How to set priorities in life.


In this day and age, it's easy to lose track of what's most important to us because our attention is being pulled in so many different directions, like scrolling through social media, listening to the news, working 9 to 5, caring for our family, and hanging out with friends.  This is why it's important to set priorities in your own life because you can easily lose your focus and even a sense of yourself.

How to set priorities in life.


Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option. - Maya Angelou

Definition:  Priorities are the things that are most important or urgent for us to do.

Some things can be both important and urgent, like submitting an overdue project before the end of the day, or taking your car to the repair shop over the weekend so you can use it by Monday.

Other things can be important but not urgent, like a date night with your significant other, or that physical exam with your doctor.  You can usually schedule these important but not urgent things for later.

Anything else that can be postponed until next time is not necessarily a priority.

Be mindful of the things you are prioritizing because sometimes that relatively less important or urgent thing that you were putting off might manifest into something bigger later on, like your health, or a relationship that you've been overlooking.

I know that this sounds complicated, and it can be.  Therefore, you need to know WHY it's important to set priorities in your life before you start SETTING them.


You will never find time for anything.  If you want time, you must make it. - Charles Bixton

It's important to set your priorities in life so you can better manage your time and energy because you only have so much time during the day to get things done.  How many times have you gone through your day feeling like you didn't accomplish anything?

Before I became a working mother of 3, life felt more manageable.  I had time to plan, organize, and execute everything that I set out to do in my work and personal life.  When my kids came along, I felt like I couldn't get anything done the way I used to and kept stubbornly persisting.

Not only did I feel like nothing was getting done, I also felt lost and unfilled.

I was so busy trying to balance my work and family responsibilities that I didn't have time to sit down and figure out what was making me feel overwhelmed.  It wasn't until many years after having my first child, and going through health challenges, that I was forced to set my priorities straight.  I didn't want to continue feeling incapable, lost, and unfulfilled.

Setting priorities made a big difference in my life because it made my day flow more smoothly and helped to lessen my tasks, stress, and overwhelm.  I felt like I was doing the things that were important to me, not just the urgent ones.

Priorities are not only important for getting things done, they're also important for your wellbeing.  When you fill your own cup, you are able to serve others better in your personal, work, and social circles.


Be ambitious.  Get things done.  Keep your priorities straight, your mind right, and your head up. - Anonymous

Setting priorities is figuring out what they are in the first place.  If you're starting from ground zero, a good place to begin is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Keep in mind that this is just a guide because your needs are complex and dependent on many factors.

Depending on where you are in the hierarchy, your priorities will most likely match your needs in life.  For example, if your basic needs have not been met, then your priorities will be the essentials necessary to stay alive.  For most people, it's air, food, water, clothing, and health, which is the bottom of the hierarchy.

Once your specific needs are met and secured, you can move on and start setting clear priorities in other areas of your life.


For honest insight into who you are, don't ask yourself what your priorities are for next week.  Ask what your priorities were last week. - Robert Reed

When setting priorities in life, you must first clearly define what they are.  This begins with defining your core values in life.  Your core values are the principles that you live by.

Here are some examples of core values:

  • Altruism
  • Creativity
  • Beauty
  • Equality
  • Health
  • Compassion
  • Faith
  • Equanimity
  • Enjoyment
  • Simplicity

This list of core values is just an example, so you can add more to your list if you want and focus on just the top values.  For simplicity's sake, you can start with a list of 3 core values and then circle the top most important one.  Use your top core value in life to create your list of priorities.

Getting clear on what your priorities are in life will enable you determine what is essential over non-essential.

This will help you tackle the most important things that need to get done on a daily basis so you feel like you're making progress, however small it may be.  You'll create more flow in your day instead of being inundated with tasks that keep you stymied.


It is important to know what really matters in life.  Your sanity; your health; your family; and the ability to start anew. - Les Brown

Once you have your list of priorities in life, you can get down to the nitty gritty by setting your daily priorities.  Let's say that your core value is family.

You will prioritize your family first, when making decisions, setting goals, or creating a plan.  Here's a sample list of daily priorities based on family:

  1. Find someone to cover my afternoon so the whole family can attend my child's recital.
  2. Eat dinner with all family members every night.
  3. Read to my child every night.
  4. Forgo a night with friends for family movie night.

When creating your list of daily priorities, start with the most important one first, then work your way down.

You can use this example, or you can start with the hardest task of the day first.  Then work your way down until you place the easiest task at the bottom.

Setting a list of daily priorities is important, but so are you.  Don't forget to make yourself a priority because you won't be good for anyone if you're not in good shape.


