How can a non-essential person live

Setting priorities in life: 9 methods, 5 mistakes

You have to set priorities in life. Easier said than done! Who has all of their tasks and appointments under control at all times? The result: We get bogged down - regularly. Many problems could be dealt with better if we were to set clear and consistent priorities more often (which, however, promises as much convenience to some as scratching a slate with one's fingernails).

How can it be done despite the fact that it is so difficult for many people? We'll show you here. In fact, priorities are a matter of goals and a balance between time management and self-management. So if you don't have four arms like the Indian god Vishnu, you should study the following methods and techniques to better prioritize your to-dos and work ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Definition: what are priorities?

Priorities arrange tasks, wishes or options. They give the individual items a meaning and label them, for example, according to “important”, “urgent”, “useful”, “helpful” or “cheap”. They help us with every decision. Typical priorities synonyms are, for example: favor, preference, privilege, special right, priority, privilege, privilege, precedence, preference.

The ability to set priorities is a key success factor and key to happiness. At work and in private life. Those who cannot set priorities will get bogged down again and again, blow time frames and deadlines or make wrong decisions.

Even more: prioritization is not only a form of order, but also a necessity. Because resources such as time, money or manpower are scarce, we have to decide every day how and what to use them for. “Setting priorities” is therefore also a key issue in time management or self-management. Ultimately, this is based on value judgments: What seems important and urgent to us (or others) slides up in priority, what is less important or valuable is put on the back burner. In most cases, we set such priorities intuitively, without long, deliberate weighing. There are, however, decisions that have significantly more weight, scope or complexity. Many people find it difficult to put the options in the "correct" order or to filter out the unimportant.

The importance of priorities in life

We always encounter priorities in life where we have more than one option to choose from. Then we have to choose, decide. In a professional context, this concerns tasks and offers, career choices and applicants, projects and prototypes. In private life, priorities determine our choice of partner and leisure activities, friends and hobbies, what we do and with whom we spend our time. What is essential is that priorities can shift and shift in the course of life. What is important and valuable to us today will be something completely different tomorrow. It is crucial that we even know what we want and where we want to go. Here and now and in the future. Otherwise: To be without priorities also means to remain disoriented.

How we set our priorities is therefore also a mirror of our soul, our current perspectives and values ​​and what our heart (right now) beats for - and how this may have changed. It is all the more important to regularly look behind your own decisions and to question your priorities: Why do we vote the way we vote? Are there patterns, triggers, manipulations? What are our triggers? The more we practice this self-reflection and sharpen our focus on it, the more consciously we will perceive our goals and priorities - and ultimately make better decisions.


"At some point it is not things that change, but the meaning we give them."

Why do some find it difficult to set priorities?

Aims. Many people just don't know what they REALLY want. They can either be controlled by others or by the circumstances. Or you are not (yet) aware of what you want to achieve in life, in your job, where you want to develop and why.

Horizon. Quite a few tend to make their decisions spontaneously and on their own instinct. They choose what is good for them ad hoc and in the short term, instead of broadening their horizons and also keeping an eye on what would do them better in the long term or what would bring them further.

Options. Decisions make you tired. Literally. As the number of alternatives increases, the overview becomes more difficult. The choice is more difficult, the chances of making the wrong decision increase. In addition, every decision FOR one thing is at the same time against all other options. Many people feel insecure or fearful of loss.

Responsibility. Whoever votes is responsible for it - and the consequences. Quite a few try to delegate that too. Just don't fix it by delaying your prioritization and postponing the decision (see: Procrastination) - or ultimately leave it to others, including chance.

The danger of these strategies is obvious: We give up the steering wheel of our lives and risk that other things get a priority that are or should not be important to us. Instead of prioritizing our options sensibly, such people can be determined by others - by circumstances, people, fates. It has been proven that this is a sure route to disaster.

Conversely, it turns out to be more of a shoe: Because we focus on what is important to US; because we give priority to our wishes, values ​​and goals, we achieve more, become more successful and more satisfied. In addition, we gain time and reduce stress because we sort and work through upcoming tasks according to their importance or urgency. So in good time and efficiently. In short: we “act” instead of “react”. Setting priorities means: acting independently!


"Wishes determine our priorities, priorities shape our decisions, decisions determine our actions." (Dallin H. Oaks)

How do I set the right priorities?

The question of the “right” priorities often leads on the wrong track. There is no such thing as a general “right” or “wrong”. Setting priorities has more to do with YOUR OWN goals. They are always right or important (just not always urgent). So if you want to set the right priorities, you first have to deal with your own wishes and goals - and with the question of how these can be achieved. Especially with long-term goals, many run the risk of losing sight of the little things of everyday life and their chosen path.

Setting priorities: 9 methods

Once you have formulated specific goals and milestones for yourself, there are various methods and instruments to prioritize them ...

