Priorities vs Productivity: Choosing What’s Most Important

May 30, 2022

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Priorities vs. Productivity: How to Choose What’s Most Important

When we think of “productivity,” we usually think about getting more things done. Checking more off our to-do lists. But that’s not the actual definition of productivity – and it’s definitely not how we want to live our lives.

What does it actually mean to be more productive? And why should we aspire to be more productive?

When we think of productivity, most of us picture planners and calendars. We picture to-do list apps and notepads with checkboxes. We imagine ourselves focused, with fingertips tapping away on a keyboard, knocking out tasks, and making progress on projects.

But that’s not the actual definition of productivity

Productivity is actually defined as a measure of economic performance that compares the number of goods and services produced (output) with the number of inputs used to produce those goods and services.

I don’t know about you, but that definition of productivity isn’t actually one that resonates with what I want from my life. I am not just doing things to increase my output, I’m doing things that matter to me! 

This definition also helps us put something into perspective: The idea that “being more productive” will solve our problems. I have definitely believed this lie. If I could only be more productive — work quicker, more accurately — then I’d have more time to spend doing whatever I want. 

When it comes down to it, productivity alone won’t give you the life you want. Because we can work faster, we can be more efficient. We can knock more stuff off of our to-do lists and do the errands and get things done..

But if we’re not doing the right things, then none of it really matters, does it?

Aspiring to be more productive is awesome when you can very clearly answer the question “Why.” Why do you want to be more productive?

So today, we’re talking about

  • Why being more productive isn’t always the answer to getting things done
  • How to know if you’re spending your time where it counts
  • 3 simple methods for prioritizing pretty much everything
  • What to do when prioritizing feels impossible

Other questions to ask yourself

It helps to know why you want to be more productive. Do you want to make more money in your business? Do you want more time with your kids after work is done? Do you just want more time with yourself after you’ve completed all your tasks and to-dos for the day? 

Really hone in on WHY you want to be productive. 

I also have a few more questions to ask yourself:

  • What does being more productive mean for me and my life?
  • What will being more productive give me?
  • What would it actually look like to be more productive?

Aiming to be more productive without having a clear purpose is just going to spin your wheels. You won’t get anywhere. Simply being more productive isn’t always the answer to getting things done, or creating the life you want. However, productivity with a clear purpose can be the beginning of something magical. And productivity with clear priorities is even better.

Spending your time where it counts

So how can you know if you’re spending your time where it counts — or if you’re just spinning your wheels? 

Chances are you can feel when you’re spending your time on what matters. You feel more fulfilled, you end your days feeling accomplished rather than deflated or defeated. You feel motivated to keep taking more steps in the right direction.

If you don’t feel like that, and you’re not where your time is going, the best way to answer that question is by doing a time study.

A time study is simply tracking how you spend your time.

I love to encourage my time management coaching clients to do a time study whenever we first begin working together. It provides insights into where your time is going, and can really reveal blind spots that affect your day-to-day productivity.

Here’s how it works:

Grab a notebook, use an app like Toggl, or even create an Excel spreadsheet and track your time in 15-minute increments. Use as much detail as possible without going overboard. For example, instead of just writing down “iPhone” be more specific and record “Scrolling Instagram,” because that gives more insight and specificity into how you’re spending your time. Instead of “work” jot down “Zoom meeting with Allie and Kacy about growth marketing” or “Research for Episode 127.” The more specific you can be the better.

How long should a time study be?

Usually, a week is enough to get a clear picture. Sometimes two can be helpful if your schedule cycles a bit. But a week is a good starting point.

A time study — even though it might sound daunting — is one of the best ways to increase your awareness of where your time is going. It can also help you uncover whether or not you’re spending your time on what matters.

A time study can also show you if you’re spending a lot of time on other people’s priorities, or if you’re spending time on low-impact work instead of work that moves the needle. It can also show you that you’re jumping around to too many different things throughout the day without focusing on anything for an extended amount of time. 

Once you’ve got this clear picture of where you’re spending your time, you’ll be able to see where things aren’t really falling in line with your priorities. If you’re spending a ton of time in meetings but your priorities are to complete client work, then you know that something needs to change.

Shifting priorities instead of just trying to get more done

So… let’s talk about PRIORITIES over productivity. During your time study, you’ll easily see where you’re spending your time and how “being productive” might actually be hurting your goals. Let’s start with a definition of “priorities.”

Priorities are defined as a thing that is regarded as more important than another. So what exactly is most important to you right now? 

If you’re struggling to prioritize, here are three simple methods for prioritizing pretty much anything. 

The Eisenhower Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix is a decision-making tool that can help you decide what to do next based on what’s urgent and what’s important. When everything feels important, it can be tough to decide what to do next. Using the Eisenhower Matrix allows you to decide whether to DO something now, defer it for later, delegate it to someone else, or delete it altogether.

Boulders, Big Rocks, and Pebbles

If you’ve ever heard about my Get a Game Plan workshop, then you’re familiar with Boulders, Big Rocks, and Pebbles. This is one of my favorite ways to classify priorities because it shifts priorities away from being something abstract to making them something you can picture very clearly. A big giant boulder that doesn’t move if you push it with all your might. You need a big rock that you can move around a bit, and then you’ll use lots of litttttle bitty pebbles.

Boulders are the things in your life that are important, but not urgent and they help you show up as your best self in life and work. Big Rocks are important and usually urgent. They move the needle in your life and work, pushing you forward with projects and things you want to accomplish. Pebbles are everything else; all of the little insignificant tasks and to-dos that have a tendency to fill up our days. 

One way to start training yourself to prioritize your daily to-do list is by putting a B, a BR, or a P next to each item on your list. And then, tackle the boulders and big rocks first.

The Clarifying Question

One of my favorite personal development books is called The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. In The One Thing, the authors share the Clarifying Question that can help you decide the next thing to do at any moment. Here’s how it goes:

What is the one thing, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Asking yourself this question can help you decide what to do next without spinning your wheels on things that aren’t as important or impactful. 

But if you’re thinking, “Anna, these three methods are good and all, but I’m struggling with my big-picture priorities.” If you’re in a place where you don’t know what you want to do next in your life, not just what to do in the next 5 minutes, how do you figure out those big life priorities?

If that’s where you’re at right now, it’s time to back it up just a bit. Knowing your priorities starts with a clear vision and clear values

Get clear on your vision

When’s the last time you thought about what you want your future to look like? Have you articulated your personal core values? If your head is swimming when you try to figure out your big-picture life priorities, you’ve got to revisit your vision or make sure you have one. 

When you have a vision and you know your values, choosing your priorities and living them each day comes much easier. And it’s when you know your priorities that productivity is actually useful. 

Because when you know your priorities, you’ve got a clear purpose. Having a clear purpose makes productivity worthwhile. With priorities, your productivity efforts are more efficient — you’ll be able to work faster or more accurately, and to get things done. Most of all, you’ll be on the path to creating the life you envision for yourself.

That’s when productivity is worth it. Without priorities, without purpose… productivity is basically pointless. 

Links & Resources Mentioned in Episode 125

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