Take Their Advice:
Psychologists' Tips for Setting and Implementing Priorities

My intention when I started our free interview series Deft Decisions in Chaotic Conditions: How Experts Create Order from Turmoil was to solicit information and advice from a wide range of experts to help people learn how to set, align, and implement priorities effectively. Along the way, I began to wonder why some people seem to set and implement priorities easily while others struggle. Consequently, I identified three psychologists who graciously agreed to share their professional insights and provide some ideas about how people can improve their skills in setting and implementing priorities. Here is a sample of their comments and suggestions.

  1. Identify the things that you value (e.g., relationships, accomplishments). Our priorities are derived from our values. When we struggle to accomplish stated priorities, often it's because they are not aligned with our values.
  2. Identify goals and priorities that have personal meaning. Break them down into manageable steps so they don't seem overwhelming. Make sure the goals and priorities are specific, measurable, and achievable (overall as well as the specific steps).
  3. Partnering with someone increases the likelihood that you will implement the priorities you set.
  4. Be realistic about your talents and abilities as you identify priorities so you don't set yourself up for failure.
  5. View the inevitable glitches as challenges rather than as obstacles. Treat them as opportunities to exercise your creativity to overcome them rather than as setbacks that knock you off track.
  6. Celebrate progress toward accomplishing the priorities as well as their actual achievement.
  7. Because many people take the path of least resistance when it comes to their careers, an estimated 80% of individuals are in careers they don't like. To set and implement new career-related priorities, take a one-credit course at a community college in career counseling and testing. Allocate a small amount of time every day to do something that will take you closer to making this change.
  8. Identify the things that are holding you back from setting and/or implementing priorities. Common obstacles include a variety of fears (e.g., of failure), risk aversion, lack of self-esteem, depression, or dislike of the task.
  9. Become aware of the negative "chatter" or self-talk in your head that makes you doubt your ability to set or implement priorities. Often we establish or buy into ridiculous, illogical "rules" or beliefs that set us up for failure (e.g., "I can be perfect," "I can do anything"). Write these thoughts down and begin to identify the negative patterns so you can modify them. Cognitive behavioral therapy often is used to tear away the "must/should" tyranny that impedes individuals' progress toward goals and priorities.
  10. Ask for professional, confidential help if necessary. Students generally have access to counseling services on campus, and employers often offer employee assistance programs. Outside of school and work, assistance is available through sources like community agencies, mental health centers, and referrals by professionals.

To learn more about the insights and suggestions provided by these psychologists, you may listen to their interviews on the Business Alignment Strategies web site.

What one small step will you take today to begin to improve your skills in setting and implementing priorities?

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.

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