How To Set Priorities In Life For Success

85% of Americans say they don’t know how to prioritize as well as they would like. Have you ever missed a deadline, forgotten something important, or not accomplished something you’d like to do? If so, learning how to set priorities could be the answer.

Setting priorities is one of the most important skills to master in order to achieve success in life. It can be difficult to determine what is truly important and where to focus your time and energy. This is why it’s so essential to prioritize tasks. By sitting down to think critically about which to-do’s are most important–which ones will “move the needle” toward your goals–you can accomplish your dreams and plans more quickly.

In this article, I will share a practical guide with my best tips on how to set priorities in life to realize success. You’ll learn how to evaluate tasks, determine top priorities, and the best methods of carrying out the specific tasks that are necessary.

The Importance of Setting Priorities in Life

Setting priorities is essential for personal and professional success. Without clear priorities, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks and responsibilities we face on a daily basis. Setting priorities is crucial for effective time management, focus, goal achievement, stress reduction, and decision-making.

Before you get started with your personal priorities, take a minute to look into the future. Where do you want to be five years from today? Create a mental picture of your ideal, best future, and then think about the steps you’d need to take to make it a reality.

Remember, it doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that really matters is where you are going. And making a priorities list–including the daily priorities and even the unpleasant tasks that will help you reach your life goals–is the quickest way to get there.

Essential Steps to Setting Priorities in Your Life

Prioritizing tasks will help you narrow in on the granular, day-to-day work you need to do in order to realize the big picture. Here are the key steps you need to follow to set your priorities and get started with all the tasks that are necessary.

Step #1: Clarify Your Values and Vision

Before you can drill down into priorities and tasks, you need to first identify your core values and beliefs. These are the things that matter most to you in life. Examples might include integrity, hope, compassion, family, honesty, justice, fun, innovation, or health. It’s important to know what these are because they inform the way you live your life.

Next, define your long-term vision and purpose. Think of your vision as your “why.” Vision helps you zoom out and look at the big picture, understanding the most important things that you’d like to accomplish in life. The purpose is similar. Your purpose gives your life direction. Often, purpose relates to your unique gifts or talents.

You should prioritize your goals based on your values and vision. For instance, maybe one of your core values is justice, and you have the vision to start a nonprofit. In that case, your goals might be to figure out what social issue matters most to you and how you could meet the need; choose a name, and mission statement, become incorporated, file for tax-exempt status; and create a business plan.

This is just one example. Everyone has different values and beliefs. However, it’s important to understand that you need to know what matters to you before you can begin prioritizing your life.

If you need help setting the right kind of goals, start with my SMART Goals Cheat Sheet. This free resource walks you through how to clarify your goals and focus your effort. It’s a good starting place for anyone hoping to learn how to set priorities. And from there, you’ll be on your way to success.

Step #2: Evaluate the Importance and Urgency

Sit down and write a list of all your tasks and responsibilities. Include tasks that are related to your job or professional life; your personal life; and any other things you’d like to accomplish. From here, you’ll order your list according to which tasks are most important to help achieve your goals, and which ones are least important.

Once you’ve determined how your tasks rank, start by knocking out the most important ones first. Never give in to the temptation to clear up small things first. Don’t start at the bottom of your list and work up to the important tasks at the top. While this is a natural human tendency, it’s not effective or efficient.

When you begin clearing up your small tasks, you seem to attract more and more small tasks to work on. This doesn’t increase productivity. The longer and harder you work, the more small tasks seem to arise. By the end of the day, you will be exhausted, and you won’t have accomplished anything of value. This is why I recommend always starting with your most important work first.

Step #3: Determine Your Top Priorities

Categorize the tasks on your list into “high priority,” “medium priority,” and “low priority.” Here’s a hint: The items that align best with your values and vision will have the greatest impact on your success.

If you’re struggling to figure out which single task to start with, try using a tactic I like to call the ABCDE Method. Here’s how it works:

  • “A” items are the most important and must be done
  • “B” items only have minor consequences if they don’t get done
  • “C” tasks have no consequences
  • “D” tasks should be delegated to someone else so you can focus your energy on “A” tasks
  • “E” items are not truly necessary and should be eliminated

Once you have your list written out, start with “A” tasks first. If needed, it’s okay to have multiple “A” tasks. Write them as A-1, A-2, A-3, etc.

Step #4: Assess Potential Roadblocks

When it comes to goal setting, like most things in life, it’s best to be proactive. Brainstorm any obstacles or roadblocks you might run into as you’re trying to complete the most important thing on your list. Then figure out how you will approach those problems to avoid distractions and keep your productivity up.

This problem-solving mentality is a good perspective to have. Unfortunately, life is not smooth sailing all the time–so you’ll save yourself time and headaches later if you tackle your goals and other tasks with solutions prepared in your back pocket.

You can also think about the potential consequences of completing or not completing each task. If a task has serious consequences, make it a high priority. An example of a task with consequences might be a report that your boss needs for an important meeting. If you don’t get this important task done, it will reflect badly on the company and on you. Tasks with consequences should take priority. Easier or smaller tasks can wait.

Step #5: It’s Okay to Say No

Setting priorities also means learning to say no to tasks that are not important or do not align with your goals. This will help you stay focused on your most important tasks and prevent you from getting sidetracked by less important ones.

