Uncover your deepest priorities in life.
Why Is Identifying Our Top 5 Life Priorities So Important?
This post is about HOW to identify the top one to five things that matter most to you and WHY this matters so much to time management… plus a little background information about my own story so far and my experience trying to figure out WHY I think I’m alive, and how I think it all relates.
See, something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten a little older is that the people with the most FOCUS and CLARITY about their PRIORITIES life are also the ones who are seem to be doing absolutely EXCELLENT and feeling HAPPY and FULFILLED with life.
This focus seems like it can be anything - from their KIDS to their JOBS to their HOBBIES.
But the trend I see is that HAPPY people are focused on SOMETHING.
Some of us have trouble narrowing down to just ONE thing, we have more like four or five things, but the point is to be very CLEAR about what are your “favorite” things out of ALL the millions of options there are in life.
For me it’s building SAT / ACT tutoring business, riding motorcycles, and making music, seeing my friends and taking care of my health.
These are people, activities, and things that I LOVE to spend time with.
And what’s REALLY cool is I feel sure that they are all things I really love, and NOT just things I’m spending time on because my parents, my teachers, or my society told me I had to.
What Happens If You Don’t Know Your Priorities In Life?
On the other hand, I know PLENTY of people who are NOT happy with their lives and something I’ve noticed is many times they don’t seem to know what they WANT out of life.
OR they have never taken the time and space to figure out what THEY want in life, which means that no matter HOW hard they work, they’re probably chasing somebody else’s dream - maybe chasing their PARENT’s dream or their BOSS’s dream or their teachers’ dreams.
Since they don’t know what they really want deep down, it’s impossible to make any PROGRESS towards that goal –
And it’s the life equivalent of just paddling in the middle of the ocean with no horizon visible anywhere, no land, no compass and just getting more and more tired of working and swimming without any true sense of direction.
Is It Best To Have Just ONE Life Priority?
I think, and this is just my personal theory, that having just ONE lifelong focus is the ideal for maximizing productivity and achieving a sense of “flow” and focus in your life, but personally, I’m definitely I’m not there yet.
I’ve reduced down to about FIVE major spheres of my life that I choose to focus MOST on.
And in fact, it took me until I was about 25 years old to figure out enough about myself to narrow down even to FIVE life priorities - I’m not someone who knew from a super-young age exactly what ONE thing he wanted to do.
I’ve gone through a LOT of different things over the years to discover what I really care about.
So, I’m not someone who can just put down ONE bullet point that I care about, and then focus all my hours, days, and years around that single goal.
And in some ways I’m a little envious of people who are THAT laser-focused in life, because they accomplish some really cool things early on in life…
BUT the fact that I can say my top five life priorities to myself is EXTREMELY helpful when it comes to budgeting my limited time and energy.
See, even though I’m saying it seems best to have ONE true passion in life to focus around, it still might just be IMPOSSIBLE for some personality types like me to narrow down to ONE focus, and one focus only.
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Narrow Down: Focus On Your Top 5 Priorities
Basically, I’m contradicting myself a little bit.
Although my personal THEORY is that ONE single life focus is generally best for time management, STILL, I’m living, breathing proof (at least to myself) that it is possible to be pretty good about managing your time as long as your STREAMLINE and SIMPLIFY your main goals.
So, instead of 10 desires, focus on 5… Instead of 5 desires, focus on 3… Instead of 2 desires, focus on 1.
This simple trick alone is one of the most effective time management concepts you could ever imagine.
Clarity is exactly what gives me the POWER to juggle multiple competing life priorities: from managing a test-prep business that I started myself, to getting better at guitar and piano, to becoming a better motorcyclist, but still not feeling too overburdened or too busy.
Now if you can’t narrow down to a single dominating priority, it’s also incredibly important to know the RANKING or ORDER of those priorities because this will still bring you to a new level of clarity in your time budgeting.
Narrowing Down Life Priorities (A Personal Example)
In terms of my own top five, I know that my personal health comes before everything, because if I’m not HEALTHY I can’t do ANYTHING.
It’s like those oxygen masks in airplanes - they say to put YOURS on before helping others - because you HAVE to be able to BREATH before you can help.
So, personal physical and mental health always comes first.
Family and friends after that if they are having an EMERGENCY, then business comes next because without my business I will lose my livelihood and that would be very bad.
So a family emergency has priority, but GENERALLY my business has priority over family and friends because if my business fails, I’ll be stressed and have no time or money to spend with ANYONE.
After business comes family and friends in all other situations, like just hanging out or watching a movie, and on a fairly even level, we also have motorcycling and music which are my favorite personal hobbies.
