You Can Have It All: Managing Your Priorities

This is Part 2 in a 3-part series on productivity. Part 1.

In the last post I discussed "backburner mode," the concept of focusing on a single area of personal improvement, then moving on to others while maintaining each of the previous areas. We did this by imagining different categories of habits as four burners on a stove. The majority of your attention must go to one habit that you choose to be on the frontburner.

This is one of the most important keys to success of self-improvement in backburner mode: prioritizing one area. Even if you have four things you'd like to improve, you must narrow your focus to one at a time. Here’s how:

Your frontburner must be your priority. Your most important task each day is fulfilling your duty to improve this area. If you are improving fitness, don't skip a training session because your friends invited you to happy hour. If you are improving relationships, don’t skip happy hour. “Wait, did you just give me a free pass to go to out drinking?” Watch it, buddy. Context is key.

The frontburner will lead your decisions. For example, if you have training on the backburner while you are focusing on sleep, and are deciding whether you need an extra hour of sleep or to hit your workout the next morning, consider setting your alarm to a later time. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an excuse to skip training. Obviously you want to try to plan ahead so that you can get a good night's sleep and work out, but in the event that there is no way you can do both, go with your focus. And in this example, if you can move your session to later in the day, or the following day, it's better to do that than to skip it altogether.

Additionally, you can still work on more than one area per day. Once you have completed the frontburner work, you can move on to other tasks. You can write 1,000 words, floss your teeth, and practice harmonica--but if your priority is work research, crack that book first.

If you can end each day having taken a step toward improving a single area of your life, especially if you are making it a habit, you will be well on your way toward putting it on the backburner. And once it’s a part of your routine, you’ll be able to start in on something new.

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