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5 Ways to Prioritize Your Life (and Make Time for the Important Stuff!)

by Ali

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book sitting next to window

Is it just me, or does everybody want to read more books? Don’t we all want to be that type of person that has the time to actually sit down and read a book on a Sunday afternoon? But when it comes down to it, where are you going to find the time?

It all comes down to prioritizing your life. If you want to read a book every month, you’ll have to prioritize your life in order to make time for it. It turns out that if you don’t prioritize your life, your planning will live a life on its own. And you’ll be chasing after the facts, with some nasty side effects to your mental health.

If you want to control your life and be happy with the things you do, this article might be of help. I’ll share five tips that will help you prioritize your life, backed by science and plenty of examples.

Why it’s important to prioritize your life

If you don’t prioritize your life, you might experience the many negative side benefits of it. For example, a study performed in 2010 demonstrated that a lack of organization increases cortisol levels and negatively impacts your mood.

In addition, by not prioritizing your life, you’re at risk of spending your valuable time on things that are not aligned with your greater purpose in life. This can affect your mental health in many ways, as it turns out. People who prioritize their lives are generally better able to pursue their passions in a more controlled environment.

2017 study concluded that individuals like this – who pursue their passion harmoniously and with more self-control – experience an improvement in well-being.

If you want to experience similar feelings of happiness, then this should be enough reason to start prioritizing your life more!

Why prioritizing your life is challenging for most people

I once recommended a friend of mine a book to help her through a few difficulties. As a result, she laughed incredulously at my suggestion. How foolish of me, I should have known that she doesn’t have time to read! 

But of course, she has time to read. She just doesn’t prioritize it. 

We all have the time to do almost anything we want, but to do so means we must sacrifice something else. We must learn to prioritize. 

Spinning plates and buzzing around on turbo charge, trying to do everything, is not sustainable. I’ve learned I am not invincible and I’m afraid to say – you aren’t either.

We regard those who are “busy” with admiration. Busy people know what they want and they make things happen. Right? Well, let me tell you something. Busy people are generally the ones flitting around trying to keep everyone happy. They struggle to say “no” and they spread themselves far too thin. Being busy and being happy are not necessarily congruent. 

Yet, it seems in this modern world, we are all busy. Our to-do lists are never-ending. Life is overwhelming and exhausting. The past few years, I’ve learned how to declutter my life, which has brought clarity and helped me prioritize what is important. Learning to prioritize our lives is actually really simple and promotes happiness. 

How to prioritize your life in 5 simple steps

Here are 5 simple tips on how you can prioritize your life. 

1. Befriend your values

Many of us live our lives at full speed, firefighting just to keep ourselves afloat. We can’t see the wood for the trees. Very often, we lose touch with ourselves. To live a fulfilling and rich life, we must find clarity on what sustains us emotionally and intellectually. We must identify our values and live our lives in tune with them. Remember, we all have different values. 

Consider your life in category time blocks. 

  • Work time.
  • Personal time.
  • Health time.
  • Family time.
  • Relationship time.

Grab a pen and notebook and create a list of 5 priorities under each category, in order of importance. Now, take cognizance of your values and your priorities. Are you living life in accordance with your top values? If not, it’s time to make some changes. 

It goes without saying, the items at the top of your list take priority in each category. So, if family walks are highest on your family time agenda, make sure you are actually doing this.

Interestingly happiness is closely associated with the value of kinship, which is experienced when people feel a connection to other humans through some sort of common ground. Maybe it’s time you joined that social group or started volunteering at the animal shelter. 

2. Say “no” to liberate your time

How good are you at saying “no”? 

We may be up to our eyeballs with deadlines and commitments and still find ourselves adding to the pile. Do you know that old adage? If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. But as a busy person, I dare you to defy this and say “no”. I did this and broke my shackles. 

When I learned to say “no” to others, I learned to say “yes” to myself. There is a myriad of resources to help you set up boundaries and say “no”. Learning to Say No: Establishing Healthy Boundaries by Carla Wills-Brandon is a great start.

  • I said no to the friend who expected me to do all the running in our friendship.
  • I said no to my work constantly asking me to stay on.
  • No more social events which I felt I “should” go to, but actually didn’t want to.
  • I said “no” to stepping into my usual pattern of spending excessive time organizing social events.
  • No more living my life in accordance with other peoples’ values. 

I didn’t just claw back the time of the event I was turning down. I claimed back the time I spent thinking about it. As a result, I freed up my mind and invited peace into my life. And, in doing so, I made space for my own values. 

