I was glad my dad picked up the phone. I wasn't sure if I was dialing a friend or a lifeline, but I needed some advice.

I told him how frustrated I was that I was not getting to my priorities. I was in my mid-thirties, I had a wife and six young children, and a good career going at IBM. But I was frustrated.

He asked me "What are these priorities you aren't getting to?" I responded, "My family--spending time with the kids and supporting my wife. I'm trying, but things keep getting in the way."

He listened to my complaints patiently, then calmly said, "I can help you. Call me back next week. In the meantime, keep a detailed journal of exactly where you are actually spending your time. Report that to me on our call in one week." I didn't know it at the time, but he had just set the trap.

A week later, I gave him a full report on where I spent my time. He asked a few questions, did a little math, then said, "Here are your priorities in order: Work and sleep are by far your highest priorities, then family, then home maintenance. According to what you sent, faith and personal health are not priorities."

I was irritated. I had already told my dad that my priority was family first! Not getting to my family was the source of my frustration, thus my call to him.

He shared that my priorities were where I actually spent my time, not what my stated priorities were. My number one priority would be family when I actually spent the appropriate amount of time with my family.

Words don't matter. Investment of time clearly indicates priority.

That exchange was about 25 years ago. Dad's gone now, but the impact of his wisdom influences me to this day.

What I didn't see at the time was how that insight would profoundly infuse itself in my business life.

Applying a life lesson to a business context

As a consultant, I'm often asked to assess an organization's strategy. Rather than study their four-color strategy document, I prefer to analyze their budget.

When I take a close look at how the company is allocating its resources, I can clearly see what their priorities are and where they are going. What's clear to me is the main purpose of having a strategy is to drive the allocation of resources. And more often than not, I see clear disconnects between stated strategies and the allocation of people and money.

So here is the hack. Take a close look at where you have your people and your dollars allocated in your company. Ask yourself, "If Chris McGoff was in here and he just analyzed our budget and nothing else, what would he conclude was our strategy, our goals, and our objectives?"

Then compare that to your stated strategy to make sure that the documents are integrated and aligned. If not, either change the stated strategy to match the budget or change the budget to mirror the stated strategy.

Applying a life lesson to organize your priorities

Here's the end of the story about my dad. He told me before I get out of bed each day to hold my left hand in front of me, palm towards my face, fingers outstretched. He said to label the thumb faith. The index finger is self. The middle finger is spouse first then children. The ring finger is work. And the little finger is everything else.

First thing every day, get right with your faith. Next, decide when you'll exercise and take care of yourself that day. Like the airlines tell us, we should put our own oxygen mask on first, then tend to the needs of others.

Third, ask yourself what are the needs of your spouse and family that you will fulfill today and when? Let nothing get in the way. Fourth, ask yourself what are the fewest, most important things you need to complete at work today, and have the strength to ignore the rest.

Lastly, if there is any time left over after taking care of the first four fingers, take on anything else. He concluded by telling me that any day could be my last day. Following this process, no matter what time of day I die, I'll have always tended to the most important things already.

My dad gave me many pearls of wisdom, and I miss him. Here is a bonus hack: If you're blessed to still have your dad alive, spend some time with him today.

Published on: Aug 25, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.