How do you prioritize?


When you think about your top priorities, do a dozen different things come to mind?

If so, we’re a lot alike. But I’ve realized what I call “priorities” pretty much encompass my entire life—everything from school to relationships to my health to this here blog make up all of my top focuses, which in fact makes it pretty darn hard to focus on anything, really.

Nicole wrote a very insightful post that made me reconsider what my priorities were. This particularly stood out to me:

“Before last week, since my mental health wasn’t my clearly identified top priority, other ‘priorities’ such as training, social and family stuff, and even work would often slip into that top spot and monopolize my attention. I didn’t have an iron-clad priority, which made everything seem like the priority, but the truth is that a priority isn’t a priority if you have 50 of them.

Simple, right? It was refreshing and kind of a relief to read this. I realized I wasn’t failing at life because I struggled to balance grad school, two writing jobs, my health, a social life, and my blog. I was just a normal person who had a lot on her plate and felt like she had to do all the things when in fact she should’ve focused on the first thing on her list: grad school. Are the other things still important? Absolutely. Are they the most important? Well, no. Not right now.

But how do you stick to one priority when other things are still important?

Obviously relationships and health shouldn’t go out the window just because school or something else gets top billing. The most helpful way I’ve come to think of it is to schedule your top priority in ink. Schedule the rest in pencil. 

In other words, plan time on your calendar that’s dedicated to whatever’s most important and stick to it no matter what. That way, even if you only accomplish one thing on your list, it’s the most important thing. Allow yourself to be flexible on the rest, and you won’t feel guilty if today’s cleaning session becomes tomorrow’s instead.

If you’re a master procrastinator, it also helps to identify your biggest distractors and schedule those, too. For me, scrolling through Twitter, Instagram and my blog feed is how I procrastinate. That not only takes away time from my top priority, but from my downtime, too. Now, I’m setting a limit on that time to 5-10 minutes in the morning and evening and 15-20 minutes at lunch. And blogs? I can catch up on those over the course of an hour on the weekends. That’s plenty of time to stay active and engaged online—but most importantly, that also leaves plenty of time to be active and engaged in the real world.

By keeping your number-one priority in mind every time you have to make a decision about how to spend your time, you’re a lot more likely to make the right decision and stay focused on the main goal. It helps to keep expectations for other aspects of our lives in perspective, too. In my case, that means from now on, I plain to aim on publishing two blog posts per week instead of three here at WTH. I have a lot of other writing responsibilities, and if I get too ambitious with my secondary goals, I’m unnecessarily setting myself up for disappointment if I fail to reach them.

August has been amazing and filled with lots of travel and quality time with family and friends, and now I’m ready to get back in the blogging groove—albeit at a different pace than before. Now that I have more realistic goals in mind for this space and can focus on grad school, there’s no mistaking what my top priorities are any longer.

How about you? What’s your top priority, and how do you work toward it every day?

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  1. Yes, yes, yes!! I’ve been thinking about this so much, seeing as I’m about to become a mom and my priorities will shift drastically. My son will obviously be #1, but how will I balance everything else? I think it’s something I’ll have to learn as I go. I’ll be linking to this one from my blog soon!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Talk about priorities! Yup, I’m sure rearranging your life and priorities is the single hardest thing about new parenthood, and it’s definitely a learning process. Take it easy on yourself while you’re figuring out that balance. Good luck – you got this!

  2. I suppose my top priority right now is to find a big girl job instead of staying in the restaurant industry. However, I find myself distracted by my other priority, which is Netflix and Twitter… I should probable sort these out.

    Good luck with school this semester! I think it’s a great idea to lessen your time on the blog to focus on that. I miss school so much that I’ll be taking both guitar and Italian classes this fall. I guess that’s the one pro to not being in school anymore: I can learn anything I want!


    • Cassie Paton says:

      Yep, since writing this I’ve truly made the effort to cut back on the things that distract me most, and I’m realizing just how hard that is. Persistence is key!

      And that’s so cool you’re taking classes this fall! That is one great benefit of no longer be a student in a traditional classroom. I absolutely plan on doing the same (hopefully for the rest of my life!) after I’m done with school for good.

  3. You can catch up on blogs in an hour?? I more or less do it once a week, but it takes me the entire hungover Saturday! I mean, I adore those lazy days (today, haha) but I could probably be doing more useful things with my time. Although, then again, I get brilliant ideas from blog days and read so many interesting articles and learn lots, so it’s not really a waste of time at all. Whatever, the point is that I am mucho impressedo that you can get through a week’s worth of Internet in one hour. Well done!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Well, I am trying, but it’s a work in progress! My blog reader is one very long list, and I’m realizing I just can’t keep up with them all. So really, my goal is to only allow myself one hour whether I’m done or not. And the blogs I find myself constantly skipping over might eventually come off the list all together. That way, I don’t spend too much time skimming over stuff I’m not even that interested in or that doesn’t spark inspiration or an idea of my own.

  4. All of this. My priorities right now are school, my grad school application and my writing. Everything else is secondary. Once my grad school application is complete, which will be next week, I’ll bump something else up. I am teaching myself not to feel guilty if something doesn’t get done. I can’t do everything all at once.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      The internet would like you to think you’re supposed to do everything at once, but it’s simply not true – no point in feeling guilty over it. Sounds like you have the right idea. Go you! And good luck on your application. 🙂

  5. Oh man, priorities are a big thing I am trying to navigate as well. I think I try to have too many and end up not succeeding at any sometimes.

    I think that my top priority needs to always be taking care of myself… which tends to get pushed to the side. But I find if I make that #1, then I have way more energy to handle the other things.

    But besides that and being more specific to right now, my big priority is my thesis and graduating from grad school (and also what I will do after graduation). That means that things like travel and even my 101 list are not a big priority in comparison, but it sort of sucks sometimes when you set a bunch of goals and then realize some of them have to go or at least be compromised on. But hey, it’s all a part of growing up.

    Good luck with this second year of grad school! 🙂

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Self-care is such an important one and the only exception I’ll make as far as having multiple top priorities goes. It’s hard to get anything done when your body isn’t up to the challenge.

      Good luck to you as well this year in school! We got this. 🙂

  6. I’ve been trying to cut back on the amount of time I spend idling, and schedule in tasks for a set amount of time – and to NOT be multitasking during those times, but to really be focusing on the one task at hand. It is soooo hard, though; I’ve had bad habits building up for years. Leaving blogs to one chunk of time instead of perusing my blogroll lots of times every day has been my biggest saving grace thus far.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      It’s REALLY hard! Those bad habits become so ingrained, and you only really realize it once you try breaking those habits. I’m working on it. I’m sloooowly seeing an improvement, but there’s still a long ways to go. Taking it one day at a time.

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