For the first 400 years of its existence, the word “priority” had no plural form. It blew my mind when I learned this fact. Until the 1900s, there was no such thing as having priorities.
You didn’t have to get them straight.
You didn’t have to organize them.
You didn’t have to put them in order or choose which day to focus on which one.
Nope. Because there was only one. One singular and most important thing.
It makes sense, too, doesn’t it?
How can there be more than one MOST IMPORTANT THING?
This is how you benefit by focusing on one thing
In my book, The Writer’s Roadmap, I talk about having an Objective. This is the same as a priority. An Objective is one sentence that guides everything you do, and it flows directly from what you want to accomplish most.
Once you have your Objective in place, only then can you decide on Goals. Goals are the projects that help you achieve your Objective. Even with Goals, you want to limit them to a manageable number. I suggest no more than three Goals to reach your Objective.
I explain why only three goals in more detail in my book:
The short of it is that our brains simply don’t work well when pulled in too many directions, and three seems to be the magic number.
Triumvirates and trilogies abound in religion and literature. Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, the Holy Trinity, three bears, three Fates and three Muses. Three is a symbol of permanence in the Old Testament. And let’s not forget the writing rule of three, which states things are funnier, more satisfying and more effective in groups of, yes, once again, three. We see three everywhere.
Going beyond symbolism, the human brain can grasp only so many ideas at once. After that, we become overwhelmed and stop retaining information. According to a study from the University of Oregon, our brains don’t hold memories and events beyond four at a time.
Your priority— while singular—breaks down into a separate list of things to do.
For example, publishing a book requires (among other things) writing it, editing it, formatting it, marketing it.
Building a writer’s platform means choosing your social media platforms, maintaining them, creating content for them and many other possibilities.
Let’s say your family is your priority. There are things you’ll do every single day to make sure your children are fed, clothed and educated, and that’s just the beginning of what your family will need and want.
Back to your top three Goals
Simplify your life and give yourself an edge to succeed by focusing on only three Goals at a time. You’ll be more likely to focus and finish your projects, which in turn leads you to your Objective more quickly. Plus, these are the three things that excite you most, so you’ll spend your time writing what you love! Total bonus!
Anything that doesn’t fall into the top three of your Goals list? Forget about them. They will wait patiently until you’re ready for them.
How do you figure out your #1 priority?
Here are some questions to help you find it:
(You don’t have to answer all of them. Choose the ones that stick out to you most and write out your thoughts.)
What’s your dream life? Picture it. Describe it. Write it down!
What would you choose to do if you knew without a doubt you would achieve it?
Does your priority reflect your most deeply held values?
Are you willing to take the steps necessary to make it happen?
What are the things in your life that no longer serve you?
Do you define your priority by what other people think you should do? If so, what really lights you up?
What do you want to do for fun and enjoyment?
Does your top priority relate to both your work and personal life?
Does your priority excite you?
Does it make you happy to think about it?
If your priority goes against your beliefs and doesn’t make you happy or excite you, then you may want to reevaluate.
If your priority leaves you happy and excited to begin working toward it, even if you don’t know exactly how you’ll get there, you are on your way.
Additional resources to focus your priority
Better Smarter Faster by Charles Duhigg
This book begins when Duhigg discusses getting in touch with Atul Gawande — a surgeon and best selling author — to ask him how he’s able to get so much done. Gawande tells him up front that he can’t talk with him right now. It wasn’t personal. He had his priority set and said no to anything that distracted him from it.
The rest of the book describes the type of thought process that leads to greater productivity and offers real-world examples of how that thought process applies.
Sometimes knowing what you truly want requires you to see yourself and your world a bit different. These six TED Talks will help you reframe the way you understand yourself, the way you communicate and open your mind to things you haven’t considered yet.
Urgent vs. Important
Seth Godin deconstructs the difference between urgent vs important. Urgent is a fire that needs to be put out immediately. It’s the tantrum your toddler is having in the grocery store and the e-mail that just landed in your inbox from someone who is angry with you.
Urgent happens right now, but it isn’t necessarily important. Important are the actions, people and ideas that support your priority long term.
“The reason we go for urgent is that it makes us feel competent. We’re good at it. We didn’t used to be, but we are now.”
Important, on the other hand, is fraught with fear, with uncertainty and with the risk of failure.”
The difference between a hobby and a career
Elizabeth Gilbert distinguishes between a hobby, job, career and vocation in this creativity workshop.
Some things we do for money. Some we do because we love them. Sometimes the two overlap. When you know the difference, you know which one takes precedence in your life and for what reasons.
Create a plan, Make it happen.
The Writer’s Roadmap: Paving the Way To Your Ideal Writing Life takes you step-by-step through your ideas and ideals to help you create a clear Objective then break it down into the important steps that will allow you to make your priority the center of your life, work and personal.
There’s so much you want to do, accomplish, see, eat and feel. I know, it’s not easy choosing just one priority in life. The key is to figure out exactly which priority take precedence right now. Which one thing leads you most directly to the life you want to live with the values you hold close and dear.
Your priority will change over time. You’ll branch out as you learn and do more. But we have to begin somewhere. S