Make yourself a priority.  Fill yourself up so that you can give more to others. -Oprah Winfrey

Making yourself a priority is not something that comes naturally for many people, myself included.  I used to believe that putting myself first was selfish, so I was often at the bottom of the list.

It's okay to put yourself first and take time out for yourself because feeling fulfilled will allow you to share yourself more readily with others.  Your interactions will be more authentic if they are free from resentment.

Prioritizing yourself is doing an act of love for yourself.  I know that this can be easier said than done.

You can start by accepting who you are and where you are at in the present moment.

Putting yourself first is not selfish and once you accept this, you can start making a list of priorities that are based on your own personal needs.  Here is an example from my own life:

  1. Get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  2. Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning.
  3. Write in my personal journal each morning.
  4. Read a book for leisure and entertainment on the weekends.

Creating a prioritization list for yourself doesn't have to be elaborate.  You can list down the simple things in life that will prioritize your daily needs, or the things that make your life enjoyable.


When you're clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it's clutter in your cabinets or commitments in your calendar. - Victoria Moran

It's one thing to set priorities, it's a whole other thing to actually stick to them.  I struggle with mine all the time because I love learning new things and every time I come across something new, I get the "shiny new toy" syndrome.

Even if I've written down my priorities, there's still that temptation there to stray from them.

I found that having strong reasons for keeping my priorities straight helps when I am tempted to veer off course.

Here are 10 other ways to help you manage your priorities.  You can implement these techniques in any area of your life, such as your work, personal, and social life.


Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. - Stephen Covey

1. Find your purpose in life.

I mentioned in the previous section that having a strong reason for setting priorities in life helps me manage them.   Having a purpose in life can help you set and manage your priorities.  Studies have shown that having a purpose in life can even help you live longer and is beneficial to your health.

You can find your purpose in life by getting to know who you are and questioning yourself with honesty.  You can start with basic questions like:

  • What is my favorite book?
  • Where do I like to go and relax?
  • What is my favorite thing to do?

Or they can go deeper, like:

  • If money and time were no object, how would I spend them both?
  • What job would I do even if I wasn't getting paid to do it?
  • What cause(s) do I stand for?

After you're finished, you can go through your answers and observe any patterns to help you find your passions and purpose in life.  A purpose in life can act as your compass whenever you feel lost or stuck.  It can serve as your focal point for setting your priorities in life.  If you need more help with this, you can download this free guide to help you know yourself, find your passion, discover your purpose in life, and more.

2. Set good boundaries.

I used to struggle with saying no, or having boundaries, in certain areas of my life.  I would say yes to things even when I wanted to say no.  Saying yes made me stretch myself too thin and depleted my energy.  Not only this, I had no time left over for myself.

Setting boundaries and saying no is not easy and may take some practice.  This is because there may be some guilt involved when you say no to someone.  However, saying no to someone is saying yes to yourself.

It alleviates the pressure of having to commit to something you didn't want to in the first place and stamps out any possible resentment from you.  Setting good boundaries can help you set priorities in all areas of your life by keeping what is necessary and eliminating what is not.

3. Use the 25/5 rule.

The 25/5 rule was (allegedly) created by Warren Buffet.  He was concerned that his pilot of 10 years, Mike Flint, was not following his dreams, so he introduced him to his 25/5 rule.

While this story may or may not be factual, it has practical applications in the real world.  You can use it to help set priorities in your own life.

First, you write down your 25 goals in life.  They can be long term or short term goals.

When you're finished, look at what you wrote down and determine which 5 are the most important and/or most urgent to you.

Then, circle those top 5 goals.  According to Buffet, the goals that you circled are the ones that you should put your time and energy into.  While the other 20 goals are the ones you have to avoid at all costs because they will only become distractions in your life.

You can place your top 5 goals in your priorities list and focus your time and energy on them.  This exercise can help you set priorities and remove the extraneous in your life.

4. Implement the Eisenhower matrix.

Legend has it that the 34th president of the United States of America became very accomplished in his life because of his efficiency.  He created a matrix that consisted of 4 quadrants to make efficient use of his time.  This idea was popularized by Stephen Covey, the author of  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  The Eisenhower Matrix is also known as the Covey quadrant.

As you can see in the diagram below, the top left quadrant contains the most important and urgent tasks.  The upper right quadrant is important but not urgent and can be scheduled later.  The lower left quadrant is urgent but less important and can be delegated to others.  The last quadrant on the lower right side is neither urgent or important and the tasks can be eliminated.

