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Life’s Priorities

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.”

If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.

Laura Vanderkam

***

You could also accept these kinds of phrases for what they are: a reflection of your choices and preferences.

“Do you have time for me to take over your life?”

“Nope. I have time but not for that.”

When you’re trying to create your own freedom and escape a life that drains your energy, how shall you choose to live?

You choose to live as if your life depends on it (because it does).

You make these choices in alignment with how much closer they bring you to your goal (because that’s what you want).

Perhaps the simplest analogy is, if you’re trying to lose weight, you shouldn’t eat donuts.

I like to eat donuts, so I’m probably not the best one to share this analogy. But never mind the donut! The point is that you choose what you value.

When you identify a priority and decide to invest in it, time flies by. You find yourself “in the zone,” energized by the momentum and eager for more.

You know the advice about how if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it? This is completely true.

Similarly, if you want to see who is going to make the leap to a new way of life and who is going to remain stuck, notice how desperate they are. The greater the desperation, the better the odds.

Another way of thinking about it is:

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. -Gretchen Rubin

Wondering what your priorities are? Look at what you do every day.

Comments here.

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71 Comments

  • Nadja says:

    Yes, I love to say to everyone who complain about time: It is not true, that you don’t have the time. Time is here. Every day. You don’t take the time. To take time for prioritized things means to take responsibility for your life. This is the most difficult part of it.

  • Love the Laura Vanderkam quote! This reminds me that there is the same amount of time everyday for everyone… and truly, an abundance of it, when I perceive it that way. I choose to do what I do, rather than feel I have to. We all have these choices everyday. And it gives me pause to reflect on what it truly important to me right now, and not keep worrying about the rest! Trusting there is enough time for what matters. Thanks, Chris.

  • Amardeep says:

    I was wondering when i started reading this. But it ended after couple of minutes.

    “Wondering what your priorities are?
    Look at what you do every day” is a very smart answer. Simply awesome.

  • Sebastian says:

    I sat down once a couple of hours and thought about my priorities in life. In this session I defined my top three priorities in life. Three activities I love. Three activities I like to spend time doing it.

    I spend by now my complete awaken time to improve my three priorities. I dismissed everything else. It`s a great feeling every day.

    Regards Sebastian

  • Victoria says:

    How true this is. I learned this one the hard way.

    I’m an American who has lived nearly 20 years in France and built a life there: a family and a good career in IT.

    I had left my last company and was contemplating what to do next when (surprise!) I was diagnosed with cancer. Spent 9 months in active treatment (surgery, chemo and radiation therapy).

    This was the life event that changed everything and led to a radical reorganization of my priorities. I gave up on IT (wasn’t enjoying it anyway) and started writing (I recently got published). These days I live firmly in the present. Every day I have as much time as I need to do the things that make me happy. The only priority (and isn’t it a relief to have just one?) is to make the most of this moment.

    The folks who say “I’ll do this or that when I retire” or “when I save enough money” make me smile. I wonder what they would say if one day they knew that they might just not make it to retirement? My humble advice would be to do those things NOW because man plans and God laughs. 🙂

  • melanie says:

    Or as Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

  • Our language is extremely powerful.

    When we pay attention to the words we use in everyday life we’ll see why our life is the way it is.

    If we change our language around money, love, relationship, health we’re going to manifest very differently.

    PErsonally, I love the switch between “I don’t have time” to “it’s not a priority,” so freakin’ powerful and FREEING!!!

  • Kimberly says:

    So true that to find out what your priorities just look at how you spend your time.

    Recently I realized that although I was patting myself on the back for spending hours each week working on my passion project and building my business, I wasn’t spending much time connecting with friends any more, or having fun for the sheer sake of having fun — even though I always say that stuff is important to me. So over the last few weeks I’ve been scheduling in lots more time to hang with friends, and it’s making me wildly happy. And more productive when I do get back to working, which is a nice little bonus. : )

    For example, today there’s Happy Hour on the horizon at 5:30 with two friends I haven’t seen since last December, which took, like, 10 minutes to set up, and will add a whole bunch of joy to an otherwise standard Monday. Such a simple little thing, but so important.

  • Joy says:

    Hit me between the eyes…..needed to hear this. Great teaching and techniques! AMEN!

