3 Steps to Organize Your Priorities for Success

Over and over we hear about "time management." Although it has some merit, I've never been a huge fan of that concept, as I've felt it was a bit superficial. So if we just learn how to manage our time better that will make our lives better? Maybe but not necessarily. I know many people (athletes included) that manage their time quite well and do many different things in a day. But that doesn't necessarily mean they are reaching their goals.

The reality is, it's not about time management; it's about PRIORITY management. So how do you manage your priorities? 

1. Know what you're trying to accomplish

If you've worked with me you've heard this phrase dozens of times: "What are you trying to accomplish?" How should we prioritize our time? Well, that depends on what we're trying to accomplish. Sure you could set some SMART goals, but I think that goal-setting paradigm lacks a broader context that's important to address. 

Here's an example. At any given moment, I'm working on 5+ personal and professional projects (emphasis on the "+" in all honesty). All of them are super fun and very important to me, but all of them cannot be a priority all at once. There's simply not enough hours in a day. As you know from my last blog post, during winter break I was focused on time with family and friends, so projects moved lower down the list. Now that the semester is under way, projects have moved farther up the priority list.

My #best9 from my personal life. We are clearly a dog-centered family! Other humans are missing because I subject only my husband to an online presence :)

My #best9 from my personal life. We are clearly a dog-centered family! Other humans are missing because I subject only my husband to an online presence :)

At the beginning of every semester (so every 4 months or so), I sit down, identify all my projects, and be clear with myself about the order of those priorities. The great part about doing this every 4 months is that projects don't get pushed to the back burner for long periods of time unless I intentionally put them lower on the priority list. It keeps me on track and honest with what's important to me and allows me to move projects around depending upon what's important at that time. 

2. Make sure your schedule reflects your priorities

Athletes are used to setting goals, but not necessarily effectively. One of the ways I see goal-setting being problematic is the amount of time spent doesn't reflect what's important to them. As a student athlete, you're managing all 4 pillars at any given moment. But how are you spending your free time? It is consistent with your priorities?

For example, if one of your priorities is increasing your free throw percentage, you need to spend free time working on shooting free throws and perfecting your pre-shot routine...not working more on ball-handling skills, spending more time with friends, or watching more Parks and Rec. Not that I've EVER watched too much Parks and Rec, but you get my drift. How you spend your time tells you a lot about what your priorities are. If what you are doing with your time is inconsistent with your priorities, make adjustments.

3. Regularly revisit your priorities

As I said earlier, I revisit my priorities every 4 months. I've found that's a good amount of time to get a sense of the progress on my projects with ample time to refocus. That timeline hasn't always been the case. In college, I revisited my priorities more frequently because things went from zero to "yikes" quickly. 

There may be times (like the end of the semester) when you need to focus more on academics and your own well-being. Other times (like the playoffs) you'll need to focus more on your sport. Or maybe one of your family members is having difficulties, and you need to focus more on them. 

If we are intentional about revisiting and restructuring our priorities, it helps us feel more in control of our lives. When our schedules start to control us, it tends to get a bit chaotic and stressful. I'm also a fan of writing them down, as it makes them more tangible.

This is only a start to working with your priorities. Sometimes you aren't sure what they are or you are struggling with a mismatch between your priorities and the priorities others have for you. That's when the deeper (and super fun) work comes in!

My point is be intentional and do the work. That's what will pay off and help you be successful, however you define it, in the end. 

Dr. Erin Haugen is a licensed clinical psychologist and sport/performance psychologist located in Grand Forks, ND. She specializes in helping college student-athletes excel in sports and in life. She is a former basketball player, current triathlete, and LOVES dogs.


Disclaimer: You should consult an appropriate professional for specific advice tailored to your situation. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.