Have you ever heard someone say that they have a million things to get done? Perhaps you have said this yourself. We concede that we have so many things on our list that need to be done and they are all a priority. Our list becomes our “list of priorities.” We stress about what needs to be done first, second, then third. We stress over what has to be done today versus what can wait until tomorrow or next week. With so many “priorities”, how will you ever get them all done??? The answer is in the words themselves.
Priority vs. Priorities
The word priority was first used back in the 14th century and was defined as a “state of being earlier”, “fact of being prior”, and “precedence in right or rank.” Simply put, priority is the word used to identify the first or prime thing that needed to be done. Then we have the word priorities. Priorities came into play some time in the 1940’s, a full five centuries later. (Priority was literally first…haha.) People started to use the word priorities to identify a list of things they had to get done that were all important.
If you talk to someone who has a list of unimportant or not so important things to do, they will refer to that list as a “list of things to do” or their “to-do list.” But if you speak with someone in a work environment, or someone who has a list of “important” things to do, then they have a “list of priorities.” And with that “list of priorities” comes all the stress we allow that list to put on us.
Somewhere between the 14th century and the 1940’s, we started to say priorities to identify all the important things that need to be done, when we really should have just kept a list of things with one thing on the list being the most important thing…our priority. You may be thinking, “So what. Priority vs. Priorities…what’s the big deal?”
So What’s The Big Deal?
The big deal has to do with our perception of what we can and can’t do and the result of not getting everything done. We put way to much stress on ourselves when we fall short on completing everything on our list. And completing everything on your list can be impossible to do when you consider that most of us have lists that are constantly changing and getting longer. Rare are the times where we have nothing to do and the list is complete. That is okay though. We need to have things to do each day…it is healthy, as long as we treat our lists as a list of “things to do” rather than a “list of priorities.” The stress associated with a “list of priorities” can be paralyzing, versus a “list of things to do” one thing being priority.
Identify Your Priority
In everyone’s lists, there are things that will have the biggest impact and results and there are things that will have a small impact. Though I believe that big things and results are made up of small actions, we only have so much time in a day. For this reason it is important to identify a small subset of things we want to accomplish on our list in a given day. Assign ONE thing as your priority and work on it until it is complete. Once that priority is complete, identify the next thing on your list that will give you the biggest result and make that your priority. This is how priority should be used and how you can use it to be more productive while maintaining your sanity.
In order to be successful each day, we need to be wise in what we decide to do and not to do. We need to be able to prioritize what our priority must be. What is the ONE thing today that you can get done that will have the biggest impact on your success? Find that ONE thing and make it your priority. After you identify that ONE thing, then knock that one thing out. Once done, you can look at your list and identify the next thing that would have the biggest impact. Take that approach for each thing on your list. True, you might not get everything done, but you’ll have gotten the thing or things done that will have the greatest, biggest impact. And this is all any of us can be expected to do. I believe Tim Ferris said it best,
“To get huge, good things done, you need to be okay with letting the small, bad things happen.”