  • I find it helps to remind myself every morning that I have exactly the same amount of hours in the day as everybody else on the planet. That includes pro-bloggers with side businesses, mothers with full-time jobs to hold down, authors I admire, Richard Branson… everyone!

  • Steve says:

    Great advice. I need to (and am) putting this on a post-it, to remind myself tomorrow, and tomorrow…

    A classic quote that I really like:
    “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

  • Akinsola says:

    One tip I got from the post while I am a very busy person, I do find myself not having time for some other things, and later I would look back and wondered why I didn’t do those other things. But I have learnt to set priorities right these days, I invest my time in what is truly a priority.

    thoughtful post.

  • Maria says:

    Perfect! I love the “it’s not a priority” switch. We all know that excuses like not enough time are lies, yet for some weird reason they are perfectly acceptable.

    Whenever I catch myself thinking “I don’t have enough time”, I am asking again “what is the real problem here?” Lack of time is rarely the root cause, it’s mostly the symptom. Asking yourself what the problem is reveals things like fear, overwhelment, disinterest, or maybe even bad scheduling.

  • Mike says:

    All so true.

    I’ve been using a version of this for some time. Instead of saying that I didn’t “have” time for something I respond by saying that I didn’t “make” time for that thing. More truthful, I think.

    The latest language trick I’m enjoying is instead of saying that “I’ve got to go to work today”, I’m instead saying “I’m choosing to go to work today”. It’s a pretty stunning daily reminder that I’m not yet where I want to be.

    Thanks for all the insights.

  • I’d love to see a follow up to this, on ‘The Art of Saying No.’

    I’ve found it hard to decline, when someone wants what I am good at. I like the rebuttal you propose: ‘It’s not a priority for me right now.’ But that might come down as harsh.

    How do you decline, Chris?

  • Nate says:

    well said… actions mean much more than words.

  • Tony D says:

    Great analogy. I’ve known this subtle truth for years but could never put it into words as elegantly as this. Concerning time, we all have the same amount, no matter what our station or class. What we don’t have are the same priorities. Thank you for this clarification.

  • Rochelle says:

    Wow. This is truly eye opening. This exercise requires honesty. It’s amazing just how much we tell ourselves and others little lies to protect our “time”.

  • “It is not a priority.” Wow, super powerful! Love it.
    Last March I took a strong decision of starting an online consulting business.
    Since then, I have been working really hard on this and this is my priority.
    It feels so good, I feel so energized! I know that my priority is truly focused on what really matters.
    When I took this decision, my husband and I had a serious talk and we were open and honest while sharing our priorities.
    I think this is very important. People around you, the ones you love and care, they need to have clarity on your priorities. Otherwise, you won’t be a group of supportive people.
    I can understand when my husband says “it is not a priority” because I also know where he wants to focus. We found out that this is a great way to have beautiful and honesty relationships: talk, share you priorities and respect other people’s priorities.
    Beautiful post, Chris! Thanks!!
    (PS: and soon I will have my website, a book and online classes! How cool is that? Just by prioritizing what really matters… and Adventure Capital 🙂

  • Britt Reints says:

    Oh damn. I can see this being really powerful… and really uncomfortable. “No, playing a game with you isn’t a priority right now.”

  • Kristi says:

    This so true… The greater the desperation, the better the odds. Also, looking at what we do everyday, to see what really is our priority. I recently got busy fixing my health, guess what, I eat healthy and run everyday, because I’ve committed myself to it. Also, now I have to apply same strategy on my business. thanks Chris!

  • Jenna says:

    I like donuts too.

    And I think this is a powerful way to look at food choices. I just ordered a coffee with almond milk and a very gluten-ous, sugar-filled, non-vegan cookie. The barista (who happens to be my friend) and I laughed at the irony… and I thought: priorities.

    Now to apply this to the more difficult areas…

  • John says:

    Excellent reminder to keep things in perspective Chris! My grandma used to say, “People do or don’t do exactly what they want.” It’s very true, as our time on this earth is finite, what we choose to do with it is luckily up to us.

  • Shelly says:

    thanks for some fresh perspective on the power inherent in how we spend our days…since it fact how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

  • Micky says:

    Awesome post again!

    We say we want something, but what are we doing to make it a reality?

