How do you figure out what is most important? After sharing Stephen Covey's killer advice on prioritizing, an Inc. reader (see below) asked me how you can choose between two or more big priorities if only one can be handled.
There is no trick to making more time, energy or other resource. In fact, we should embrace when these conflicts happen, as they reveal our true intentions.
Essentialism and the idea of priorities
Greg McKeown's Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is one of the books I read every year. McKeown helps us whittle down our activities so only the most important stuff becomes our focus. It is a simple, lovely book.
And one of my favorite discussions is McKeown's history of the word priority. It is Greek in origin and means, roughly, "the one".
In other words, there are no priorities. There is just a priority. That priority takes precedence.
When you hit a resource limit - time, money, energy - you feel pain because it reminds you that you can't do it all. You need to choose. That choice becomes your priority.
Priorities aren't fixed (if you don't want them to be)
Limitations can give us a cold reality, but they also create a clarity otherwise unknown. You can say family is your priority, or you would do anything to become a millionaire, or you are undying loyal to your friends, but you don't know if it is true until you actually have to practice it.
Self awareness only goes so far. Real life provides the rest.
Not long ago, I struggled with my own priorities of a young family and a growing speaking career and an ambitious writing business. Long-time theatre critic Leida Snow gave me great advice, which I shared in The Balanced Bite-Sized Entrepreneur (and, later, in The Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur Trilogy):
Balance isn't doing everything at once. Balance is doing what is most important at the time. Sometimes you'll be super present as a dad. Sometimes you'll be super present as an international speaker. It's OK to put one down and pick the other one up. But you can't be both at the same moment.
Your rocks will expand and change over time. My kids don't need me as much now. I became an entrepreneur when my first child was three months old. The needs were a little different then! He had to be my big rock, and my fledging startups, So Quotable and Cuddlr, had to be squeezed within the space between. The lessons learned became my best-selling book, The Bite-Sized Entrepreneur.
Today, he and his younger sibling are old enough to be more independent. I have the space to do six books in two years, build a coaching practice and do more keynotes talks. The rocks changed.
When I first started as an entrepreneur, a good friend said, perhaps, my family was my real startup: Low resources, minimal time and little guidance. It helped me accept that priorities would have to be juggled and to be realistic with what was possible.
Realizing your true priority can be tough but, when you do, you can truly maximize how effective you are at the most important thing.