If I look back on moments in my life I felt most frazzled and frustrated, nearly 100% of the time I wound up there because I let life hijack my priorities and I mismanaged my time.
Schedules got hectic, I allowed less-important tasks to trump the truly-important ones, or I let time-wasting distractions enter my mental space.
The truth is, I am the only real guardian of my priorities. I am the only person with say-so over what makes the list and what gets cut. As many days, weeks, months, years as I have spent working on time management, every day is a new challenge and there is always room for improvement.
When I feel in control of my time, I feel in control of my life. All it takes is a little planning and commitment to make it happen.
6 steps for setting priorities
Start with YOU.
What do you (and your spouse/people you live with) personally desire in your life? Physical/spiritual wellness, a particular income/savings amount, a more connected marriage and family, better communication with your people? Start with those things and put them on paper. These are the foundations of your goals and everything else stems from clearly defining them.
Block out the noise.
What anyone else thinks or believes is none of your business! They have their own priorities to set. Stick to what YOU value. Otherwise you will become frustrated and this entire exercise will have been wasted time. You won’t stick to a priority list you don’t truly love, so why base it on anyone else’s desires but your own?
Build your schedule based on your priorities from Step 1.
A valuable question I consider as I build my weekly calendar: will this task bring me closer to my goals for my faith, my family, and my career? If the answer is yes, then I schedule the commitment. If the answer is no, I figure out how to delegate it, delay it, or drop it altogether. We as women take on a vast percentage more than we have any business doing. There is no trophy for “busiest lady.” In my experience it just builds resentment in my spirit for other people in my life and that is absolutely unfair.
Be the gatekeeper – learn to say NO.
We are the boss of our own schedules – how empowering! I get overwhelmed when I allow other people’s priorities to take over my own. That is no one’s fault but my own because I am the only person who can control my schedule. Protecting my priorities requires saying “no” to some good things so I can say “YES” to the best things – those activities, connections, and conversations that bring me closer to my goals and priorities. HELPFUL TIPS because this step is hard: If another opportunity/request arises, do not immediately say yes. A great response I rely on in situations like this is, “Thank you so much for thinking of me! Let me check my calendar and I’ll get back with you tomorrow.” Or, “Thank you so much for thinking of me! I’m not able to help this time, but please keep me in mind for the future.”
Create your calendar/schedule, share it with your family, and ask for help. If you are a chronic over-booker, ask your spouse for help holding you accountable for what you’ve committed to this week and receive their feedback (without making excuses or biting their head off). Chronic procrastinators, ask for help staying on top of your schedule and set reminders on your devices. If you struggle with punctuality, set an alarm backing up your “get ready” time so you can leave the house with 5 extra minutes in your pocket. **This will lower your blood pressure, increase your sense of self-confidence, and drastically improve your success in every area of your life. It says to the people in your life, “your time is valuable to me.” Punctuality is something I wrestle with daily and it’s a constant work in progress.
Reevaluate and go at it again.
Some weeks I get my time management right, and some weeks I know I can do better next time. Saying no is hard because as a recovering people-pleaser I don’t want to disappoint anyone. But when I overcommit, the person I end up disappointing is myself. Or even worse, my family.
Sample system for scheduling priorities
This is a snapshot of my own personal goal/priority list for the week, and how I build my schedule. Remember to start your planning by defining your own priorities. There is no “right” way to do this – this is just what works for me. It doesn’t matter what system you use so just start somewhere!
Put all this good stuff into a hard-copy calendar that you can post on your fridge and input to your digital/shared calendar. I use a weekly plan sheet that was shared with me long ago in a wonderful time-management training for my business. It’s simple, you can color code it if you like. Keep it where you can see it constantly so it’s never “out of sight, out of mind.” It’s a great visual to tape to the fridge, snap a picture of to keep in your phone, and share with your family members.
Download it free here: Weekly Plan Sheet PDF
I print my own personal goals and priorities at the top of the calendar. I run this household, so I get to matter too! The “Remember” line at the bottom is a great place to jot in an affirmation, prayer, personal motto, etc.
Creating your calendar
My goals and intentions this week (stuff that goes on the calendar first):
Begin each morning with prayer and reading
Hold 3 appointments for my personal business (set specific goals for these)
Write and publish 3 blog posts (set specific goals for these)
In bed by 10
Be present for family dinners
Gotta-do-it tasks this week (stuff that goes on the calendar next):
Conference call M
My team meeting M
Baseball games Th/S
Doc appt Th
Neighbors’ birthday dinner F
The kids’ musical S
Elective tasks that bring me closer to this week’s priorities:
Daily call list (specific and structured)
Business appointments T/Th/Fr
Prayer with mentors Th
Writing blocks M/W
Coffee/prayer daily 6:30 AM
Things that came up that needed a “no for now:”
2 invitations to lunch (rescheduled)
A request to serve at the kids’ school (I committed to a similar opportunity last week so I needed to decline and delegate this one to another mom)
Baseball practices (their daddy and coach can tackle this and they’ll be excited to share the recap)
Wasted time on social media (bad habit)
Compromises (sometimes “good yesses” arise in the moment):
Neighborhood baseball game (I’m writing outside while the kids and dads play)
Meal prep is taking a backseat; pulling out freezer meals I prepped awhile back and we have some go-to takeout meals we all love
We had a few late nights this week because of rescheduled baseball games. We’re all just doing the very best we can to stay rested, eat well, and keep positive attitudes in the morning! Sometimes you just have to punt and be flexible and it’s okay.
Making it work
When I feel out of control, I circle back to the priorities I set at the beginning of the week. Sadly, when I allow the world to hijack my mind, I have likely already forgotten what those priorities were. Don’t get sucked into that noise. Your fulfilled life matters more than any idle chatter.
Sometimes the plan changes. Don’t abandon the whole endeavor because one day went haywire! Tomorrow is a new day. Move what needs done to the next available opportunity, rework the timing, and breathe easy. There’s no crisis here.
Keep your eyes on what matters and it will become easier to stick to the plan. Your family will love you for it, and you’ll bring peace and presence back into your life.
The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst (saying no)
Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy (kicking procrastination)
First Things First by Stephen R. Covey (getting priorities right)