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Pick Your Top 5 Priorities

Once you’ve identified what will bring you joy, ease, strength, and meaning in your life — or how you otherwise hope to feel— it’s time to start organizing your time accordingly. Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, advises his clients to pick their top five priorities and then spend 95 percent of their time doing only those activities, saying “no” to virtually everything else. To give you an idea of how this worked for me, here are my top five priorities, in order of importance:

(1) Maintain my own health and happiness. Because this is my top priority, first I schedule the things that most affect my happiness. I make time for sleep, exercise, creative work, personal growth, and my friends and family, and I say “no” to those activities—fun as they might be—that interfere with my sleep, exercise, and time with my closest friends and family. When I skip exercise or shortchange myself on sleep, I might cross more off my task list or answer more emails, but that puts my first priority—staying healthy and happy—at risk. And if I get sick or so stressed out that my energy is drained? Well, that puts my other priorities at risk, too. I have to constantly remind myself: It takes less time to exercise in the afternoon than it does to recover from the flu, should I get run down. (This doesn’t mean that I’ll never catch another cold, but it does mean that I’m less likely to!)

(2) Nurture my family, home, and closest friendships. My children and husband first, extended family next, friends and community after that. This is about raising amazing human beings who are healthy and happy, and about cultivating a deep sense that I am part of something larger than myself. In order to honor this priority, I need to schedule a fair amount of family time on my calendar. Because I actually have this scheduled, I can say “no” to other things that come up more easily. I simply say that I have a scheduling conflict.

(3) The Practice. This is about “shipping creative work” in the way that Seth Godin defines that. Learning, writing, and teaching are some of my highest priorities. In 2021, my goal is to learn everything about how the ways we work can be redesigned so that the work design itself—the structures and cultures organizations create—help people everywhere fulfill their potential for creativity, focus, productivity, purpose, meaning and joy.

(4) Coaching and speaking.  These are the professional activities in my life that consistently remind me of my social value. I love creating coaching programs, like this one, and I love coaching teams and individuals. Every day that I coach I get feedback that I’m helping people become happier, healthier, and more productive.

(5) Give back.  I challenge myself to do something every week, if not every day, to use my skills and passions to help someone else. For example, I love to cook, and so I love bringing meals to friends who might need them (this weekend I’m making a delivery to a friend who lives alone and has a broken leg). I also love to volunteer to serve food in our local soup kitchen.

How we schedule our priorities doesn’t have to be entirely proportional. We might value family most in life but spend the biggest amount of our time on some aspect of our work. So long as we are spending enough time on each of our priorities to accomplish our goals, that amount of time is enough.

Spending 95% of your time on your top 5 priorities leaves only about five hours a week for other things—the other 5%, the things that aren’t real priorities, but often need to be done. Most days, my 5% time is mostly spent answering emails and doing administrative work that is unrelated to the above Top 5.

Here’s the really great news: Deciding on your Top 5 priorities is going to REALLY free up some time for the things that matter most to you.

Now it’s your turn to decide on your top 5 priorities ala Peter Bregman. Use the “Top 5 Priorities” tab in this online/printable planner as a guide for picking your priorities.


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!