One of the quickest ways to get people checking their email during a training is to mention the word “priorities.” Immediately their brains tune out, their eyes shift to their mobile devices, and their thoughts flit to what form of caffeine they’ll consume during the next break because they “already know this stuff.”
But that’s a mistake.
Although most people can tell you why priorities play an important role in success, most don’t have a clear ranking of their own personal or business priorities--and even fewer can confidently say that they regularly invest their time in alignment with those priorities.
We need to stop talking priorities and start taking action. Here’s how:
Step 1: Write out what’s important to you.
If you’re like the majority of the population, you have a vague sense of what matters to you. But you haven’t taken the time to clarify how you want to align your life and your time. Start by penning your thoughts in a journal, typing them in a digital notepad, or like one of my clients. writing them with dry erase marker on the refrigerator. The method matters little but the process of externalizing what you want in a visual matter counts.
Step 2: Give your priorities a rough ranking.
Once you’ve listed out what you want in your life, you need to put them in to some sort of order. Why? Well, as I talk about extensively in The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment , if you want to keep your time investment aligned with your priorities, you need to engage in priorities-based decision making. What that means is that when you encounter a time conflict--let’s say, grad school versus work--you make a decision on where to invest your time based on your priorities ranking.
Step 3: Make your priorities action-based.
This step plays the most critical role in living a life aligned with your highest values because it gives your priorities “bite.” To make them action-based means to translate the priority into something you can do.
For example: If business development is one of your priorities, a corresponding action could be to make 10 new client phone calls every Friday morning. If employee morale is a priority, having weekly one-on-one meetings with all your direct reports could be the corresponding action. You want to define in the most clear manner possible exactly what it “means” to invest time in your priority.
Step 4: Monitor yourself.
People tend to neglect their priorities because they can be so easy to forget, ignore, or trick yourself into thinking that you’re honoring them when you’re really not. After Step 3, you should be able to answer clearly, “Yes,” or, “No,” to whether you’re taking the actions that would make your priorities a priority. If you answer, “No,” often, you’ll need to take a step back to re-evaluate whether or not the priorities you recorded truly matter most to you or if you should decide on different actions to take in relation to them.
By making and following action-based priorities, you can ensure that you build a business and a life where you invest your time in what matters most.
--Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E , a time coaching and training company, and the author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress .
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC)  is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab , a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
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