Priorities: How to Invest Your Time the Right Way
Every day we have the opportunity to invest our time in a variety of ways. We try to sort through the competing demands on our time and yet it can be really hard to have a consistent way of setting priorities for ourselves. Here's a way to help you work your way through the problem.
What we like to do
Our first tendency can be to prioritise investing our time into what we like to do. This is really understandable; doing things that we like to do can make us happy in the short term. on the surface of it, it seems very sensible – what are we doing, if not making ourselves happy? However, the downside is that doing this consistently will actually lead to worse outcomes. This is because some of the things we need to do aren't things that we want to do. If we prioritise based upon what we like, then these things might not get done.
What we are good at
Another approach might be to prioritise investing our time into the things that we are good at. Again, this is quite understandable; when we do more of what we are good at, we feel competent. This is a powerful reward, and there are other rewards to good work such as money and status. However, prioritising our time based upon what we are good at has its own flaws. For instance, it could lead to us overworking or avoiding the things that are necessary but ones where we don't feel skilled. Again this approach can lead to important things getting forgotten.
The demands of others
Most of us are also subject to the demands of other people. We can let other people set our priorities based upon what they think is appropriate. This approach is part of the deal when the hold down jobs; the payoff is that we are financially rewarded for it. We might not like these arrangements, but we know that we sometimes have to accept them to make a living. Additionally, we also let other people set our priorities for reasons which are less clear. We sometimes do this out of our obligation to friends and families, but we also do it because it's a personality tendency of ours. Sometimes, doing what other people want us to do just seems like the easiest thing, even if it doesn't really help us.
Rather than these ways, I recommend something different.
What's important to you?
My suggestion would be that we need to prioritise what's important for us. This might seem either obvious or selfish, but hear me out. It might seem selfish because a life based solely on your own needs is no life at all. However, this approach isn't advocating our own needs above others. This is because it might be important for us to prioritise the needs of other people. When we prioritise what's important for us, we might actually be making charity and service to others priorities.
Answering the big questions
This approach might also seem obvious – “of course we prioritise what's important for us!”. However, the truth is that we don't. We tend to prioritise the short-term without ever standing back and thinking about what actually is valuable to us. We don't pursue what's important for us, because we have often never really thought about what's important for us. Further, investing our time into what's important to us is balanced. This is because the things that are important to us is not just one thing, but a range of things. It's also a reliable way to actually take us closer to happiness.
And why don't we do this all the time? Unfortunately it might be very simple – we haven't really ever thought about what are the things that are important to us. This is a necessary first step and it's worthwhile getting it right. This isn't to say that the things are important to us won't change over time. However, to have a good life we need to identify what's important to us now, and to pursue it.
Let me know what you think in the comments.