When I was starting out and building a business of my own, I knew two things: (1) There were 12 productive hours in my day. (2) I couldn’t afford to spend all 12 of them at work every day.
Before my new venture, I had a job where I didn’t have a choice. I worked 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week. It was hard on my family, and just too stressful for all of us. My two sons were young, just toddlers, and they and my wife needed me around. It didn’t matter how much money I was making if life was miserable at home. I had made up my mind that I was never going to work like that again.
But when you are building a business, especially one that requires meeting with clients on their schedule and training a new team, you can’t guarantee that you’ll be home by five o’clock every day. So what could I do? I needed a system for managing work and family, my two most important priorities in life at the time.
The solution was to begin looking at the day in 4-hour blocks—morning, noon, and night. I started out every day in the office, during the morning block. I was also doing a lot of selling and had to meet with clients in the evening. I couldn’t work every night, though, so I compressed my appointments into 3 nights a week. And on those days, I took the afternoon block of time and spent it with the family. As my team grew and I spent less time selling and more time leading, I spent more mornings and afternoons at the office and more evenings with my family. With this system, I had choices and could avoid letting one priority crowd out the other.
In my last post, I described the biggest advantages of personal systems: saving time and money, solving problems faster, and taking control of your future. Having a system for managing your priorities in life is how you achieve that last benefit and reduce stress and frustration week by week. The system I used might not be the system that works for you, and it wasn’t even the system that worked for me once my sons got older, but you still need a system.
Do You Have Fantasies or True Priorities in Life?
The tendency in life is for your days to become cluttered with things that aren’t high priority, or for one priority to gradually consume most of your time. If you aren’t careful, the things you say are priorities become just fantasies for how you wish you were spending your time and energy.
Winners have clear systems for managing their priorities so that they can recognize when chaos is creeping in, adjust to stay in control and on track, and spend time on the things that are most important to them. They know that you have to prove your priorities are actual priorities, and not just fantasies, by devoting time, energy, and attention to them.
How to Build Your System for Priorities
Any system for managing priorities in life is based on 4 simple questions:
- What do I want to spend my time on? You need to get to honest answers for this question before any system will work. Check out this post for help identifying your true priorities: Achieve Your Life Goals: 6 Questions to Help You Ignite Your Energy and Passion
- How much time do I want/need to devote to each of my top priorities? Not all priorities need the same amount of time to be fulfilled.
- When do I need to spend time on them? Sometimes this answer is obvious, but don’t skip it. Think creatively to make your system work best for you.
- How will I know if I’m letting chaos take over? Consider what some of the signs might be that a priority is being neglected.
Any system for managing priorities is based on information. These questions help you gather information that gives you a basis for building a system that works for you. It should fit the way you look at the world, the way you work best or are most productive, and the things you’ve got to get done.
Here’s what you gain when you have a system: you remove the guesswork from getting the important things done. You develop clarity and control, and that actually gives you more flexibility rather than less. It’s easier to notice when certain priorities are being neglected, and that helps you adjust and stay on track.
Your system shouldn’t be a series of black-and-white rules. It’s a way of laying out the pattern of your life in advance, knowing that it might shift occasionally so that you can handle an unexpected event, or that it might change throughout the year as different aspects of your life change. Life is always changing, and your systems should change along with them. If you take the time to answer these questions regularly—especially during times of change—you’ll feel confident that your system is working for you.