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Made Vibrant

Using Prioritization to Make Values-Based Decisions

Caroline ZookCaroline Zook Caroline ZookCaroline Zook

Written by

Caroline Zook

Using Prioritization to Make Values-Based Decisions

It’s been one whirlwind of a weekend!

I’m fresh off a 48-hour excursion back to the East Coast for a friend’s wedding, and though the 14-hour travel day was a doozy, it was SO worth it for the endless laughter with friends and the break from our normal routine.

It’s amazing what clarity can be discovered when you take a step back and change your perspective. Sometimes it’s the tiniest bit of space and distance that can allow our souls to catch their breath and that can remind us of what we hold most dear.

That’s what this weekend was for me, and it got me thinking about one super practical tool that has helped me live out my values more so in the past year than ever before.

To set the scene, I’m going to use kind of a silly story to illustrate this very important concept I want to chat about.

This Saturday when we were back in Florida, we found ourselves in a bit of a time crunch before my friend’s wedding. It was a few hours before the ceremony began, and some of my college wifes wanted to meet beforehand to catch up. Being that we were only in town for a short time, it was really important to me that we get as much time as possible with them, but after finishing up some necessary work stuff (Jason’s software app is soft-launching tomorrow!) we realized we still hadn’t showered or eaten lunch.

We placed a pick-up order at a lunch spot near our hotel and thought we’d swing by to grab it, eating lunch in our room with plenty of time to get ready and still make our pre-wedding plans.

As I approached the counter of the lunch spot to pay for our meal, the waitress kindly let me know that “there were a few orders ahead of me.” I stood there mustering all the patience I had while I watched the understaffed kitchen leisurely attempt to fulfill the orders in front of ours.

(Has that ever happened to you? The one time you’re in a hurry is the one time OF COURSE you wind up in a situation completely beyond your control that slows you down? Those are the moments I just have to laugh and chock it up to the universe teaching me an important lesson about patience.)

Anyway, a 15-minute excursion turned into a 45-minute excursion, and on our way back to the hotel I attempted to formulate my game plan…

“Okay, we’ve got exactly 40 minutes until we have to leave the hotel. I have two options: 1) take a shower so I can blow dry my hair and look top-notch for this wedding (meaning I would seriously have to rush through getting ready and scarf down my food to leave on time) or 2) say forget the shower, which nixes the time-consuming hair-blow-drying phase and frees up time to actually somewhat enjoy my lunch and not be in a huge rush.”

All the women out there who have tried to budget “getting ready time” will hopefully relate to this type of mental negotiation.

Luckily, as an entrepreneur, I pretty much have a black belt in budgeting my time by now. Even if you’re not running a creative business, as productive humans in today’s fast-paced world, we’re all used to making these kinds of decisions almost automatically day in and day out. We’re constantly having to ask ourselves: What is the most important thing to spend my time on right now?

Weighing my two options, my decision became SUPER clear because I know from experience that what’s most important to me is avoiding feeling anxious and rushed at all costs (even if it means my hair isn’t perfectly coiffed.) I nixed the shower/blow-dry combo, and instead was able to focus on the joy of getting ready to go meet up with my friends. I wasn’t stressed or rushed — just excited to see my buds.

It may sound silly, but that decision-making process is just one way that prioritization has become the most effective tool for me to live out my values on a daily, if not moment-to-moment, basis.

“Prioritization is your best decision-making tool for spending precious resources according to your values. ”

All prioritization really asks you to do is to rank the options before you according to what is most important to you.

And determining what’s most important to you really boils down to what you VALUE.

The more I thought about this little tool called prioritization, the more I realized the multitude of ways it has made me live a more values-based life.

Before I share with you how prioritization has helped me specifically, I do want to mention a really interesting fact that I read about in one of my favorite books, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. The fact is, the notion of having multiple prioriTIES (plural) is only a recent cultural development. Here’s a quote from Greg’s book:

“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple “first” things. People and companies routinely try to do just that. One leader told me of this experience in a company that talked of “Pri-1, Pri-2, Pri-3, Pri-4, and Pri-5.” This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.”
– Greg McKeown, Essentialism

When I talk about prioritization, I’m not necessarily suggesting we identify a whole slew of things that are important to us, resulting in more confusion and overwhelm.

