For most of my career I’ve been in charge of leading teams of volunteers. One of the things I would do to stay in touch with them was send out a weekly email with things they needed to know about. My emails were getting too long, though. I knew I needed to shorten if I wanted my team to actually read them but I didn’t know what to cut out.
Then one day I came across a post by Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits on Purposing Your Day. Leo’s approach at the time was to begin each day by making a list of the Top 3 things he had to do that day and work on those things first before he started anything else.
The lightbulb came on for me after that. I ditched the laundry list email I was sending to my volunteers and started sending them a weekly email with just 3 things. I wrote it in bullet point form and kept each bullet to no more than three sentences.
It didn’t take my team long to notice the change. Many of them started replying back to my emails, thanking me for keeping them short and to the point. They said they were not only reading them more often but they actually found them really helpful.
I think the same problem I ran into with my emails is the same problem we run in to with life. We own too much and we’re doing too much. And if we’re not careful we’ll come to the end of our lives having missed the things that really matter.
The secret to living your priorities starts with limiting your priorities.
The problem with my emails were there was too much stuff in them. The problem with many of our lives is that there is too much “stuff” in them. Too much TV, too many possessions, too much debt, too much media, and too many commitments.
So how do we make sure we don’t get sidetracked from the things that really matter to us? Here are a few tips:
1. Determine your priorities.
Author Patrick Lencioni likes to say, “If everything is important than nothing is.” If we’re going to get serious about living our priorities we need to start by figuring out what they are.
2. Write your priorities down and review them each day.
Make an actual list and keep it someplace that you’ll see it each day. I keep my in the notes app on my phone. You may want to keep yours on a sticky note that’s taped to your laptop or frame it and put it on your night stand. Or maybe you make it the wallpaper on your smartphone or computer. The method of how you keep your priorities in front of you doesn’t matter, so long as it is helping your remember what matters most.
Here’s what my list looks like right now:
- Nurturing my soul.
- Spending time with family and friends.
- Leading our ministry.
3. Put your priorities on your calendar.
Schedule them before you schedule anything else. Use them as a guide to sift through the plethora of opportunities and requests that come your way. And when you find that something doesn’t fit through filter you made in step two you can feel good about saying no to it, knowing that you’re already doing what matters most.
4. Revisit your priorities.
Life has a habit of changing things on us. It’s good to reevaluate your priorities every now and again to make sure you’re staying focused on the most important things that are happening right now.
A shift in a loved ones health can lead to making work less of a priority and your family more of one. A sudden job loss on the other hand can mean that trimming expenses while you look for another job will need to take priority over some of the other things you’d like to do. Revisiting your priorities will help you filter what comes your way in a more healthy way.
Staying focused on what’s really important is hard work. It’s easy to get distracted and sidetracked by our day to day lives. But the more intentional we are about what’s really important to us, setting helpful reminders, putting our priorities on the calendar, and reviewing them from time to time the more likely we are to live a life that is true to who we are.