“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey
One of the primary issues my clients repeatedly confront is accurately identifying their priorities. It sounds simple enough but can actually be a frustratingly elusive task to complete.
The task is difficult because it is often muddled by a lifetime of accomplishments and fears that unshakably cling to every thought; making objective introspection very challenging.
For that reason, an indirect approach can be the single most effective way of revealing what actually lies at the crux of someone’s personal goals and motivations. Outlined below are some that I have found particularly successful:
1) The Personal Goal Collage: Simply take a few hours to pour through magazine, book, and internet images to collect every image that strikes you in some way. They don’t have to make any sense at the outset. Your main goal is just to establish a visual representation for things that interest or inspire you; things that you relate to; things that you wish you could do. Then paste each image to a large poster board to make your personal collage.
By acting upon your gut reactions to simple images, your mind sidesteps it’s usual hang ups and you can cut through to your motivations or goals on a deeper and more fundamental level. After completing your collage, evaluate each image to think more critically about why you included it, what it means, and how you can incorporate that motivation into your current life.
Additional discussion of this type of goal visualization exercise can be found at Brad Isaac’s blog Persistence Unlimited: Goal Visualization: Create Your Own Goal Collage.
2) Stream of Consciousness: This is like the Personal Collage only done through written word rather than images. Again the goal is to tap into your gut reactions by taking pen to paper and writing down anything that comes into your mind when thinking of prompts like “personal goals” or “in the future” or “I wish I could”.
In this process, censorship is your enemy and freedom of thought is key. Once you have written everything that comes to mind you can begin reviewing. You will likely be surprised by how quickly patterns emerge. It is in those patterns that your true priorities will reveal themselves.
3) Reality v. Ideal Time Chart: For those of you who prefer to work in more linear thought endeavors, a Time Chart may be the most useful. Essentially, you work to identify how much time you currently spend on various tasks (including time with family, friends, work, play, etc). Them take another sheet of paper and identify how you would like to be spending your time.
By quantifying the difference between how you currently spend your energy and how you would like to spend your energy, you can easily see how your priorities are balanced (or unbalanced, as the case may be).
4) Letter Looking Back: This has also been referred to as the Eulogy approach because it asks you to write about your life’s accomplishments as if they have already occurred. However you phrase it, the goal here is to identify what accomplishments you would like to have completed before aging or dying.
Draft the note as if you were recollecting the best moments of your life. Be specific. What do you want to be remembered for? Who do you want to remember you? What impact do you hope to have and on whom? After completing the note, evaluate how your current life compares to the one you just wrote about. What things, big and small, need to change in order to transform your current life into the one you would like to lead?
5) Idols and Mentors: This is perhaps the most obvious and basic of all. Take note of who your personal idols or mentors are. Who do you admire and why? What parts of their lives and accomplishments would you like to emulate? Why?
Then brainstorm how can you incorporate those admirable accomplishments and traits into your own endeavors. What would it take to build a relationship with them to strengthen their mentorship? Working with a mentor you admire can be an incredibly effective tool for constructing the type of life (personal or professional) you would like and for getting some much needed support through the process.