Get Your Priorities Straight: 6 Proven Steps

Note: This post is written by Jane Cui

Do you want to start a new blog? Play the piano? Lose weight? Get rid of debt? Spend more time with family and friends?

In this article, I want to show you how you can do everything you’ve dreamt of doing.

But the secret is – you can’t do everything at once. You have to prioritize, and focus on completing two or three things before you move on to other endeavors.

In his TED talk, Scott Dinsmore talks about getting your priorities straight so that you can do the things you want with your life. Here are the steps:

1. Make a List of What You Really Want

Warren Buffett once asked his airplane pilot, “What are your dreams in life?” And the pilot started to talk about all his aspirations.

The pilot said that he wanted to get a lot done, but was frustrated because he would work on one project, and get distracted by another. Eventually he would get overwhelmed, and give up.

Buffett listened, and told the pilot to make a list of the 25 things he wants to do.

Your first step: make a list of what you want to do.

2. Pick Your Top 5 Priority Items

Continuing the story, the pilot wrote his list, and Buffett told him to circle his top 5 things most important to him. The pilot obliged, and then said to Buffett: “Ok, I understand. I will focus on these 5 things. They will be my priority.”

Now from your list, pick the top 5 most important ones. Circle them with a red marker. These are the important items you should focus on and prioritize.

Whether you want to be a better parent, get a raise, or master watercolor painting, these should be the most important and meaningful things that you can do right now.

3. Eliminate Non-Priority Items

Now that you have picked your top 5 priority items, I want to go back to Warren Buffett’s story. In the story, the pilot has circled his 5 priority items out of the 25 things on his to do list.

He then put the lower-priority items on another list.

“What do you do with the list you didn’t circle?” Buffett asked.

The pilot responded: “They are lower priority, so I can do them in my spare time.”

Buffett told his pilot that this was the wrong answer.

“No”, he said, “You should avoid the lower-priority items at all cost. They are distractions.”

“No matter what, don’t give any attention to the other list. It should be avoided until everything on the priority list is done.”

Surprising, isn’t it? But it makes sense, because we can’t do everything all at once. Buffett’s message is clear: “eliminate all distractions”.

4. Understand That Without Your Priorities, You Will Be Unproductive

Would you rather cleanly finish five things, or leave twenty things half-finished? Would you rather be excellent at two things, or average at twenty?

Don’t spread yourself too thin. By having priorities, you can focus on what you need the most. When you eliminate second-rate choices, it’s easy to see the most important thing to do right now.

5. Make Your Priorities a Habit

The first step is knowing your priorities. The second step is sticking to them.

One of my top priorities is exercising three times a week. I need to do this because I eat a lot, and I sit in an office chair for eight hours a day.

When I first started my job seven months ago, I lost my habit of going to the gym. I’d tell myself that “I’m too tired after work” and “I would rather go eat tacos right now.”

In that first month, I only exercised twice.

To build my habit of going to the gym three times a week, I laid out exercise clothes in front of my door. And I put post-it notes all over my desk saying “Going to the gym at 6pm!” I also tracked every single day I exercised on my exercise calendar (which is just a piece of paper that I put underneath my phone cover).

Do whatever you have to do to build a habit of doing your priorities. If you need help, you can read the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

6. Improve Every Day by 1%

It’s really difficult to improve by 50% or even 10% in a single day. But what about 1%?

Can you run 1% longer today than yesterday? Can you be 1% better at job hunting? Can you write 40 words a day for that book you’ve been meaning to write? Probably.

Think about your priorities. You have a list of them. That was the easy part, writing everything down. But the important and more difficult thing is to keep it up. Ideally you want to build a habit and keep it up every day.

Start small so you won’t be tempted to give up. If you improve by 1% every single day, you will be twice as good a year from now!

Jane Cui is a Career Specialist and and content writer at She enjoys writing articles about productivity, job seeking, and personal finance. You can contact her on Twitter.