How prioritizing can make you unpopular, and give you your life back


This is a simple guide to prioritizing your time and making sure you’re getting all you can out of it.

When I was a freshman in high school I was introduced to this method of prioritizing by my world history teacher, Mr. Mazzarella.

We were told to prioritize our time in this simple way:

  1. 1. Do what you have to
  2. 2. Do what you want to
  3. 3. Do nothing else

The basic idea is simple; when faced with a task, an activity or a to-do, pause for a minute and reflect on whether it’s something you “have to do” or something you “want to do”. If it fits in neither category, you can either discard it, or shelve it for another time.

This strategy only works if you do it in that exact order. The “have to’s” come first and only once they are completed can the “want to’s” get done. This makes sure you’re not procrastinating the “have to’s” with “want to’s”.

This was extremely helpful in school because there were a lot of “have to’s” (schoolwork, studying, tutoring hours, papers, etc.) and the “want to’s” were pretty basic (go out to eat, meet up with friends, sleep in, etc.), but as I got older I realized this principle was getting harder and harder to follow and not become unpopular.

Now that I have the typical 9-5, it’s easy to assume all of the “have to’s” fall into this timeframe, but with a mortgage, housework, bills, etc. the “have to’s” are non-negotiable and take up a lot of my time.

But they still get done, and they have to get done first.

Only when work is done, the bills are paid, the house is clean(ish) can I start working on what I want to do.

Now that I’m older, the “want to’s” are getting bigger, more goal oriented. I’ve realized now that what I want to do is more goal-oriented (paint the house, take a trip, pay off the car), and less of the instant gratification. This has become the fun part of prioritizing now and I see myself planning more of my future.

Obviously there are still times when the “want to’s” include a more short-lived goal like getting a workout in or calling my mom, but I always make time to do them. (Trust me, you will thank yourself for getting some of your “want to’s” in every day.)

Ah, now for #3.

The hardest part as an active adult is to have life balance. Too often I try to say yes to friends, family and even myself, when I should really be saying no.

Take a look around you. If you can spot the exhausted, overwhelmed and frustrated person in the room, you’ve found the person who can’t follow rule #3.  (Note: If you can’t spot that person, it’s probably you.)

Learning to do nothing more than what you “want to” or “have to” is a difficult subject. It may mean saying no to friends when they invite you somewhere you don’t really like, or saying no when someone asks you to dog-sit.  If you don’t like dogs, why are you even considering saying yes?

The lesson in all of this is finding your voice to say no. If you don’t have to do something, and you don’t want to do something, why the hell are you?

If everything is important, then nothing is important. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.

– Garr Reynolds

I’ve recently had to say “no” more often to friends by stating that I simply don’t have time to do some of the social things they’ve invited me to, and some of them aren’t taking this well.

I had to laugh though, when a friend who’s house is in foreclosure, their car just got totaled and they’re still looking for work, invited me out for drinks on a Monday night, and got mad when I said no. Wouldn’t figuring out your career/car/house situation be a “have to” at that point?

It will soon become obvious to you that using this method may weed out some of these friends who simply won’t understand taking control of your time and only participating in social events that you actually want to be a part of. But, I promise that when the dust has settled and you look around, the friends who are still inviting you places and trying to see you, are the one’s who you should actually want to be spending your precious time with.

Now I challenge you to take a look at all of your to-do lists and try to find the “have to’s” and the “want to’s”, and get rid of all that other clutter. Trust me, you won’t miss it.

Post author

Jessica is a graphic artist at 3GEngagement who enjoys all the intricacies of design, the small things in life and good coffee.

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