We live in an interesting world. Your Boss, Your Professor, Your Girlfriend, Your Kids, Your Job, Your Readers, Your God, Your Debts, Your Friends, and Your Television are all competing for your time, attention, and priority. And everyone wants to be your top priority. We are forced to economize our time. We must, by definition, make choices about how we live our lives. What do you do when school, work, children, civic duties, sleep and hobbies all command 40 hours a week? You don’t do them all. You must make difficult choices about which parts of your life will not get your full attention. You already prioritize, you just may let others do it for you.
If you do not define your priorities, society and others will define them for you. Have you ever taken the time to consider and actually list out what your priorities are? List your top five ideal priorities in order. What comes first? Pause: do it mentally or write it down. For bonus points take out a scratch sheet of paper and actually write them out. What do you spend the majority of your time, money, energy and attention concentrating on? Is it close to ideal? We must enforce limits to maintain our sanity. Our health and relationships will often give out before our money does. I would guess that there are very few people at the end of their lives that would trade more “success” for quality relationships or a healthy body. Our goal is to simply use the time we have efficiently so we are able to do the things that are most important in our lives. Our goal is also to move in the direction of mental and physical sustainability by moving our current priorities toward our ideal.
One of my personal goals is to design a lifestyle that allows my family to actually be a top priority. Our families tend to be at the top of our list as ideal, but somehow manage to fall down the list of how we actually spend our time. How important is it to spend time with your family? How do you measure that against buying stuff for them or creating expensive experiences for them? Fulfilling relationships can not be purchased with money but they can certainly be destroyed by the pursuit of it. We often accidentally put our families on the back-burner due to our obligations from debt, consumption, and trying to impress other less important people (our bosses, teachers, and employers). How much quality time do you get to spend with your girlfriend, spouse, children, or grandparents in a given week? How much time do you spend at work? What are you giving up when you do not prioritize your family?
Religion & Spirituality
Almost every prominent religion declares that it should be the top priority in your life. And if not the top priority, at least the appropriate lens to measure all life through. But it seems as if, for the average spiritually engaged American individual, only two or three hours a week and a few extra dollars are committed to the cause. If your religion is a priority to you, does it show? How does it manifest itself in your time, attention, money, and relationships? If you decide that spirituality or religion is very important to yourself or your family, it too must become a top priority instead of an afterthought.
Career, Business, & Success
Most Americans overprioritize their primary employment. Is it at the top of your list? Ask your spouse or close friend. Does it take precedent over your family, health, religion, attention or free time? With working hours ever increasing, work often takes 50-80 hours including travel and time spent catching up at home. This results with lots of money (that is often already spent due to debt) and a lack of flexibility about how we manage our time. The ultimate irony is that we live in a unique age where basic goods are excessively inexpensive relative to our average wages. In essence, we are often putting in more time at work only for marginal additional luxury. If you want to radically change your life, you must manage how much control your employment has over your life.
A healthy lifestyle is one of those funny things that all people wish they prioritize but rarely do. Making wise choices, and developing a truly healthy lifestyle, may be challenging on the front end, but pay huge returns in the long run. From an economic point of view, a healthy lifestyle is actually much less expensive, more productive (more energy/better sleep), and physically fulfilling with virtually no downside. If you ever plan to (or already) have children, you must prioritize your health. Unfortunately, due to the fact that health issues are rarely urgent, the “I’ll do it tomorrow mentality” allows us to procrastinate indefinitely. Becoming healthy doesn’t happen accidentally.
Time & Money
The ole’ fight almost always ends up about time and money. Our wonderful society has made it very easy to trade some of our valuable time for money. Combined with aggressive, and often impressive, marketing campaigns we are taught from an early age to be dissatisfied with what we have. The need for more keeps us spending more time to gain additional money. Our priorities are often shaped by little dollar signs instead of what we really wish we could do with our time. I think that is backwards. We need to determine what is most important in our lives, and actively prioritize it. If we overspend, or get deeply into debt, we lose control. Often our consumption makes the ideal priorities in our lives unobtainable.
Having a clear set of priorities makes the decision making process easier. It makes it easier to say no (and yes) when we have competing demands on our time. You must take the time to define your priorities or they will be defined for you. We live in an incredible world with amazing opportunities in our reach. Take a few minutes to simply determine what needs to be a priority in your life and begin the process to design your life around it. Everyone wants to be your #1 priority, but the great news is: we get to decide.