These last three are pretty even in terms of my personal rankings, so sometimes I’ll waste time not deciding: should I practice guitar? should I work on my motorcycle? should socialize and I call my friends or family?
So, I still have plenty of room to improve.
Clear And Simple Life Priorities Are Best
It would be even BETTER if I got MORE clear about items three through five on my priority list because I could organize my plans better and spend less time and energy “deciding” every single time between music, friends, and motorcycling.
On the other hand, it’s nice to include an element of choice and flexibility in my priorities, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing - ESPECIALLY since I’m very, very clear on the essential “top 3” things and their rankings.
One is my health. Two is family/friend emergencies. Three is business. After those things, come the fun stuff.
Even this VERY simple ranking structure helps me speed along a busy day or busy week by organizing my competing tasks without too much thought.
In fact, the simplicity of my top-five list IS what makes it effective.
Your days, weeks, and months are COMPLICATED - so while you’re in the thick of them, you need a SIMPLE priority list that comes from your heart to keep yourself organized.
This is just as true in high school as it is in college and then adult life and the working world.
Follow YOUR Heart, Not Someone Else’s
Never make a priority list that you think OTHER people will approve of.
There are multiple types of people with huge varieties in their personal goals and many of them will try to influence you in YOUR choice of goals –
It’s important to listen to your SELF and give yourself plenty of time and personal space to do this research on yourself to find out what you care most about.
5 Ways To Identify YOUR Top Priorities In Life
Now, what methods can you use to identify your own top priorities?
Here are a few of my favorite ways for myself and for students. Many of them take the form of open-ended questions.
After each question or prompt, please take out your pen and paper, and spend at least sixty seconds brainstorming and writing down your ideas on paper.
You don’t have to come to any conclusions today, but you DO need to start thinking and taking notes.
Don’t just read passively! Taking control of your life priorities requires action - so get started NOW.
1. What Do You Daydream About?
Question number one is “What do you daydream about?”
This one is simple - pay attention to what you’ve been thinking about the past few days, weeks, or months.
What do your thoughts keep returning to? Is it a vacation, a sports accomplishment, a fear that won’t leave you alone, or a boyfriend or girlfriend? Or is it something else entirely?
Use this recurring daydream as a CLUE pointing towards your natural, personal top priorities and spend some time thinking about the hidden personality traits your daydreams reveal.
2. What Puts You In Flow?
The next question is, “what puts you in FLOW?”
“Flow” is the state of feeling wrapped-up in what you’re doing - it’s like a mix of focus, excitement, fun, and challenge.
For me, MOTORCYCLING and MUSIC are by FAR the two easiest and most fun ways for me to be in a state of flow for HOURS.
And, it’s no coincidence at ALL that music and motorcycling, two of my favorite “flow state” activities, are also two of my top priorities in life.
The cool thing about FLOW is that you can be completely honest with yourself - what do you REALLY get involved in?
Remember to pause and do some personal brainstorming and written note-taking on each of these suggestions as you read this article!
3. Who Are Your Heroes?
The next question to brainstorm around is who are your HEROS - who INSPIRES you?
This can be FICTIONAL CHARACTERS and REAL PEOPLE
I have many heroes! From the composer Ludwig van Beethoven to the great motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi, there are many real and imaginary characters who I look up to.
Each of them tells me something about MYSELF –
Beethoven reminds me of the creative, artistic, and challenging side of life; Valentino Rossi reminds me of adventure, danger, and riding skill - and so on and so forth.
By knowing my own heroes, I know more about my own values and priorities - and that helps me decide how to manage my time and my life in a way that I find satisfying, fun, personal, and fulfilling.
Take some time now to pause and brainstorm a short list of your favorite idols, heroes, and heroines, then spend a few more minutes trying to figure out exactly what it is about each of them that appeals to you.
Finally, think about how this new info could help you organize your personal life priorities.
4. What Pilgrimages Do You Want To Make?
Here’s another really fun and cool thought I came up with that’s a little bit off the beaten path but will help uncover your deepest dreams and goals: what PILGRIMAGES do you want to make?
By “pilgrimages” I mean - special trips to specific places, not just taking a random vacation just anywhere for fun, but specific travel with a PURPOSE.
For example, if you love rock-climbing, then is there a world-famous mountain you’d like to climb, or national park to visit?
If you’re a baseball fanatic, do you want to see the Hall of Fame in person?
As a motorcyclist, I maintain a list of places, trips, and specific roads I want to ride in the future.
