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The other day, a colleague asked me if I would be willing to take the lead on part of a research project he was organizing. I felt conflicted. It seemed like a cool project, and it would probably result in a strong publication. On the other hand, the project wasn’t directly in line with my research program. And it would take a lot of time and effort on my part to make it happen.

I struggled with the decision for a couple of days. I wavered back and forth—sometimes I felt like saying yes, and sometimes I felt like saying no. I wasn’t sure what to do.

Eventually I said no. I think it was the right decision. But I was also aware of a deeper issue that was going on inside me. I didn’t have a clear process for how to make the decision of whether to say yes or no to the new project. There had to be a more effective way to go through life than what I was doing—which was basically just winging it.

The solution for me was that I had to keep my priorities front, center, and simple. Here are 3 key steps for doing that.

3 Steps to Work on Priorities

  1. Identify your priorities. You can’t keep your priorities front, center, and simple if you don’t know what they are. Some of you may need to do some work to identify your main priorities. The best way to start this process is to identify your values. Your values spell out what is important to you. From there, you can work to identify your key priorities in each area of your life. Don’t ignore this first point. It is absolutely essential.
  2. Keep your priorities front and center. Sometimes people have done the work to identify their priorities, but they don’t keep their priorities front and center. So eventually, they forget about them. This is what happened to me with the decision about the research project. I had done the work in the past to identify my priorities, but they weren’t written down or accessible. So, in the moment when I had to make my decision, my priorities weren’t front and center. Write your priorities down. Keep them somewhere convenient, so you can see them every day.
  3. Keep your priorities simple. Sometimes people make the mistake of identifying too many priorities. When you have too many priorities, by definition they aren’t priorities anymore. In my experience, 3 is about the maximum number of priorities I can have in each area of my life. So, keep your priorities simple. If at first you identify too many priorities, do the hard work of paring them down. Which of the priorities on your list is most important?

Take Home Point: If you are struggling to make a decision, or figure out whether to say yes or no to something, it’s a signal that it’s time to do some work on your priorities. Identify your priorities. Keep your priorities front and center. And keep your priorities simple.

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