Priority List - Bullet Journal

Perhaps the simplest method to set priorities is the priority list (also called "ToDo list" or "Bullet Journal"). This can be a simple sheet of paper or a notebook (or the smartphone). Tasks, wishes and goals are entered there (which is why you should always have it with you) and regularly sorted. Means: prioritized. On the one hand, no thought is lost, at the same time, things that have been done can be ticked off in this list of priorities, making the successes visible. You can also provide the points in the notebook with different symbols and thus indicate their meaning (for you). This also allows structure to be brought into the collection and differentiated according to importance or urgency.

Ivy Lee method

Also a kind of priority list. The legend goes like this: Charles M. Schwab, then President of the steel company Bethlehem Steel Corp., finds the processes in his company ineffective. That's why he meets with the renowned productivity expert Ivy Lee. He then suggests an unusual method - today's "Ivy Lee method": Schwab should take a piece of paper and write down the six most important things that he wants to do the next day. These six points should first be sorted according to importance and then processed in a disciplined manner - without any distraction. Other tasks in between are also not allowed. Only when the first task has been completed does the second work. And so on. What was not achieved at the end of the day is placed on the list of the following day - plus the new tasks, but again only six in total. Schwab is skeptical at first, but after a short time he and his management team are enthusiastic. You can do a lot more and do it more effectively. Out of sheer gratitude, entrepreneur Ivy Lee wrote a check for $ 25,000 - today that would be around 450,000 euros.

ABC method

The ABC method is another variant of the priority list and supposedly takes into account so-called left- and right-brained people. Means: In some people, the left hemisphere dominates, they like numbers, facts, plans, systems. About 90 percent of time management books are made for them. But that's nothing for right-brainers, who supposedly tend to be chaotic, creative, spontaneous. The hairs on the back of their necks stand on end when they only think of plans or fixed appointments. You prefer to decide spontaneously and intuitively. For them there is the so-called ABC method or "ABC analysis": The type of prioritization here is a pretty simple thing. Tasks that arise are only sorted according to their importance: A tasks are very important and are dealt with immediately. B tasks are less important and can therefore be completed or delegated later. Finally, C tasks are hardly important to unimportant. They are completely delegated or rejected (see graphic).

Eisenhower method

The Eisenhower method (or: "Eisenhower matrix") is probably the origin of the ABC method. It goes back to the American General and US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and is essentially reminiscent of a classic mail basket exercise. At that time Eisenhower divided tasks into two categories: important or unimportant; in a hurry or not in a hurry. In order to make the whole thing clearer, these categories are transferred to a matrix (see graphic).

The lower left quadrant is nothing more than a trash can. These tasks can be safely forgotten: neither rushed nor important. A column above it looks different (unimportant, but urgent). You should delegate these jobs. Tasks that are not urgent but important (bottom right) should be entered in the calendar and processed step by step. There are still the obligations at the top right: urgent and important. So do it immediately! Of course it would be pointless to create such a coordinate system on a daily basis. The aim is therefore to internalize the Eisenhower principle so that you can apply it intuitively. The great weakness of this method is that the perception of what is “important” or “urgent” can vary subjectively, so that the division into the individual squares remains error-prone or categories even mix.

ALPS method

The so-called ALPEN method is an acronym and a kind of daily schedule. The term "ALPS" stands for:

➠ Write down tasks
➠ Estimate the length
➠ Plan for buffer time
➠ Prioritize decisions
➠ Follow up (what has been achieved?)

Unfinished business is carried over to the next day.

GTD principle

“GTD” in turn stands for “Getting Things Done” and goes back to the bestselling author David Allen. The idea behind this is to first collect all the tasks that have to be completed and then note them down in a logical system (such as a calendar) in order to free your mind for more important things. Then you just have to decide in a disciplined manner for each new task whether it makes sense and whether it is integrated into the plan so that you always know what the next step is. Or in short: Reduce projects to the next elementary sub-step and structure these steps according to time and place of execution.

3-step method

This method comes from the bestselling author Stephen R. Covey (“The 7 Ways to Effectiveness”) and essentially consists of three theses. These are:

Be proactive. Perhaps Corvey's best-known recommendation: As humans, we make decisions and act on them every day. However, we differ in whether we only react to changes - or anticipate them and intervene proactively - that is, consciously and proactively manage our lives.

Do important things first. Admittedly, “put first things first” sounds more catchy in English. But it doesn't get any more wrong: Whenever you have to deal with a crisis, project or deadline, do the important thing first. Sounds like a rush, but it is easier recommended than implemented. Procrastinators know that.

Start with the end in mind. You could also say: “Always keep an eye on the goal”. Visualization plays an important role for Corvey. Rightly so: Mentally it motivates to get visibly closer to the goal (see: Edward's Law). But it also serves as orientation and helps not to be confused - despite many creative collateral products.