Desert adventures, challenging mountain roads, and international travel - it’s all on the list.
Can you see how this tells me a TON about myself and my priorities?
Rather than wanting to just ride on down to the mall or cafe, I really want to get OUT there and challenge myself with huge, ambitious, difficult motorcycle pilgrimages.
Another example was when I visited Beethoven’s grave in Vienna.
Although it was a difficult and cold trip to visit the site on my own, in a country far from home and a language I did not speak, the amount of chill-bumps and the nearly religious feeling I got from the experience confirmed that Beethoven’s music is especially important to me!
Take some time to pause and think about the top three to five places you’d like to visit, or pilgrimages you’d like to make.
What do those places tell you about yourself and your priorities and values ?
Part of finding your passions and priorities is coming at the question from as many angles as possible.
5. What Skills Do You Want To Develop?
The next topic I want you to brainstorm is: what sort of specific SKILLS do you want to develop and use day-to-day?
In other words, what do you want to get BETTER at? This can be abstract, like “I want to develop more self-control,” or concrete, like “I want to become a pro surfer.”
Be sure to think about the LONG TERM of that skill - what is it LIKE to be great at that skill?
Does it have a daily usefulness, or is it more of a niche skill?
Since our time in life is limited, it’s always nice to develop skills that have a wide application –
For example, although surfing is a very niche skill, it also develops your physical health, balance, and coordination.
Meanwhile, and nothing against stamp-collecting, but stamp-collecting is probably going to have fewer benefits to your life and might not be quite as rewarding overall as a skill that has more overall benefits and daily uses.
Then again, you could learn all sorts of skills like organizing, researching, history, networking and communication since you’re reaching out to stamp clubs, you could start a stamp website, et cetera –
All stuff that could come back in your life or career.
So I take it back - stamp collecting probably teaches you TONS of skills!
Now pause and think about what skills you want to be really GOOD at. Write it down!
This can help you discover your priorities and uncover what you want to DO with your life.
Organizing Your Top 5 Priorities
By now you should have a TON of ideas - possibly several pages of ideas and brainstorms - which is what you want!
The hard part now is organizing and narrowing down to turn this into information you can USE to prioritize your schedule and manage your time better.
So, go over your notes and try and organize all the SPECIFIC discoveries you’ve made into broader categories like “Adventure,” “Success,” “Friends/Family,” “Career Goals” or whatever seems to fit.
The categories will be different for everyone, but you’re trying to assign some meaningful LABELS to the themes that keep coming up in your Heroes, your pilgrimages, the skills you want to develop, and all that other stuff.
For me, I feel like “Adventure,” “Creativity,” “Challenge,” and “Success” come back again and again. In my hobbies, my work, my goals, and my heroes, I see these themes written out over and over –
But everyone will have their OWN themes that are most meaningful to them. The trick is UNCOVERING them.
Look At The Big Picture
If you’ve been following along with this exercise, you will have TONS of little “pointers” and hints and clues, all written down in your notebook.
Pause again and look at the big picture.
Think about all the information you’ve just gathered about YOURSELF.
Then zoom out from the details and notes and identify the top one to five themes and categories and WRITE THEM DOWN.
Or, if you have trouble finding your priorities by looking at your notes, think about like this:
If you were looking at notes about a FICTIONAL character, what would that character’s priorities seem to be?
You can actually do a character analysis on yourSELF as if you were a character in a movie or a book.
If you can sort of define the character, you can also define yourself.
And if you can clearly define your top five life priorities, you will be ahead of 80% of the world.
Most people NEVER spend the time to think clearly about their mission.
Don’t put this exercise off till later because you may never come back to it.
In fact, this may be one of the most valuable half-hours of your life if you take it all the way.
When you’ve got your life priorities written down, and no more than your top FIVE, I want you to go to the comments section and share them!
Wrapping Up Your Life Priorities List
Now, we’ve covered a lot in this post, and I think it’s one of the most important that I’ve ever written.
The main theme has been to spend some time purposefully thinking about your priorities in life so that you can simplify your life and streamline the amount of things you have to focus on.
We’ve gone through a variety of specific exercises that I have used, and that you can use, to discover your passions and inspirations which will give you renewed energy and improve the quality of your work.
Once you have your list (or even just your one single passion), don’t forget to leave a comment because I want to know what sort of stuff my readers are passionate about and I’ve already shared with you the top five things that I love.
Take your time today to identify your top priorities in life and don’t be in any rush to move on through the course. I’ll be ready to start again with the next post whenever you are!
Uncover your top life priorities, starting today. Click here to download the complete course and live the life you’re meant to be living!