Priorities. Sometimes it sounds like a dirty word. Even when you are managing them well, it can feel like you are just keeping your head above water. And when you aren’t, it can feel like a mountain of failure – both for the task at hand and everything else you are supposed to be handling.

Becoming a mom helped me start putting things in perspective. When my kids were just infants, I was up multiple times each night to breastfeed them. After a couple years of broken sleep and exhaustion, I started to prioritize resting over nearly everything else – dinners out, wine, social activities. Even now I am incredibly protective of my sleep,  remembering how painful the next day could be with not enough down time.

At work, we are asked to juggle priorities all of the time. And mothers, who are used to serving and cutting up food, grabbing that cup before it spills, feeding themselves, and having a conversation all at the same time are adapt at multi-tasking and making it work. If you can get two kids ready and out the door in time for school, you can manage the various stakeholder priorities in the office as well.

Still, managing priorities is tough – even for the most adept multi-tasker. So why do they haunt us, pull at us and demand our attention? Why won’t they stay in line?

Here’s why- we shouldn’t manage our priorities, we choose them. When we are managing, we are listening to other people’s priorities – our boss, our kids, our spouse – and  adjusting to these competing and changes needs. But when we consciously choose our priorities based on our own values and goals – whether  career success, family, or personal well-being  – our decisions become easier. There is time for what is needed, and choices become clearer. Suddenly, the world becomes quieter and calmer.

To be fair, we don’t always get to choose what’s most important in every moment. Sometimes our boss changes their mind, throwing a wrench in the direction we were moving. Sometimes the school decides next week is crazy hair day, or our kid forgets to tell us that their science fair project is due tomorrow. But once you are choosing your priorities in alignment with your goals, these pop-up attention seekers will be slight detours in your path rather than causing tornados inside of chaos.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my priorities? Are they aligned with my values or goals? Or are they imposed on me?
  • What can I do to have more choice about how to spend my time?
  • In what ways can I better work towards my goals (or live my values) through the ways I choose what is important?
  • How does choosing my priorities make me feel?