Eisenhower Matrix/Priorities list

The matrix has its shortcomings because it can be time consuming and not everyone can afford to delegate their tasks to someone else.  Also, it doesn't into account the scale, complexity, or resources needed to complete a task.  A task can be urgent, but if you don't have the resources or the manpower, then it cannot be initiated right away.

This matrix is useful because you can apply it to any part of your life, be it work, personal, or social.  It will also help you improve your time management and organizational skills.

5. Eliminate, or minimize, distractions.

There are so many things in life that vie for your attention and can cause you to stray from your priorities.  They can be cell phones, smart devices, social media, email notifications, television, or even your own kids.  Each time you get distracted, you lose focus and it's hard to bring it back to where it was.

There are certain things you can easily avoid, and other things that you can't, like your family.  Sit down and think about what is distracting to you in your life.  Then make a list of them.  Here's an example:

  • smart phone and/or smart device notifications
  • email notifications
  • a new book from your favorite author
  • social media
  • children
  • significant other
  • a call from a friend or family member
  • tiredness

Take a look at your list and figure out what you can easily get rid of.  For the other things that remain on your list, find blocks of time during your day that are quieter or work better for your schedule.

6. Figure out when you are most productive.

There are certain days of the week when you feel more energetic.  For me, I feel most energetic at the beginning of the week, which is Monday.  It is the start of a brand new week and I feel refreshed from the weekend.

This may not be the case for you.  You might be one of those people who works better on the weekend or towards the end of the week.  Or your schedule has you working during certain days of the week and you have to plan your priorities accordingly.

Once you figure out what days of the week work best, you can figure out what times of the day are most productive for you.  I have the most focus and energy at the beginning of the day, from 8 am to 1 pm.  My energy and focus starts to wane after lunch, so I try not to schedule anything too heavy at the end of the day if I can help it.

7. Adapt and change.

Sometimes you have two or more priorities that are competing with each other.  For example, maybe you made a commitment to something that really excited you.  Then you realized later that you already had a prior engagement.  This is a major conundrum when it comes to priorities.

It's something that I come across often in my life because I have always had many interests and passions.  Reference point: I changed my college major at least 3 times.

You can be so focused on priorities that when something comes along that may disrupt them, you feel conflicted.  Sometimes, we have to adapt and change when our gut tells us there's something out there that may be better and you have to rethink your priorities.

8. Time block your schedule.

After you figure out what days of the week work best for you and what times of the day you can allocate for your priorities, you can create time blocks in your schedule.

Time blocks are chunks of time in your schedule dedicated to certain tasks.  This system uses your time in the best possible way because you know when you're least likely to get disrupted so you can focus on your priorities.

This may seem a little type A, but you can even use it to schedule your leisure time.  I love my free time, but when I don't schedule activities that I enjoy, I can easily get distracted by things that I enjoy, but don't really add value to my life.

9. Create goals and habits.

Goals and habits are easy to create, but just as easy to break.  Goals allow you to track your progress, keep yourself accountable, get things done, and keep your eye on the bigger picture.

When you have the same goal each day, like meditating for 5 minutes, it can become a habit.  Setting goals and habits are great for setting priorities in life and sticking with them.

Before you set a goal, keep the following SMART tips in mind:

  • S - Be specific when you write a goal.  For instance "I want to lose 10 pounds in 30 days" is better than "I want to lose weight".
  • M - Make sure the goal is measurable so you can keep track of it.
  • A - The goal should be achievable and within reach.  Break it down smaller if you have to.
  • R - Your goal should also be realistic and not something impossible.
  • T - Make your goal time-bound because you don't want to procrastinate or lag behind.

10. Craft a plan.

After you've written out your goals, you can create a plan that aligns with your priorities.  Your plan will organize everything you learned about up to this point.  It will be your guide and a means to assess what is working and what is not working in your life.

You can make it as detailed as you want, the choice is yours.  I personally use a planner to schedule my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.  It helps me make the best use of my energy, time, and resources so I can create a life that is meaningful and purposeful to me.

You can customize your planner the way you want.  It can be a physical planner or a digital one.  Remember to evaluate your plan regularly.  I reevaluate my planner on a weekly and monthly basis and I also keep it as simple as possible.

Final thoughts

Action expresses priorities - Mahatma Ghandi

Life can be full of distractions if we allow them to.  Setting priorities in life can prevent you from becoming distracted and help you progress and move forward in life.  There are steps you can take to create your own list of priorities, such as finding purpose in life, setting boundaries, eliminating what's unnecessary, and creating goals that align with your values.

Setting a priority means caring enough about yourself to succeed in life. When you set priorities in life, you are able to focus on what is most important to you and spend your precious time and energy on them.

I hope you found these tips helpful.  Please let me know what you think in the comments!