How to Manage Conflicting Priorities

In our complex, day-to-day lives, we have a multitude of priorities calling for our attention.  Some call in a whisper.  Others scream from the rooftops.  And the soft voice of the things that we most long to accomplish is often drowned out by the fires and clamoring of these conflicting priorities.

No matter how good your time management structures and systems are, if you don’t figure out how to manage these conflicts, you will be hard-pressed to maintain those systems.   So how do you decide where to spend your resources for the best outcome?

Have Clear Goals

It’s a funny thing – when I know exactly what my goals are, then evaluating and deciding which priorities to invest my time, energy and resources into becomes easier.  When my goals are clear and specific with hard and fast deadlines – then I can decide which opportunities are in line with my goals and which are distractions.

It sounds simplistic, but it’s true.

When your goals are clear it becomes simpler to make decisions and it becomes easier to say “No”, because you know what you are saying “Yes” to.

Create Time Blocks

When you’ve got clear goals and you know what you’re saying “Yes” to, but you still are managing multiple projects and claims on your time, the best way I’ve found to organize my thinking as well as my time is by creating clear time blocks, even days, for each priority or project.

For example, if one of my priorities is working with another person on their priorities, I can say – “I’ve set aside Friday morning for you.”   And I can clear my plate (and my email and phone) from those interruptions until it’s time.

Bottom line – multitasking doesn’t work.  Study after study has shown that the more you are flitting from thing to thing, or doing two things at once, the less effective you are.  By creating a specific block of time to work on a project, you can focus all of your mind, energy and resources to create a better result in less overall time.

And when the idea floats into your mind, “Oh, don’t forget to do X for that other project.”  Just make a note and come back to it when it’s that project’s time.

Ask the Right Questions

Once you’re clear on your goals and you’ve created a schedule to accomplish those goals, that doesn’t mean new opportunities, other people’s needs or even ideas for new projects won’t come up for you.  In fact, I’ve found the more effective I’m being; the more those things seem to happen.  But you can evaluate and make choices about these new possible priorities by asking powerful questions:

Is this my urgency or someone else’s?

Very often, we will prioritize other people’s needs over our own.  And when we try to resist that call, our inner critic starts in with the “Aren’t you being selfish?” message.

Look, your family and your loved ones are important.  If you’re managing a day job in order to pay the bills – your boss and your job are important, too.  But by always prioritizing other people’s needs or priorities over your own, you are actively destroying your own self-worth. You are saying, “I’m NOT worth it.  I don’t matter.”  And if you have children – you are teaching them to do the same.

So, get clear:

  • Get clear on whose agenda you’re serving.
  • Get clear on the consequences of saying “No.”
  • Get clear on what the payoff for you is for saying, “Yes.”

Make sure that what you imagine is the consequence is actually real.  (If I don’t take my sister to the airport, she’ll stop loving me…  Really?) And be careful of the flattery payoff.  Often when someone picks US to help them, we are flattered that they value our talents.  But remember to value your own goals over their flattery.  When all is said and done, you’ll have helped them achieve their goals while sacrificing your own.

Then make a choice and stand by it.  You’re allowed to say, “No.”  Remember, there are no right choices or wrong choices.  There are only choices with varying consequences.   Also remember, that we train people how to treat us.  If you feel like your family doesn’t respect your goals, that’s because you’ve taught them not to.  If you start respecting and prioritizing your goals, they will, too.

Does this project serve my goals?  Which goal, specifically?

The clearer you are on which goal you’re serving, the easier it becomes to make a choice.  And also where in your schedule to place it.

By spending time on this priority am I moving towards something?  Or away from something else – perhaps a goal that brings up fear, considerations or obstacles?

Notice if you’re using another priority to avoid facing something.  (I’m too busy to work on my music, because of yah de, yah de, yah de…)

Remember, there is no right or wrong choice.  Each choice has consequences – some predictable and some not.  The question, then, is:

Does this choice bring me closer to my goals and dreams?

Is this choice in line with my values and principles?

And finally – be realistic about how much time you actually have.  Often when looking at projects or priorities, it’s better to think in terms of serial monogamy than polyamory.  Doing one project at a time and doing it well will bring you closer to the life of your dreams than will working on multiple projects and not doing them as well, or never finishing them.

When looking at opportunities – remember that all opportunities aren’t your opportunity.  And that we live in an abundant universe filled with opportunities.  Don’t just say, “Yes” to this opportunity because it kinda sorta looks like what you want.  You can say, “No.”  It won’t mean that you will never have another opportunity.  In fact, often you have to say, “No” to the mediocre opportunities before the Universe will start sending you the great ones.