Life Priorities: Here Are The Ways You Can Prioritize Your Limited Time, Resources, Energy, And Emotions
In an era that tells us to keep rushing, from the time we are children, to reach the next milestone in life (college, career, marriage, children, etc), it’s often hard to keep our priorities straight – or even know what they are. Mix in an overload of internet exposure, media, and pop culture, and it becomes almost impossible to hear yourself think.
Stepping Back From Digital Distractions
In order to appropriately prioritize your life, step back and assess where you are investing most of your time and energy. More specifically, hold yourself mentally accountable for every single decision you make, no matter how big or small each decision is. Whether you are brushing your teeth or buying a new house, what matters is that you make every decision consciously and purposefully according to your priorities. (For old time’s sake, who remembers the Sunscreen song from the late 1990s?)
Here’s a crazy tidbit for you: there are over 338,582+ books on Amazon dedicated specifically to self-help related topics. Motivational “authorities” could spend lifetimes debating time management strategies and what matters most in life. Ultimately, what I believe many people are often looking for is a way to simplify their priorities. If our priority list can be sufficiently simplified, perhaps it lays the groundwork for discovering life purpose and obtaining a genuine sense of achievement and satisfaction. Below, I’ve broken down life priorities in what I believe is the simplest way possible:
The Only 4 Life Priorities That Matter
1. Health. Of mind, of body. Keep yourself in shape, but not obsessively. Aerobic exercise is a must (walking, jogging, swimming, etc), along with any other recreational forms of outdoor physical exertion. Interestingly, studies have shown that regularly exercising and accomplishing physical challenges will automatically keep your mind sharper and happier. In addition, it will embolden you to accept other non-physical challenges. Eat a balanced diet, avoiding health “trends” and fad diets. Groom your body and practice good hygiene. Maintain regular schedules of sleeping, eating, and otherwise.
“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” – Herophilus
Offer your brain mental stimulation on a regular basis – outside of family or work. Read the news (or preferably, magazines/blogs – I personally prefer long-term analyses and longform journalism over filling my mind with breaking news stories), and, books!
“The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.” – G.K. Chesterton
Stay decently up on what’s going on in the world, what’s happened in history, and how it relates to your perspectives. Practice artistic hobbies and express your views while reflecting on the intricacies of life. Be aware of yourself, your words, your actions. More than anything, don’t obsess over your health – be moderate, and enjoy it.
2. Relationships. Family, friends, and people that YOU CARE ABOUT seem to be a logical secondary life priority after you’ve taken care of yourself. In fact, a study conducted by the University of Exeter suggested that people who do volunteer work or regularly show generosity to others are more likely to be happy and satisfied with their own life – PLUS, they tend to live longer than other people. As Tennessee Williams said, “Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.”
- See also: What Makes A Good Friend? Here Are Some Valuable Pointers To Creating A Rich, Long-Lasting Friendship
In addition, laughing is said to help oxygenate your blood stream, and a smile is said to require less energy than a frown. Maintaining positive relationships with the people you love is vitally important to a balanced life as it will seemingly create a “give and take” cycle between you and others. Ultimately, though, don’t spend too much time on people you don’t care about, or people that always let you down. This sounds harsh, but such actions will only negatively impact your a) health and b) relationships overall.
3. Career (Purpose). Contrary to a popular saying, a job is never “just a job” – rather, as poignantly addressed in the 2010 movie Repo Men, “At the end, a job is not just a job – it is who you are, and if you wanna change who you are, you have to change what you do.”
In the “old” days, most people wound up falling into whatever industry their parents were in – farming, fishing, carpentry, textiles, etc. In the postmodern age, however, we have the blessing – and curse – of having way too many options. It has the effect of making life decisions harder – overwhelming, at times, as we decide on education, where to live, which subcultures to associate with, and what career paths to pursue.
“Don’t ever let economic alone determine your career or how you spend the majority of your time.” – Denis Waitley
A few years back, I came across a fascinating perspective on life purpose written by Stephanie Relfe, an Australian-American wholistic kinesiologist. Relfe, in turn inspired by Buckminster Fuller and Dr. W. Edwards Deming – two of the most captivating figures of the 20th century – argues that a “straightforward” life purpose usually does not present; rather, by creating something of value for society and pursuing varied long-term roles, a sort of “tangential” life purpose is often discovered:
It is possible, just possible, that the honey bee has a life purpose. What would that life purpose be? To pollinate plants, to keep life on earth going. We wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for honey bees. But do you think the honey bee gets up each morning and says to herself that she has to cross pollinate plants? No. She just has – what goal? To collect nectar to make honey. Precession happens at right angles to the direction of motion. It’s a side effect. In the case of the honey bee, the side effect is what? The pollination of plants, and the maintenance of life on earth.
- See also: Life Purpose: A Fascinating Look At Tangential Ripples, Inspired By The Work Of Buckminster Fuller
Rather than getting caught up in the speed and ambiguity of the times, challenge yourself to make career decisions according to WHO and WHAT you want to be. Got rejected from medical school but haven’t given up on being a doctor? Then find a somewhat related job in the meantime and remain focused on your ultimate “purpose” goals. At all costs, do not remain stagnant or hesitant for too long. You can only learn more about yourself, and more about your purpose, by moving around and trying different things.
4. Leisure (Fun). Don’t live for tomorrow; live for today. Enjoy life! Pleasure is so important and brings the cycle of life priorities back to #1, which is your own personal well-being (“put your own oxygen mask on first”). Some people believe that to live a happy and interesting life, you must “never be satisfied” with yourself. This is intriguing, and I understand what they mean. However, I think it is important as humans to consciously acknowledge to ourselves a certain level of contentment when we reach encouraging milestones. Celebrating birthdays, watching the “big” game with friends, taking regular vacations, and trying to finish our day without any bitterness and resentment.
“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” – Book of Ephesians
At the end of the day, you should be on the path that you WANT to be on, even if its a diversion or pause. Have fun with people, marvel at the beauty of the natural world, listen to music, develop your hobbies, travel, and play around with the idea of satisfaction. Procrastination is not such a bad thing, after all…
PRO TIP: If you are focused on improving your time management, consider “combining” multiple life priorities into single tasks. For example, going on a walk with your spouse would contribute not only to your a) health but also your b) relationships and d) leisure.
Update 7/5/2014: Article moderately re-written. Originally published May 11, 2010.