Priorities – how to determine them and how to manage your time properly

Always busy

One day a few years back I sat down, frustrated. And I thought to myself: even though I’m involved in personal and team productivity, and I already use quite a few good techniques and habits and organize myself well, things just don’t progress at the tempo I would wish.

We run from activity to activity, doing everything in our power, however, deep down in our souls we have the impression that our activity is terribly diluted. We juggle numerous tasks, growing more and more frustrated, wondering where the real joy and productivity have disappeared. Do you know this feeling?

That day, I wrote down absolutely all the activities that I was involved in. A full-time job, two blogs, a music group, roles in various organizations, and additional classes. As it turned out, I was carrying on 13 activities and projects at one and the same time. I admitted to myself that I had lost my priorities.

What happens when we have clear priorities

Since I could occupy myself only with a single activity or project at one time, but had 13 of them, the remaining 12 always called for my attention and generated anxiety. It was as if I was trying to have 13 close friends, but whenever I spent time with one of them I would worry that I was neglecting the others. And, really, can you actually have 13 close friends?

I remembered the times when the number of projects was smaller and my priorities were clear. Back then, I was able to achieve an incredible level of concentration and take great satisfaction from what I was doing. I would become completely engrossed in an activity for hours and at the same time have great fun.

The sense of joy combined with focus and the feeling of being the prime mover generated exceptional reserves of motivation, which I later somehow lost – together with my priorities.

Priorities, or what is MOST important

If I were to sit down with my list of 13 projects I would declare, hand on heart, that all were important. However, priorities are not about what is important, but what is MOST important! And here, unfortunately (or luckily), our brain has a limited capacity.

Today, workshops and presentations frequently make use of tools which are intended to make us aware of the basic limitations of our brain. Exactly so. Now count the dots in the drawing below:

Image module

But do keep in mind that right now we are not concerned with how many dots are actually there, but with finding out how you counted them. Did you cast just a single glance? The majority of people divide the dots into groups – some count them dot by dot, some count them in twos, others in threes, only rarely in fours, and hardly ever in groups of five or more. This is how our brain functions – it bunches large quantities of information into small groups comprising at most 3-4 elements, which can then be comprehended and understood.

The three most important things

So I had 13 activities, but my brain was able to actively grasp only 3 – at maximum 4 – at once. I, therefore, grouped them into specific categories and then proceeded to eliminate them, week by week. I admitted to myself that I had become involved in so many activities that nothing was actually moving forward. I resigned from the music group (this took me a few months), stopped working on the blogs, and drastically limited my involvement in various organizations. While looking at the 13 activities, I had to ask myself: some are important (all were), but which 3-4 are the MOST important?

Which 3 activities of all those in which you are involved are the most important?

Below I’ve written down a few questions which may help you determine your priorities at the level of the day, week, quarter, year, or – indeed – life:

1. What are the 3 most important things that you want to do today?
2. What are the 3 most important things that you want to achieve this week/next week?
3. What are the 3 most important things that you want to happen in the next quarter?
4. What are the 3 most important things that you want to happen in the next year?
5. What are the 3 most important things that you want to achieve in your life?

Priorities – where to begin?

If someone does not know how to start off his or her adventure with priorities, I would recommend one trusted schema:

1. Set aside one hour during which nothing will disturb you.
2. Open your calendar or list of tasks, or take out your notes.
3. Write down absolutely all the things to which you devote your time during the week: work, development, family time, exercise, hobbies, meeting up with friends, etc. – together with the amount of time that you devote to each activity.
4. Now, having elaborated your list, select 3-4 tasks which you consider to be the most important.
5. Spend a few moments on answering the question: which of these 3-4 most important activities are actually the most important for you?

Such a short and simple analysis will show us how much we want to devote more of our energy to priority activities, and whether this is in fact necessary. If other people had a look at how we spend our time, would they be able to guess what our priorities are?

The relief that clear priorities give

Priorities help us take daily decisions quicker and with greater assurance. They also allow us to experience incredible mental calm.

I remember one woman who upon returning for a three-week journey abroad asked herself what were the 3 most important things she wanted to achieve that day. The reply was: to finish an important project at work, and after work to unpack and wash absolutely all her clothes, and also to tidy up her cluttered flat.

At work, she was faced with a host of distractions, but her clearly defined priorities allowed her to focus and finish the project even before lunch. Having returned home, she immediately put the first load of washing into the washing machine, and then started cleaning; while cleaning, she went through three loads of washing.

At around 8 o’clock she sat down with a glass of wine and it dawned on her that the work project had been finished, the flat had been cleaned up, and the final load of washing was being done. The three activities that she had identified as being the most important in the morning had all been completed. She felt tremendous relief and gratitude. Next, still having a high level of energy, she did a few other things. She admitted that if in the morning she had not taken a decision as to what was most important, then in all probability at 8 o’clock she would have been saddened or even crying, with a feeling that she had done nothing that day.

We are not able to do everything in our lives, however the feeling that things which we view as the most important are going ahead as planned gives us an enormous sense of relief and joy.


Some people confuse productivity with being simultaneously involved in many projects. Our brain and our emotions do, however, have a finite capacity, and for this reason we must strive to ensure that in our hearts we carry a very clear image of what is MOST important in our lives.
Once determined, these priorities help us take daily decisions with greater efficiency and at the same time derive considerably more satisfaction from our activities. After all, we can have 3 close friends, but we wouldn’t be able to cope with 13.

So – which activities and projects are your close friends?

Piotr Nabielec, PRODUKTYWNI.PL
Piotr Nabielec
Piotr helps people organize chaos, stop procrastinating and find the time for hobby and dreams. For the last 3,5 years, he leads with online and offline courses, webinars and blog. Before that he spent 10 years as a software developer and manager in IT. He loves practical hints and solutions and is a fan of the Slow movement. TEDx speaker. As a hobby, he plays drums and guitar, travel and does various kind of sports.