So, recognize when you simply don’t have the capacity or you are acting to please others and learn to say “no”. Obviously use this appropriately. It is not such a good idea to say “no” with impunity to your boss. Nor is it a great idea to turn down your children’s food requests. 

3. Deploy the Eisenhower Matrix method 

From the moment we wake up, we are processing information and making decisions, some of which are through autopilot. But some decisions take a little more brainpower than others. And other decisions, whilst may seem simple, are complex in terms of urgency. 

If we don’t handle our decision-making process appropriately, we will quickly become tangled up with information overload and live life on the backfoot. This in turn has repercussions for our stress levels and overall wellbeing.

The Eisenhower Matrix is an excellent tool to help guide us through the stages of incoming information to outgoing action. 

Dr. J. Roscoe Millar, president of Northwestern University once said: 

I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important and the important are not urgent. 

Dr. J. Roscoe Millar

The Eisenhower Matrix helps us process information by its urgency and importance. Consider four quadrants with different strategies.

Firstly, if a task is urgent and important, we prioritize it and action it immediately. Secondly, if a task is important but not urgent, we schedule it for action. Thirdly, if a task is urgent but not important, we delegate it to another for action. Lastly, if a task is not urgent and not important we delete it. 

This matrix helps us manage our time effectively and efficiently in all areas of our lives. Give it a shot, the benefits may well surprise you. 

4. Organize your day

To prioritize your life you need to take things a day at a time, a month at a time and a quarter at a time, and even a year at a time. Perseverance and consistency in the short term yield succulent fruits in the long term. 

Set yourself daily to-do lists to work through, and give yourself both weekly and monthly goals. Research has found that setting high goals is associated with high achievement. 

Once a goal is identified we need to establish a way to achieve this, which feeds into the daily to-do list. It could well be that you want to run a certain distance by the end of the month. In order to achieve this, you must set yourself running targets on specific days to build up to your goal. 

From my experience, being efficient and organized with our day is the most important step in taking ownership of life. So, it’s time to stop making excuses! If fitness t is one of your values, but you give the excuse that you don’t have time, I call BS on that. There are two 5 o’clocks in the day! If something is important to you, you will find time to do it. No more lounging around in bed wishing you had time to run, write or work on that side hustle. 

The early bird catches the worm.

If you are constantly making excuses, it’s time to re-evaluate. Maybe you like the idea of being fit, but in reality, it isn’t one of your true values. And that is ok, but be honest. 

Get yourself a diary or a wall planner. Anything to help organize your time. Schedule your time and make sure to allocate yourself time slots to take breaks. According to this article, taking time out from a challenging task will improve your productivity. 

5. Be kind to yourself 

Above all, be kind to yourself. 

I pride myself on my kindness. But for too long, I believed kindness to others involved some sort of personal self-sacrifice. 

You are not being kind to yourself if you are constantly run ragged. You risk losing yourself when you say “yes” to others, without any consideration for your mounting to-do list and your extensive commitments. Don’t lay yourself open to being repeatedly taken advantage of. In the long term, resentment may build and your wellbeing will suffer.

You may think the term “self-care” is overused today, but the reality is it is under-executed. Reduce your social media scrolling. Increase your sleep. Learn to put boundaries in place with people who drain your energy. Feed your body and mind with healthy and nutritious food. Don’t beat yourself up about your weight or appearance. 

Love yourself for the beautiful person that you are today, exactly as you are. 

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail Clean

This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

Wrapping up 

Remember, you are the captain of your own life ship. Don’t let life be something that happens to you. Sail your own life into the sunset and choose where you swim with wild dolphins along the way. 

Once you identify your values, the fog of life often lifts. 

Don’t waste time on things that are not important to you. Learn to say “no” to people who don’t bring you happiness. Prioritize your life one day at a time, and your year will come together. Shake off any guilt associated with showing yourself kindness and compassion. 

It is only when we put our own oxygen mask on, that we can truly be of any assistance to others. So grab onto the steering wheel and buckle in, it’s time to have the ride of your life. It’s time to stop merely existing and start living.

What do you think? Are you in control of your life? Have you prioritized your day-to-day life in a way that makes you happy? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Ali Hall AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Kindness is my superpower. Dogs and nature are my oxygen. Psychology with Sports science graduate. Scottish born and bred. I’ve worked and traveled all over the world. Find me running long distances on the hills and trails.

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