SMART method

The SMART method, in turn, is intended to help you formulate your own goals. The focus is on initially assessing this as realistically as possible and then setting reasonable deadlines. The SMART method is a classic in prioritizing and was developed in 1956. "SMART" is also an acronym and stands for:

10-10-10 method

The 10-10-10 method (also known as the “time travel method”) is essentially about a change of perspective: you should build a distance from your decision dilemma and look at things in the long term. This technology was invented by Suzy Welch, the wife of the ex-General Electric boss Jack Welch. All you have to do is ask yourself three questions:

How will I feel about my decision in 10 minutes?
How will I feel about my decision in 10 months?
How will I feel about my decision in 10 years?

Sounds trivial. It is. Nevertheless, the method helps to focus on the future and on the long-term effects of the choice. If you are looking for a new job, you should go through the 10-10-10 model or the time travel method and ask yourself whether the position will really get you where you want to be in ten years.

But you can already see that there is a lot of jingling about words with all the methods and instruments. The methodology remains essentially the same: Get an overview, collect and prioritize tasks and break them down into realistic sub-steps that you can also achieve during the day so that you stay motivated. What is the right way to prioritize? Ultimately, everyone has to find out for themselves what works for him or her. But it probably comes down to a mix of different techniques - depending on the situation and time. The main thing is that you invest this time to better prioritize.

Wrong priorities: 5 mistakes

Despite their high priority, however, priorities are sometimes set incorrectly. To save you from this fate, we have collected five common mistakes that you should avoid in the future when dealing with your priorities:

1. Priorities don't get time

Priorities should create order, make organization easier and save time, energy and stress. To do this, however, it is necessary to invest sufficient time in advance in order to set the right priorities. In other words: the setting of priorities is already a priority - and the top one. If this circumstance is ignored, the wrong tasks will be given preference even before the ranking is established and the "work in flight blind" begins.

2. Goals are lost from sight

It is actually not difficult to set priorities: You decide which tasks should be done first and work through the list point by point. Unfortunately, new tasks are often and constantly added. Effect: We lose track of all the different projects and open construction sites. It is all the more important to always keep an eye on the big picture. With the long-term perspective in mind, the many small tasks can be better organized and put together like a puzzle.

3. Priorities are not respected

Even the best priorities are worthless if you don't stick to them. Unfortunately, humans tend to deceive themselves. The phone rings all the time, e-mails are loud, a colleague rushes into the office ... All good resolutions are quickly gone and the goals are forgotten.Fatal! Remind yourself that you didn't set your priorities without a reason. Focus on that.

4. Tasks are not or incorrectly delegated

Setting priorities not only means dividing your own tasks, but also considering whether someone else is better suited to take on a part. In this way, results are not only achieved faster - they are usually also better. However, delegating does not mean: "Out of sight, out of mind". Even if a colleague is now taking care of the task: You should still monitor the progress. Or transfer the task to a more suitable candidate.

5. New information is ignored

Priorities are not laws. You can and should question, redefine or set these from time to time. Especially when there is new information or circumstances, these should be taken into account and taken into account, as they may shift previous priorities. Priorities therefore always require a certain flexibility in order to adapt to changes.

Setting priorities also means saying “no”

This, too, is a way of setting priorities: by turning down a request for a favor or simply saying no, we put ourselves and our needs first. OK then! We should be worth it. Setting limits (see free eBook, PDF) protects us from being overwhelmed and exploited. And if you learn to say no, you also gain freedom and reveal mental strength.



The biggest mistake, however, is not to prioritize at all: prioritizing things is a priority itself!

What are the benefits of prioritizing?

Many of the advantages of prioritization have already been heard between the lines. Time and self management offer us the chance to concentrate on the essentials, the things that are really important (for us) in life and to bundle all of our strength, passion and energy there. The focus is always on the question: "What brings me closer to MY goal?" Accordingly, we select the next steps and go through them in this previously determined order - step by step.

That applies to far-reaching decisions, how…

➠ Choice of partner
➠ wedding
➠ Starting a family
➠ career choice
➠ Buying a house
➠ emigration

as well as for daily tasks and decisions like ...

➠ Clean the apartment
➠ choose clothes
➠ Cooking food
➠ raise children
➠ Reply to emails
Maintain relationships

The lists go on and on indefinitely. We live in one Multi-option society. The boundaries between professional and private life are blurring, we can (apparently) do a lot at the same time and are permanently flooded with information - thanks to the smartphone. Researchers therefore speak of a “triple overload”. Priorities create order in this chaos, give us back clarity and security, create a better overview and help us to move relevant things forward. Be it as a simple daily plan or as a bucket list of the most important life goals.

Priorities act like a compass. They prevent unnecessary detours and thus help save time and energy. At the same time, you create new leeway by shifting the unimportant. This in turn leads to more self-determination and satisfaction. We think: These are reasons and advantages enough to set more and better priorities in the future.


Nobody is too busy. It's all a question of the right priorities.

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