    Reminds me of Stephen Covey: “Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions.”

  • johanna rustia says:

    Just what I needed! Thanks!

  • Becky says:

    We also have to quit telling ourselves this “story”. If I keep telling myself I don’t have enough time I will make that come true. I have a note posted on my computer that says, “I have plenty of time to do ALL my work.” It is a better story.

  • Harper says:

    Wisdom! Thanks for it!

  • Ann Stanley says:

    I like the idea of reframing the situation in terms of priorities. It’s more honest and it stops us blaming time, as if time could be guilty. It reminds me of replacing ‘should’ with ‘could, but choose not to’. Both relieve us of our self-imposed victimhood.

  • So simply clear and powerful- thank you. I began practicing saying “it’s not a priority” instead of “I don’t have time.” Already I see change! Scarcity mindset BE GONE with you! 🙂

  • Brilliant! I’ve been saying for years that ‘I don’t have time’ is a soul sucking lame statement. Actually saying out loud ‘this is not a priority’ is like a shock to the system. Great post!

  • I always say – what’s important to you- you do.
    My mom burned me with that one day when we were talking, I said that about someone else and she said, “it’s true, so think about that the next time I call and you don’t call me back.” I thought about it for a second and was like, DANG! That’s a burn! Eventhough she didn’t mean it to be, (well maybe JUST a little) it made me stop and think- she thinks enough to call me, but I don’t think enough to call back? That’s not ok. So now even if its just a quick call or text, I do it because what’s important to ME, I do.

  • MaryLouise says:

    We have been conditioned with the mind-set of ‘if we need to do it, it’s a priority, if we want to do it, it’s not a priority’. Why is this? Why can’t we make what we want to do a priority? What we need to do is usually considered a priority automatically. What we want to do can be a priority if it aids us mentally/emotionally/spiritually/financially, etc. If it’s important to us as an individual, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Brilliant article!!!

  • James says:

    “it’s not a priority”. i definitely need to do this more to increase my productivity.

  • jill diane says:

    This is great advice. However, it is important to remember that time is tied to privilege and socio-economic status to a certain extent. If a person has young children and is struggling on a low income, life just takes up more time. You need to to use transit instead of drive places, go to the laundromat instead of stay home, wrangle kids instead of pay for child care. So when someone else comes a long and says ” You are just not making X a priority” it can add to that person’s sense of being overwhelmed and shame about what they can accomplish, without any real understanding of what is taking up their time on a daily basis.

    So to say we all have the same amount of time is a bit of a myth. However, I do generally agree with the article and find it helpful. Often the short term priority of the “donut” wins out because we don’t keep our long term priorities in mind.

  • Peter Santenello says:

    Solid post Chris!

    One of my favorites because of this simple line, “You choose what you value.”

    Why is this so hard for many people to understand? I value travel, therefore I put it ahead of most other things… but quite often I hear how lucky I am from the people around me.

    I try to discuss the point you made in this post, but it usually doesn’t sink in. I’m not sure why this concept is so often overlooked or hard to understand? If someone has a nice car that they value, I don’t look at them as lucky, I look at it as something they value. Good for that person; I would never call someone lucky for it.

    I apologize for the rant, this post just hit a chord. Thanks for the quality content!

    Best,
    Peter

  • Barbara says:

    Great use of words, I am just starting to come to grips with the power of how we tell our own story on our lives. I am definitely going to start including this.

  • Keith says:

    Great post.

    This is very powerful, changing a few words to emphasize the power of choice. I will definitely start using this both with myself and clients. One other thing I notice it does is accentuate responsibility. Saying I don’t have time abdicates that responsibility to something external. Saying I don’t think that it is a priority slaps me in the face that it is my choice and up to me.

  • Morringhan says:

    I give up most of my time to a job I don’t particularly enjoy, but grad school is my priority at the moment and this job is the only way I have to pay for it. It’s tough knowing that I’m “wasting” a year of my life doing something I’m not passionate about, but I hope the trade off is worth it.

  • Kaitlyn says:

    I like saying, “It’s on my big list of everything I will one day do in my life”.

  • Nice post Chris!

    You said that desperation was key to making the leap toward a new way of life.

    How do you propose someone in a state of ambivalence (i.e. relatively content with everything) could create the burning desire to do this?

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