How to Define Your Priorities

Working with the kinds of priorities that really help you is an advantage. Here, you can learn how to define them.
How to Define Your Priorities
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 30 June, 2022

Defining your priorities is essential if you want to achieve your goals. That’s because you need to know how to distinguish what’s important from what’s not. It helps you focus and channel all your efforts in the same direction. Otherwise, you may find yourself spending a great deal of energy on things that simply aren’t worth it.

Today’s world is marked by dispersion. There are demands, requirements, and calls for your attention in all directions. The line that separates the professional from the personal, as well as the one that divides the public from the private, is also more fragile. In these kinds of conditions, it becomes more difficult to define your priorities.

Nobody has enough vitality to attend to everything, all the time. Sometimes, you pretend that you can and that’s when you end up going off in all different directions, yet in reality, going nowhere. If you want to know how to define your priorities, take note of the five tips below.

To change your life, you need to change your priorities .”

-Mark Twain-

man thinking

1. Don’t be frivolous when you define your priorities

Sometimes, you confuse your priorities with what captivates you and steals your attention.  For example, you might feel an irresistible attraction to acquire a beautiful car that you saw in the showroom window. So you feel you should make it a priority, but is it really?

This example applies to countless situations. You’re often like a child who lets yourself get carried away by your impulses and you confuse what’s important with what’s attractive. The first step toward defining your priorities is to calmly analyze the situation. Think carefully and don’t be rash.

2. Reduce your list

You often feel that absolutely everything is important. You also might have the mistaken belief that you can achieve all your goals at once. You can’t. In fact, when everything is important, nothing is important.

Defining your priorities means thinking carefully about the large goals you’ve set for your life. From there, you can establish a criterion that allows you to separate the essential from the secondary. This exercise is fundamental so that you don’t end up going off in all directions.

3. Specify your priority, not the activity

Another common mistake is to confuse your priorities with your activities. For example, say you believe that your priority is to take a refresher course in your workplace. When you finish the course, you consider you’ve achieved your priority objective. However, in this example, your priority isn’t the course, but being competent in your work.

Continuing with this example, you may take the course and still end up being incompetent with regard to your work. A priority isn’t an activity, but a guiding principle, associated with a central goal in your life. Take this into account when defining your priorities.

4. Don’t only define the what but also the how

Defining your priorities not only involves establishing the what but also the how. First of all, you must be clear about what you want, or rather, the most important of your aims. Once you’ve identified it, you also have to design a plan to achieve or maintain it.

If you don’t specify the way in which you’re going to achieve it, it most likely won’t happen. It’ll remain in your life as a dream, waiting for the right moment to arrive for you to achieve it. However, if you have a roadmap, it’ll be much easier to move forward.

Woman pointing in a notebook

5. Identify dates and gradual goals

Once you have a what and a how you must break down that ‘how’ into the specific actions that we call ‘goals’. In other words, objective and verifiable progress. For example, if your priority is to have more free time and you believe that the best way to achieve it is by managing your work better, the best thing to do is to go down this path gradually and check your progress.

It’s also advisable to establish definite dates to reach those goals. If you don’t, you won’t have a reasonable parameter that allows you to identify if you’re actually achieving them or not. In addition, it helps you better organize your progress.

Defining your priorities is key to managing your efforts in a smarter way. It also gives you greater mental order and facilitates many of the decisions you must make. As the old adage goes: whoever doesn’t know where they’re going will probably end up somewhere else.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ortún-Rubio, V., Pinto-Prades, J. L., & Puig-Junoy, J. (2001). El establecimiento de prioridades. Atención Primaria, 27(9), 673.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.