What Are Your Life Priorities? The Way You Spend Your Time and Money Will Reveal The Truth

priorities time and money
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Using the Magnifying Glass tool is a way to examine how you spend your time and money and to better understand your priorities in life

What are your priorities in life? How do you prioritise things you spend your time, money, and energy on? Which prioritisation method do you employ to make decisions and plan your schedule?

What is prioritisation and what does it mean?

Prioritisation (or prioritization) is about how we order things according to perceived worth. The Oxford Dictionary definition is:

“The action or process of deciding the relative importance or urgency of a thing or things.”

We all have priorities, whether we recognise them or not. If when we do think we know what our priorities are it is good to reflect on our actions to see how well what we think we value, and our behaviours, align. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

“Action expresses priorities” – Gandhi

Most revealing of all is when we choose one thing over another as competing priorities demonstrate what we value the most. In other words, our decisions are influenced by our principles.

The challenge of competing priorities: an example of prioritisation

I started playing the guitar in my teens, but I had never really improved beyond a certain level.  Why? Quite simply it was because I never practised enough.  It was not that I did not like playing the guitar; it was just that I enjoyed other things more.

In my dreams, I could play like Jimi Hendrix.  In my mind’s eye, I could see myself saving the day at a gig, strolling onto the stage to replace an injured lead guitarist, and stunning my friends with amazing solos, my fingers a blur on the fretboard!  But there was a big difference between successful guitarists and me. That difference went beyond just raw talent (of which I had very little). 

Guitar legends such as Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton would pick a guitar up at the beginning of the day and would hardly put it down until they went to bed; it is like an extension of their body.  I rarely picked mine up at all.  When practising I got frustrated or bored quickly. If I had the choice between practising for an hour or going to the gym, I would generally choose the latter.

I realised that even though I loved the guitar, I loved other things more. It was an important lesson in understanding priorities. I am now at peace with my guitar playing (and feel less guilty about my lack of practice) because I understand that my values mean that I will often prioritise other activities. This is not a bad thing, it is just a reflection of my principles.

Values and Priorities: The Magnifying Glass Tool

I think of examining priorities like using a magnifying glass. I tend to carry a magnifying glass on my travels, even if it is just a small one as part of my compass. The magnifying glass helps to enlarge our vision to reveal hidden details. It also amplifies the light we shine on something, so much so that we can even use it to create heat, even fire. 

When considering the ‘Why’ question (as part of The Right Questions framework) and exploring our values (our compass) we can see how the examination of priorities (using the magnifying glass) relates to the exploration of our passions (the fire-starter) as discussed previously. 

Understanding your priorities by using the Magnifying Glass Tool

The best way to examine our priorities is to look at the evidence of how we spend our time and money. The Magnifying Glass tool does just that. It is effectively an audit of our schedule and finances. This is because, as journalist and author Germany Kent points out:

“A person’s actions will ALWAYS tell you what their priorities are. People spend their time, money, and energy on what’s important to them.” – Germany Kent

To do the analysis effectively you want to examine at least three months. This helps to even out any anomalies in your usual habits. If you can choose an even longer period then so much the better; the more data you use, the more accurate your conclusions are likely to be.

Examining financial choices

Look at your bank and credit card statements and answer the following questions:

  • What are the main areas of spending? 
  • What proportion goes to each category of spend? 
  • For the ‘essentials’ (for example spending on housing, food, utilities, tax etc) how does your spending compare with average spending in your location or demographic? If there is a difference, what might this infer about your values?
  • Of the money left over, what do you choose to spend your discretionary income on? What do these things (travel, eating out, fashion, music etc) reveal in terms of your prioritisation?
  • How much do you save versus spending on pleasures and pastimes? How does this reflect your priorities?
  • Is there anything you think you should change to better reflect your principles?

Life hack tip: Money Management

Examining how you spend your money is much easier with the help of some software. Fortunately, many online banking apps can help you easily identify where your money goes and can even create helpful reports. Alternatively, you can download financial information in .csv (or similar file types) for further analysis using a spreadsheet or other application. 

Analysing the use of time

Look at your diary, schedule or calendar and answer these questions:

  • What are the main uses of your time? 
  • What proportion goes to each use of time? 
  • For the ‘essentials’ (for example sleeping, eating etc) how does your time compare with the average time spent in your location or demographic? If there is a difference, what might this infer about your values?
  • Of the time left over, what do you do with your spare time? What do these things (watching screens, social media, sports, vacations etc) reveal in terms of your prioritisation?
  • How much do you work versus spending time with friends, family or on pastimes? How does this reflect your priorities?
  • Is there anything you think you should change to better reflect your principles?                       

Life hack tip: Time Management

As with money, analysing time is often easier with the use of an online tool. I use my online calendar with colour coding that represents different categories of activity that reflect my life priorities. I use a weekly calendar view and block time out each day, usually in segments of thirty minutes or more. This is my main time management system and it helps me to effectively plan forward, according to my priorities, as well as make it easy to review how I have spent my time.

“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.” – Stephen Covey, First Things First (1994)

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