There is no single word more misconstrued in life today than the word priority. Also, the word “priorities” is really a fallacy. By definition, priority is a singular word. The dictionary defines it as the fact or condition of being regarded or treated as more important than others.
The word, priority came into the English language only a few hundred years ago. It was singular and it meant the very first or prior thing. Only in the last century did we pluralize the term priority and start talking about “priorities”. By doing so, we reasoned we could change its meaning.
Somehow we have fooled ourselves into thinking that we can have more than a single priority at any given time. Having multiple “priorities” gives us the false notion that we can somehow live in an alternative reality and bend that reality to our will. We think we can “do it all”. We can’t.
Here’s the thing: When we say that we’ve “multiple priorities”, what we’re really saying that nothing’s a priority. When everything is important, nothing is important. In other words, we haven’t taken the time to discover our single true priority.
And it’s not just about the semantics either; we should be careful with our use of language.
I do think that priority:priorities what unitasking:multitasking. There is no such thing as “multitasking” and our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. The same is true of priority — there is no plural or “multi” form.
Determining a priority isn’t difficult or vague. Either something is a priority or it’s not. If something is a priority, what have you sacrificed today to prove that?
Here’s how you know if something is a priority: If it’s a priority, it’s already done. Because priority is determined by what you do, not what you say you do. In other words, your actions define your priority. If what you’re doing is at odds with what you’re saying your priority is, then you need to close that gap by being honest with yourself and evaluate your actions and motives.
Let’s say you have a list of things (not priorities) that are “important” to you; only one of the things on that list can be a priority at any given time. What that means is that at any given time, only one of the things can and will take precedence over everything else on that list. That’s how you discover your priority.
Here is one way you can define priority: If you had access to all the tools, opportunities, time, and energy you needed, what’s the most important or time-sensitive thing you could do right now?
In other words, you’re asking yourself, “What’s important now?” And, as a result of asking that question, you’re prioritizing that one thing over everything else. It’s a conscious decision. Priority is relative. That’s not to say that your priority can’t change from time to time — it sure can, and that’s okay.
All this to say, that at any point in our lives, we ought to have a priority in some form or another, be it an action, a project, an area of focus, or what have you.
Let’s say you choose to work on a particular task for the day — that task becomes your priority for the entire day. It means that you’ve chosen to prioritize that task over all other tasks on your list for the duration of that day. That means you’ll work on completing that task before doing anything else.
Priority can also be a project. For instance, you might be trying to meet a project deadline, in which case the project takes precedence over anything you’re doing at work.
Priority can also be an area of focus such as work, family, etc. For instance, you can have an area of focus for a priority over a period of time. Then you’re simply using that area to inform all the choices and decisions you make.
All of this to say that priority is a singular word. The next time you use the word priority, let’s be more cognizant and intentional with using it correctly.
We need to evaluate our actions and choices on a consistent basis to be more conscious of our priority and to ensure that our priority is in alignment with what we say and what we do. Failing to do this would mean that we’ll just follow a weaving path without any focus.