One simple way to increase productivity is to say no to any priorities that are not in your top 100. (note that a “priority” is everything, you spend more than a few hours doing per month).
Whaaa? “But I thought I can only have 3 priorities”
A lot of people say, “you can only have three priorities.” But everyone has way more. Most people are juggling 300 things … not 100).
In my opinion, each person you love is an individual priority.
Maybe you’re fanatic about your sleep. If so, that’s a priority.
If you binge-watch The Sopranos, that is a priority for you.
And yes, if you spend more than a few hours a month cleaning your house, it is a priority … your time does not lie.
I’m not talking about macro goals like “build a profitable startup.” There are many smaller projects and workstreams that go into a macro goal like that.
Imagine if an invisible evil elf teleported to your home from the Planet Krytonii and secretly recorded your every move for the last few months. What would Mr. Evil Elf have noted? Those are your priorities … your time does not lie.
If you spend a few hours on something per month, it’s a priority.
Each person you love in your life is a priority. (5-50)
You could have 5-50 people in your life that you spend a few hours a month hanging out with. Each of those people is a priority. These could be your kids, your spouse, your parents, your best friends, your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, etc. If you spend time repeatedly with someone, they are a priority. Even your coworkers.
If you spend 10 hours a month with someone you hate, they are actually a priority in your life. A very big priority. Even if you detest them, they are a priority. Even if you deny vehemently that they are a priority, they are a priority. Your time does not lie.
If you don’t want something to be a priority, spend less time on it.
Your community could be a priority. (1-10)
If you go to church every Sunday – even if it’s a video conference – that’s a priority. Other community activities could be priorities like fundraising for your kids’ school or volunteering at an animal shelter, or even cultivating an online community on social media.
Your hobbies are priorities. (1-5)
If you play sports or collect rocks or take photographs or watch your favorite TV show for fun – these are all priorities.
If you are taking Spanish lessons, learning Spanish is a priority. But so is your Spanish teacher (or the app you are using) — they are both priorities. It is important to get both right. Do you really want to be learning Spanish? If so, then are you learning from the right person or app?
Your health is a priority. (1-5)
If you spend time cooking really great, healthy meals for your family, or work out five days a week, those are priorities. Or maybe you play sports with friends, like basketball or tennis – also priorities.
Sleep is a priority for everyone — it might be a bigger priority for some people than others — but there is no way around sleeping.
Eating is a priority for everyone that does not slurp Solent for every meal. (crazy note: I actually did that for a month when we started SafeGraph … and I definitely do NOT recommend it)
Your work has multiple priorities. (2-20)
Depending on your job description and position, you could have between 2 and 20 priorities at work. Whether you’re a product designer or the CEO, you likely have more priorities than you think when you start counting the hours you spend against each task.
If you spend time commuting … then yes, that is a priority.
You only have time for maximum 100 priorities.
Everything you spend time on takes away time from something else. If you decide to read a book — that book is a priority.
If you are spending time on things that you do not enjoy or are not fulfilling, try to find a way not to do them. You may still have many priorities you do not enjoy … but try to have just one fewer (it will make a big difference in your life).
This is why you need to be very careful about what you prioritize – you don’t have unlimited time.
One simple way to increase productivity is to say no to any priority that’s not in your top 100.
If you can get down to 75, that’s fantastic. You’ll never get below 50.
Too many people spread out time like peanut butter and say yes to everything. They spend big chunks of time on priorities that are outside their top 100. This dilutes the time they have to spend quality energy on those priorities within their top 100.
Everyone wants to try something new, to explore a new space, to learn a new skill. But to increase productivity, you actually have to say NO to new, seemingly exciting priorities outside your top 100.
In my recent article, Don’t Choose What To Do, Choose What Not To Do, I write:
“The number one thing that smart people do wrong is that they overvalue optionality. Contrary to popular belief, you should put yourself in a small box and limit your options so that you are clear and focused.“
Limit your options by sticking to your top 100 priorities. This way, you can focus on what matters.
Add new priorities at your peril.
Warren Buffett has a great analogy for buying stocks. He tells you to imagine you have a ticket with only 20 slots in it, and these slots represent the total amount of investments you can make in your life. Under those conditions, you’d contemplate very carefully and think deeply about investing.
Well, the same is true for adding priorities. It’s like your investment ticket, but instead of 20 slots, there is a maximum of 100. Think about each new priority carefully, and consider whether it deserves a place on your ticket. This will make sure that the priorities you add really deserve to be there.
It’s also worth considering which priorities you can drop off if you decide to add a new one. It’s easy to get stretched out if you add without subtracting at the same time.
Saying no to new priorities is a skill you can hone.
Learning how to say no eloquently is one priority you should add to your top 100 because it will protect all the other ones currently in there!
It’s not easy to say no to new endeavors, but you can get better at it with practice. Protecting your time is an incredibly important skill that compounds over time. As Buffett says:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Stick with maximum 100 priorities. It’s all you have time for.
Special thanks to Thomas Waschenfelder for his help and edits.
<iframe src="https://auren.substack.com/embed" width="480" height="320" style="border:1px solid #EEE; background:white;" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>
My not having a big group of friends or a large cohort that I regularly spend time with brings my number of priorities down into the lower end of this spectrum (50s). I basically have 7 people I spend (digital) time with regularly.
How “social” you are probably influences this number the most IMO!
Great article! I agree with many points you make. Priorities are a way to save energy and time for the important stuff. We don’t have time for everything, so it’s essential that we make room for what we need and want in our lives. Plus, if we want to be good at things, we should limit what we focus on.