
As society grows more complex, it may behoove you to become more of a specialist in your chosen field. The more specialized you become, the more potentially valuable you become to those who need your expertise. If you’re worried that becoming too specialized will restrict your intellectual diversity, fear not. What generally happens is that once you decide on pursuing a highly narrow field and concentration, your intellect expands. You begin to see things within your narrow focus that you couldn’t have seen before.

6. Intellectual Growth

When Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was in his eighties, he was asked why he was reading the voluminous book, The Lives of Plutarch. He responded, “To improve my mind.” The pursuit of intellectual growth, independent of career growth, is a worthy priority at any age. Cerrtainly the education and intellectual development of your children ranks at the top of any list of priorities.
  • Read one new book every two weeks that is not in your field and not connected to what you do for a living.
  • Spend time with your children playing games such as Scrabble to help develop their vocabulary and love of words.
  • Take at least one international trip to a new destination each year so you can learn first- hand about other cultures.
  • Watch at least one program per week on The Learning Channel or PBS.
As more people go on-line via the MicroSoft Net, CompuServe, America On-Line, Prodigy, and other on-line vendors, it will become progressively easier to enhance one’s intellectual growth. Be warned — you can get hooked on the Net far worse than on TV. The reality of your existence is that there are far more worthy and stimulating issues competing for your time and attention than you will ever be able to come close to pursuing. It takes strength to stay within the confines of a few pre-identified focus areas, while occasionally allowing yourself to free-wheel. You are, after all, only human.

7. Spirituality

The spiritual growth that I’m referring to doesn’t necessitate going to church every Sunday, although it can involve that. Your spiritual growth can occur anywhere, at anytime.
  • Take at least one walk per week in a natural setting and appreciating your surroundings — the leaves, mud, flies, plants, and stones.
  • Read the Bible, or another religious text, during the next 12 months, or listen to it on cassette.
  • Give thanks each evening at dinner for all that you have been given.
  • Regularly attend weekly religious services.
  • Donate your time and energy once a month to a food service for the homeless.
  • Pray for yourself and for others.
The seven priority areas discussed above are not the be-all and end-all. You may have some that don’t fit within these categories. That’s fine as long as you recognize what they are and choose goals that involve specific action steps and timeliness in support of your priorities.

Five Easy Steps for Getting Started

Listed below are five easy steps for getting started in establishing your priorities:

1. Write down everything that’s important to you or you want to accomplish in your life.

2. Several days later, reexamine the list. Cross out anything that no longer strikes your fancy. Feel free to add a few things.

3. Several more days later, look at your list again and see if any items can be grouped together. Then, reword or relabel any of your choices. At any time, if you think an item is questionable, drop it.

4. Put your list away for yet another day (this is going to take a week or more), and then review it again. Once more combine, regroup, or delete things on the list as it appears appropriate to you.

5. Finally, prepare the final draft of your priority list, recognizing that the list may change in time. For now, these are what you’ve identified as your priorities.

Shrink It

If you have several fonts within your printer, print your list in a reduced point size so that it’s small enough to carry in your wallet or purse. Try to review your list of priorities at least once a day. It is not excessive to read your priority list several times a day. Some of the most accomplished people, who appear to be in great control of their time, review their priority list all the time. With so many other things competing for your time and attention, it’s easy to lose sight of your priorities and lose valuable time.

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 886 presentations to clients such as Lockheed Martin, Eckerd, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • Dial It Down--Live it Up (Sourcebooks)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (CreateSpace)
  • Accomplishing Your Goals (Smart Guide Publications)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his website

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