In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell wrote:

Leaders never advance to a point where they no longer need to prioritize.  It is something that good leaders keep doing, whether they’re leading a billion-dollar corporation, running a small business, pastoring a church, coaching a team, or leading a small group. I think good leaders intuitively know that to be true. However, not every leader practices the discipline of prioritizing.  Why?  I believe there are a few reasons.

First, when we are busy, we usually believe that we are achieving. But busyness does not equal productivity.  Activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Second, prioritizing requires leaders to continually think ahead, to know what’s important, to know what’s next, to see how everything relates to the overall vision.  That’s hard work.  Third, prioritizing causes us to do things that are at the least uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. 

Other philosophers and writers have also stressed the importance of establishing priorities. In his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey devotes an entire chapter to “Put First Things First” and stresses “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” 

The poet, novelist, playwright, diplomat, and civil servant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Things that matter most should never be at the mercy of things that matter least,”

I am a firm believer that we accomplish what we prioritize and each of us needs to look at what we do and evaluate whether we are doing what we should be doing. 

Frequently, people say to me, “I don’t know how you have the time to do everything you do?” Now, think about this.  We all have the same amount of time.  Why is it that some people get so much more done than others? It is because the ones who get the most done “put first things first” and do not let other activities take precedent over what needs to be done. They have firmly established their priorities.

People who say to me, “I don’t know how you have time to do everything you do,” also ask me if I saw something on TV and mention to me they never miss an episode of whatever it was they had asked me if I saw or if I attended a certain event. When I tell them, “no I do not watch much TV” or “no, I was doing” whatever I was doing instead of going to the event they mentioned, they act shocked.  When they ask why, I tell them it is because I have other things that are higher on my priority list.” 

If you really want to know what your priorities are, take a look at your checkbook, your credit card statements and a list of the things that you really spend your time on – not just what is on your calendar.  The things on which you spend your time and your money are really your priorities, not what you say they are.

Covey says, “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”  Just because a thing is on your calendar does not mean it should be a priority. However, if a thing is really a priority, we need make time for it.   

I frequently see an organization executive at conferences where my company exhibits. In order to keep the identity of this executive anonymous, I am going to refer to the executive as Mr. Smith.  Nearly every conference I attend Mr. Smith approaches me and tells me he would like for my company to perform for his organization one of the services we provide. I respond, “Okay, how do we make that happen?”  

Mr. Smith always responds, “Call me next week.” 

The following week, I call Mr. Smith and leave a voice message because he is so busy doing whatever it is he does. After a few days, I call again and leave another message saying that I am trying to get back with him in response to his request.  After a couple of weeks, I send an email saying that I have tried to call and have left messages and  since he is so busy, why didn’t he call me when he has time to talk or send me an email telling me when it would be convenient to  meet.  I may or not hear from him, but the project with which he is asking us to help never gets scheduled. 

Later in the year at another conference at which my company exhibits we have a replay of the request for our services –  me asking him how we make that happen, him responding “call me next week,” me leaving him voice messages and sending an email.

This has happened approximately 3 times per year for approximately two and one half years. 

Many times he apologizes for not following through on his request and says, “I’m just so busy.” 

I understand being busy. All of us are busy.  However, we manage to do the things that we really want to do. 

Mr. Smith manages to attend at least three or four conferences per year, yet cannot find the time to do something he says he needs for his organization.  What he says he wants done does not get done because it is not a priority for him. 

As Stephen Covey says,

The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritized their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.

My questions for you are:

  • “What are the priorities in your life?”
  • “Is that what you spend your time doing?”

In next month’s column, we will discuss how to establish priorities.


I hope you have found these hints helpful and if you have other ideas you would like to see address in future columns, please sent your ideas to


What are your priorities?
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