Lots of people love their work and are excited by all the possibilities before them, but they still feel overwhelmed. All this good fortune seems to weigh them down.
They feel just as stressed out as someone who has no idea what they want to do with their lives.
Maybe you are one of these folks suffering from the dilemma of competing priorities. The source of your stress comes from wanting to do too many exciting things in your life and work.
You probably feel constant tension between your priorities. They are pulling you in opposite directions. One seems to be stealing time from another. You never fully enjoy any one of them because your mind is always worried about missing out on the other. How can you fit them all in?
It’s possible, but only if you choose to reframe your mindset about the seemingly adversarial relationship between your competing priorities.
Your “Why” Is Unclear
One of the most common reasons to suffer from the affliction of competing priorities is because your “why” is unclear.
Your “why” is your purpose for how you want to live your life. It’s your mission statement. It is your core reference point for understanding “why” you do everything you do in your life and work.
Your “why” helps you focus your limited time and energy. It reminds you of your values, motivations, needs and abilities. It can help you prioritize everything you want to accomplish in life.
Most importantly, your “Why” helps show the relationship between all your priorities and how they each support each other in the context of your “Why”.
A clear “Why” will reframe your mindset about your “competing” priorities, so you can see how they can be “integrated” with one another.
Integrate Your Priorities
Priorities by their nature indicate a hierarchy. One is suppose to be more important than another.
Imagine if they could be integrated instead? I know that flies in the face of how priorities are traditionally defined, but I want to challenge your assumption.
Ultimately, I want you to see how all of your priorities can actually work together toward your larger “Why”. Simply put, integrating your priorities is looking for ways to “kill two birds with one stone”.
The process of integrating your priorities begins by drilling down into each one to understand their context in terms of your “Why”.
First, start by asking yourself the following questions:
Why is this a priority in my life?
What are three different reasons for maintaining this priority in my life?
What does this priority give me that nothing else in my life does?
Next, look for patterns between your priorities to see if there are similar reasons for maintaining each priority in your life.
For example, one of my priorities is spending as much time outside as possible. Another is getting regular exercise. A similar reason they are both a priority in my life is because they both energize me. However, they both compete for my limited time.
Finally, you are going to look for ways to “integrate” your priorities by merging them together based on the common reasons you have them. Before trying each of the strategies below, list your priorities from most important to least important as best you can.
Strategy #1 Warren Buffett Elimination Strategy
The legendary investor advises his employees to make a list of all their priorities using a 2 List System or also called his 25-5 Rule.
Then he asks them to circle their top 5 priorities.
Finally, he tells them the remaining priorities they did not circle are to be “avoid-at-all costs”.
The point here is that success comes from focus. When you take on too many priorities, you spread yourself too thin and you end up with lots of mediocre accomplishments instead of a handful of stellar ones.
I know this strategy comes off as more of an “elimination” strategy, rather than an “integrated” one. I recommend using it to help you discover how many of your lesser priorities can be absorbed by your larger ones that will satisfy similar needs.
For example, I would rather spend more time outside than exercise, so I chose forms of exercise that get me outside instead of requiring me to be in a gym. Both needs get satisfied, but I compromised my lesser priority of exercise to strengthen my priority to spend more time outside.
Strategy #2 Alternative Approaches to Priorities
First, list your priorities from most important to least important as best you can.
Now list 3 different ways you can accomplish each priority that will make you feel satisfied.
For your least important priorities, focus on approaches that take the least amount of time to get them off your list and out of your head, so you can focus more of your time on your most important priorities.
Strategy #3 Turn Lesser Priorities Into Goals of Larger Ones
Go back and analyze your common reasons shared by most of your priorities. Particularly reasons shared by some of your most important priorities and your least important ones.
Now identify less important priorities that can be turned into “goals” of your more important ones.
You can make more efficient use of your time by still satisfying a lesser priority by focusing on a more important one.
The goal of this strategy is to give context to priorities that probably didn’t deserve the designation of “priority,” but are better defined as “goals” of your more important ones.
Strategy #4 Identify Hidden Priorities
Sometimes it’s possible to discover a hidden priority shared by two competing projects. Once revealed the two projects can be framed in the new context of the previously hidden priority.
For example, I had a friend who wanted to create an online course to help people buy their first rental income property. He was frustrated that he couldn’t spend more time working on it because so much of his time was being used to buy a new rental property for himself.
I told him to stop looking at both projects as competing priorities. Instead he could document the process of the rental property he was currently buying, which could later serve as the foundation of the course he wanted to build.
Turns out the common priority between the two was to generate passive income. Both priorities could be easily integrated to accomplish his previously hidden priority.
Examples of Integrating Priorities
There are loads of benefits to integrating your competing priorities. You can reduce your anxiety, save yourself lots of time and increase your focus on your “Why”. It also has the potential to create new work opportunities that only you are uniquely qualified to do.
Here some some examples of people I have interviewed in the past that have successfully integrated competing priorities to create new work opportunities for themselves.
She integrated her competing priorities of graphic design, scuba diving, protecting the environment and photography to start her own business called The Underwater Designer.
She travels all over the country photographing life in various types of waterways to bring awareness for preserving these fragile environments. She sells her photos and design services to business who specializes in products and services that benefit from waterways.
He integrated his competing priorities of web development, entrepreneur, music educator and piano player by pitching Steinway & Sons to create a new position suited to his unique qualities: manager of digital media.
In this role he oversaw the creation of digital content to educate potential customers about Steinway pianos and shared his passion for playing the piano. Check out the video he sent to Steinway that helped land him the job.
Ryan Gray, MD and Allison Gray, MD
Both Ryan and Allison integrated their competing priorities of wanting to spend more time together, their medical school knowledge and creating a side business by starting MedicalSchoolHQ.net.
During the first few years of their marriage they lived apart because Ryan was a flight surgeon assigned to Dover Air Force Base while Allison was finishing her residency in Boston.
During that time Ryan was giving a lot of young military personal advice on how to get into medical school. He pitched Allison the idea of starting a side business to work on something meaningful together while they live apart. You never know where your business idea might come from!