If you’re like many people, you might have trouble saying no. This could be because you want people to like you; you’re afraid of conflict; or you enjoy staying busy and helping others. While these are all natural reasons, you can’t do everything. And if you feel like you have too many priorities, this could be a sign you need to learn to say no.

Don’t feel guilty about turning down a request. Here are some phrases to use:

  • “Unfortunately, I don’t have the bandwidth for that right now.”
  • “I’m afraid I can’t. Maybe ask X instead?”
  • “I’m honored you asked me, but I can’t fit this in at the moment.”

Step #6: Create A Plan

Once you’ve determined your priorities, make a plan to tackle each task. Break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps, and set deadlines for each milestone. This will help you stay on track and make progress toward your goals.

Remember, the first 20% of any task usually accounts for 80% of the value of that task. Once you begin working on that task, the first 20% of the time that you spend planning and organizing the resources necessary to achieve the task usually accounts for 80% of your success. In setting priorities, always focus on the first 20% of the task. Get on with it and get it done. The next 80% will tend to flow smoothly once the first 20% is complete.

For example, if you’re in sales, getting the initial appointment where you meet face-to-face with the decision maker is the first 20% of the transaction. But it accounts for 80% of the value in the entire sales process. The presentation, the closing of the sale, the follow-up, and the delivery of the product or service represent the second 80% which only accounts for 20% of the value. This is why you need to identify where to start with each task and then dive right in.

Step #7: Re-Evaluate Regularly

Our priorities in life can change over time. This is natural and okay. But it means you need to re-evaluate regularly. This will help you stay focused on your goals, and ensure that you’re putting your time and energy into the tasks that matter most right now.

Schedule time in your calendar on a regular basis to review your goals, set priorities, and plan ahead. You might choose to do this once every quarter. Reflect on your current goals and consider whether they still fit your vision and purpose. If so, continue with your task list full speed ahead. If not, you may need to tweak those goals–or, in some cases, go back to the drawing board to come up with new ones.

Additional Tips to Help You Commit to Setting Priorities

Be Realistic

Yes–there is such a thing as having too many priorities. And if you’re overdoing it with setting goals, you’re going to be vulnerable to distractions, burnout, and negative feelings. A long to-do list is not always better! How many priorities is too many? Stay realistic about your abilities, resources, and energy: I recommend focusing on no more than 3-5 priorities at any given time.

Identify What’s Urgent

An urgent task is something that needs attention right away. This could be a phone call that needs answering, or someone asking you to edit a project. Keep in mind that an “urgent” task is not necessarily the same thing as an “important” task. Tasks that are important help move the needle with your long-term goals and plans. This is why important tasks should usually take precedence over urgent ones.

Make A To-Do List

Put your organizational skills to work and prioritize tasks by always working from a list. When something new comes up, add it to the list before you do it. I recommend taking a few minutes at the end of each workday to write a to-do list for the next day.

Focus on What’s Important

Not all of your to-do list items have to get done right away. Figure out what’s most important and start there. Remember, the one task that is likely the most important at any given time is the one that’s going to contribute to your long-term goals. If a task is both important and urgent, it needs to get done right away. But if the items on your list are either important or urgent, do the important ones now, and schedule a time later for the urgent ones.

Break It Down

Painlessly set priorities by using the ABCDE method outlined earlier in this article. Then give yourself clear deadlines for each task. Working through a series of small, bite-sized tasks feels much less intimidating than jumping headfirst into big ones.

Be Flexible

I wish I could tell you that your plans are going to go off without a hitch, and you’ll easily achieve your goals in no time at all. But you and I both know this probably isn’t true. Life happens. Schedules change. Problems arise. This is why you need to be flexible–able and willing to pivot at a moment’s notice. Make it easier to adapt by proactively coming up with solutions to potential problems.


You don’t have to always do everything by yourself–especially certain tasks that might not fit your skill set. Learn the art of delegation to get more done in less time. To delegate effectively, find someone who has the skills and knowledge needed for this task. Then, if they’re available, be clear about the timeline, outcome, and other expectations you’re looking for. Make yourself available to answer any questions throughout the process.

Take Breaks

Taking breaks might seem counterintuitive if you’re working hard to achieve your priorities and goals. But in reality, rest and play are important parts of the process. Take off at least one day each week where you do nothing except rest–spend time with family or friends, move your body, participate in a hobby you enjoy, whatever it looks like for you. You will find that you feel refreshed and ready to jump back in.

Celebrate Progress

All work and no celebration is a fast track to burnout. Don’t forget to stop once in a while, look around at everything you’ve accomplished, and pat yourself on the back. Whether you take a vacation, treat yourself to a nice dinner out, or simply acknowledge that you’re doing a great job, it’s important to celebrate the progress you’re making toward achieving your goals. Congratulations on a job well done!

Learn to Set Priorities For Success

Setting priorities is a key ingredient for achieving success in life. By clarifying your values and vision, determining your top priorities, creating a plan and schedule, and being flexible and adaptable, you can achieve your goals and live a fulfilling life. 

Remember to regularly re-evaluate your priorities, adjust your plan and schedule when necessary, and learn to say no when something doesn’t align with your values and vision. With these practical tips, you can set priorities in life for success.

If you need help setting the right kind of goals, start with my SMART Goals Cheat Sheet. This free resource walks you through how to clarify your goals and focus your effort. It’s a good starting place for anyone hoping to learn how to set priorities. And from there, you’ll be on your way to success.

About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.

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