I’m instead suggesting that we come up with a clear system and rank when it comes to our values so that we can determine where a task or option will fall in terms of importance.

The emphasis is on the ACT of prioritization, not the false reality of having multiple priorities.

3 ways that prioritization can make an impact your daily life

1. Your to-do list

About a year ago, I started a new method of writing down my to-do list that involves “dumping” everything I have to do (large and small tasks) each day onto one big list, and then methodically going back through this list and numbering each item in order of importance. Sometimes this list is 17 things and I make sure to write out all 1 through 17 numbers.

The real magic comes though in being able to intentionally rank things not based on any sense of false urgency but ranking them according to what I value. I think about which of my values is MOST important to me that day, that moment (rest, creativity, inspiration, connection, play, etc.) and I rank my to-dos in order of what items most deliver on that value.

So if that means putting a 1 next to “read 20 pages of XYZ book” and putting a 2 next to “respond to podcast interview request” because I know that taking personal time for myself is something I value more than landing an interview, that’s what I’ll do. It’s a way of checking in with myself and making sure I’m aligning my behavior, my actions, with my values.

2. Your obligations

I’m using the word obligations here in a broader sense to encapsulate any opportunity or task you feel compelled to complete because of external demand. Basically, any SHOULDS in your life.

We budget our time and resources according to what we think other people want or need from us more than we realize.

Think about it, we’ll respond to client or customer emails before we’ll take 15 minutes to eat our lunch (I’ve been guilty of this one before.) We’ll say yes to dinner invitations after a long day of work when all we want is to get home and put on those stretchy pants (you know the ones I’m talking about.)

We nourish ourselves LAST because we think we’re the one person that won’t mind being put on the back burner. But guess what? Even if we think we won’t mind, it’s only a matter of time before we wake up and suddenly START to mind in the form of regret, sickness, resentment or just plain exhaustion.

When it comes to obligations, I’ve learned to prioritize according to my needs and my values first. The truth is, if we don’t pay attention to our own fuel tank, we have nothing left to give other people.

3. Your finances

Not only has this question What is the most important thing to spend my money on? helped with our move to a more minimal lifestyle, but it has also helped me create a money mindset to aggressively pay off our debt. Once you reframe your buying decisions like this: “What’s more important to me: to buy this new computer or to pay off my debt sooner?” you’re able to put your purchases into perspective when your top priority is paying off your debt (which it was for us for a number of months).

So here’s the thing:

I KNOW that “prioritization” is not a sexy thing.

But I’m telling you, being able to rank options in front of you according to your values is a skill that is transferable to almost every aspect of your life.

Prioritization asks that you re-commit yourself to what’s important TO YOU on a regular basis and act accordingly.

It has reduced overwhelm with my to-do list, helped me infuse more balance in my life by setting boundaries when it comes to commitments and obligations and it has helped me create a money mindset to get out of debt.

So my challenge to you this week is to apply this idea of prioritization to one of the areas I listed above (to-do’s, obligations, finances.)

Start by writing down five of your values and rank them in order of importance. Really challenge yourself to decide where they fall relative to one another. (You might have MANY things that are important to you, but as Greg McKeown points out, unless you have a clear system for how one outranks the other, you’re going to find it hard to easily and quickly apply this method of prioritization to your life.)

Remember, it all comes down to our precious resources: our energy, our focus, our money, and MOST importantly, our TIME. That is one thing we cannot replenish, so it MATTERS how we spend it.

I hope this week’s letter will help you approach your to-dos and your future options with more clarity and more confidence.

Using Prioritization to Make Values-Based Decisions

(Big Fat Takeaway)


This article written by

Caroline Zook

She/Her | Artist, designer + writer passionate about helping soulful creatives grow into their brightest selves. Lover of bright colors + even brighter people! One half of the crazy duo running these parts!

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