First Things First: 6 Tips for Keeping Your Priorities Straight

I get such a kick out of working with my health coaching clients. There’s something energizing and inspiring about empowering people to take control of their health and seeing them come back, excited and engaged, feeling better than they’ve felt in a long time.

They aren’t the only ones that learn from our sessions, though. Working together can be a catalyst for my growth and I saw this played out last week. Over the last few weeks I’ve started working toward the goal of getting a Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. I’ve dreamed of doing something like this for at least four years but I always put it off because I always thought that I would do it when I was feeling better. But that day may not come for a long time.

Even though I’ve made some progress in improving my health, I still struggle every day with pain and fatigue and I don’t know when I will feel “good enough” to start working towards my dreams. A few weeks ago I decided that I was done waiting for the Right Time and decided that I would make Now the Right Time. I’ve finally gotten tired of waiting for Someday.

Starting to reach for a goal is a wonderful thing, full of hope and enthusiasm, but when you add something extra to an already busy schedule it either has to displace something else that is a lower priority or you run the risk of overloading, getting burnt out, and losing ground on all of your priorities.

As I added the preparation for getting started with the master’s program to the hustle and bustle of the holidays I could feel my energy and motivation draining. I was making progress on some of my priorities but other absolutely necessary, less urgent priorities, like exercise and reading inspirational writing, were put on the back burner. When you put your maintenance rituals and coping skills on the back burner while adding more to your plate, it can be a recipe for a disaster.

True to form, I was slipping towards burnout so when my client and I started talking about how she was spending her time and honoring her priorities, I knew I needed to do the same.

If you recognize that you need to reset your priorities, here are a few tips:

1. Write down a list of your priorities in order of importance.

2. Decide how you want your priorities to play out in your daily life. If health is a priority, does that mean that making health a priority looks like setting aside 10 minutes for yoga every day, or lifting weights at the gym three times a week, or spending a couple hours on the weekend creating healthy meals for the week? If relationships are a priority, does that mean that you will schedule family game night every Friday, or set aside 10 minutes to talk with your partner each day, or read stories to your children for 20 minutes before bedtime? Once you’ve decided what your priorities look like in action add them to your priority list.

3. Ask, are my priorities reflected in how I spend my time? A very good way to test this is to write down exactly how you spend your time for two or three days (a full week is even better). Pick a typical week day and a typical weekend day and write down exactly how you spend your time. As you review your schedule, identify how much time you spend on non-priority activities and consider whether you could cut down on these activities. Yes, some mindless pleasure (Facebook, TV shows, Twitter, or games) are ok but if they’re taking the place of higher priorities too often, you may want to cut down on the amount of time you spend on them.

4. Review why your priorities are your priorities. When something unimportant but urgent comes up it’s easy to forget that important things are a higher priority than (unimportant) urgent things. A good example is a phone call interrupting a conversation with your daughter (or son, spouse or friend). We all know that any call that will come in will go to voice mail and can easily be addressed in 10 minutes but we let the urgency of the call supplant the importance of having a conversation with someone we care about. When (unimportant) urgent things start becoming a higher priority than important things it’s helpful to intentionally remember what your priorities are and to make a conscious decision to address the important before the (unimportant) urgent. Always keeping in mind that if the important things don’t get addressed, eventually they will become important and urgent and you’ll be forced to stop everything else you’re doing and address it, no matter how inconvenient it is. What are some urgent things that are supplanting important things in your life?

5. If you have too many priorities and can’t get it all done, ask yourself if these are truly your priorities or are they someone else’s (society’s, your employer’s, your in-law’s, a friend’s)?

Not my circus

If a priority isn’t your priority, can you let go of the priority while maintaining the relationship? Yes, some priorities are imposed on us and we would rather honor the priority than deal with the consequences of intentionally letting the priority or relationship go. But, if you are thoughtful, I think you would find at least one activity or priority you can let go of.

One of my friends decided that doing Christmas cards every year was one societal pressure she could let go of. But sending out cards to friends and family was a personal priority so she decided that instead of sending out Christmas cards she would send out Valentine’s cards or Halloween cards. When she used this strategy she was able to decrease the load she was carrying during Christmas time, and honor her priorities during the holiday season, while honoring her need to communicate with friends and family.

6. Remember, often the quality of your activities is far more important than the quantity. A small dinner party with friends may be far more memorable than all the other holiday parties you’ve been invited to. Snuggling with a loved one may be far more nourishing than rushing to complete Christmas cards. Making Christmas cookies is definitely far better than keeping  your kitchen is immaculate.

Balancing priorities and expectations is a constant practice because our society is inundated with media and messages that are designed to draw our attention away from our goals and onto what society tells us should be our priorities. “Look here! Go there! Do this!” society tells us. We can’t escape it but we can learn to focus our attention and set our priorities so we can live a life that is empowered and purposeful.

Mindy Kissner, HHC, LCSW

Thrive Wholistic Health


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