The Importance of Knowing Your Priorities and Sticking to Them

Last week, I talked about how last year burned me out big time, and how I made the resolution in 2017 to slow down and get focused on what’s important to me. Let me start by saying that, if you know me at all, you know that doesn’t mean for a second that my goals have gotten smaller. I don’t think that in order to make big strides in your writing career, or in anything else, that you have to give up your sanity, your health, or your relationships. It’s about finding balance, about knowing what’s important to you, and about prioritizing. It’s about working smarter, not harder.

Thankfully, right around the time I was coming to this new resolution, the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey came into my life. I’d been wanting to read it for about a year, but I hadn’t been able to get a copy from the library because it was in such high demand! I ended up coming across a copy at my favorite used book store and snagged it up, and the principles I’ve learned so far have been life altering.

The Time Management Matrix

A lot has been written about the 7 Habits, as well as the book itself, which I highly recommend, but I want to share a bit of the most helpful piece of advice I’ve taken from this book so far, the Time Management Matrix, which is a visual way of looking at what your priorities are and whether or not you are making them the most important part of your day.

Covey proffers that there are four types of tasks. As I briefly explain each quadrant, I’ll also share how I translate them into the writing life.

QUADRANT I: URGENT, IMPORTANT

These are the tasks that are on fire. They are important to you based on what your main objectives are for your writing career and your life, and they have a deadline attached to them–usually an impending one. As writers, these might be publishing deadlines, blog posts, marketing tasks, and some email. Unfortunately for me, I was inadvertently adding social media, email and reading for others to this list, thinking I was being most helpful by being available all the time. This was the quadrant I spent most of last year living in and it created a sense of constant urgency and stress.

QUADRANT II: NOT URGENT, IMPORTANT

These are the priority tasks–the ones that are really going to further your career and keep you in line with your values. If you’re being proactive, writing books will be the top task in this category, because ideally, when you don’t allow yourself to be overrun by urgent tasks, you’re able to get these things finished before they become urgent. My goal this year is move blogging into this category by batch writing my blogs (which I’m doing right now, thank you very much!), as well as developing my writing business courses that I aim to teach on a much more regular basis this year. After doing a lot of soul searching, I realized that by putting my focus here, and creating valuable content instead of spreading myself so thin that I was never giving anyone or anything my full attention, I could be of more service to others.

By planning ahead, marketing strategies can fall into this category, but even more important, self-care is the heart of this category. Remember, we cannot be good for anyone else, until we take care of ourselves and by exercises and eating healthy, as well as refilling our wells with creative, fulfilling tasks, we become better parents, spouses, friends, critique partners, employees, business owners.

QUADRANT III: URGENT, NOT IMPORTANT

These are the activities that “need” to be done now, but aren’t important/in line with your values. The hard part is that these tasks can masquerade as important, when they really aren’t. We all have it hammered into us that creating a social media presence is important to building a successful career in the modern age, and it is, but there’s also an important line that has to be drawn. Marketing on social media would fall more into the Important category, but keeping up with cat videos and every single post your friends make, no matter how much you love them? Not so much. Not in the grand scheme of things. Supporting other writers is also an admirable activity, but again, not if it takes away from Quadrant II activities and leaves you feeling drained. Again, you are of better service to others when you create work that is in line with your values. I truly believe that’s what we’re on this planet to do.

QUADRANT IV: NOT URGENT, NOT IMPORTANT

These are things like, yes, your average social media check in, no matter how much these platforms try to trick us into believing otherwise. TV also mostly falls into this category and any other activities that are just mind-numbing relief from living in the Urgent category all the time. It’s important to remember that mind-numbing is not self-care. Self-care is proactive and leads to long-term results. Quadrant IV activities provide only temporary relief.

Check out this graphic for a more visual way to understand the Time Management Matrix.

Stephen Covey, angel of mine, advises that we spend most of our time on Quadrant II activities, avoiding Not Important activities altogether. That’s a hard shift to make because our culture is made up almost completely of Not Important activities–it’s become a way of life and to do otherwise goes against the grain in way that, initially, I worried would lead to not so welcoming peer reactions. But the surprising part is that, as I spoke to many other writer friends, many of them were echoing the same sentiments. They are striving to spend less time online this year and more time creating. I think we’re all feeling the burnout of having so much information and constant “connection” at our fingertips.

How to Figure Out Your Priorities

So how do priorities play into this? Well, they are the backbone of knowing which of your daily activities fit into each category, because for each person, it will be different. It all depends on what your goals are. And I mean the big goals–the ones you set for your life, your career, and the person you want to be. To put this in perspective, here’s a little note I jotted for myself in my journal as I worked through these questions for myself:

What do you want to be remembered for?

I’m guessing it’s not for liking the most cat videos on Facebook. (Sorry! Tough loving all over you here!) For me, I had to remember that it wasn’t reading the most books or being available to everyone at every moment. What I want to be remembered for is offering people new perspectives that encourage them to be more compassionate, understanding, purposeful, passionate, and excited about their life and their life’s work.

So as I wrap this up today, I’d like to wrangle you into a little challenge. I know we’re all past the New Years Resolutions phase at this point, but remember that it’s never too late to renew your commitment to yourself and your goals. Carve out a little Quadrant II quiet time to do these two things:

  1. Answer the question, what do I want to be remembered for? It doesn’t have to be one thing. You may have something for each area of your life–as a writer, a parent, a spouse, a friend.
  2. Create a Time Management Matrix for yourself, with your daily activities broken down into each quadrant. Ponder how you’re prioritizing your tasks now and as well as what changes you’d like to make. How could you make Quadrant II a bigger part of your day?

I would love to hear what you come up with, either in the comments or over on my Facebook group.

Have you ever though about managing your activities in this way? Which quadrant do you currently spend your most time in? Do you have any tips for moving more into Quadrant II because I’m accepting them!

I am an author and a writing business teacher. I am also a mother of two, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. My debut women's fiction novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, will be released on October 3, 2017. Here, I blog about my journey in publication in the hopes of inspiring others to follow their own dreams.

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