How to stop sucking at priorities in three steps

Priorities. We all need them. But people have a really hard time setting them – we have so many things tugging at our attention and energy that it can be incredibly hard to figure out what’s worthwhile and what’s not. During the latest live round of Rock Your Systems, I taught the participants an exercise they seemed to find particularly useful in filtering goals/tasks/systems to create priorities – so I thought I’d share it with y’all. If you don’t have time to watch the video, here’s the outline:

How to stop sucking at priorities in three steps:

First: Know your big vision. This is different than a super detailed goal – this is basically your guiding light when it comes to making decisions. I encourage people to have a one year vision and a five year vision. Again, this is about clarity, not details. For example, “By the end of this year, I want to be doing 75% group work and 25% 1:1 work,” not “By the end of this year, I want to be making $X a month through these six income streams, split up in these ratios.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with having goals that detailed. That’s just not what I mean when I say “big vision,” and it’s not what we’re using in this context.)

Second: Make a list of all your projects, tasks, and/or business systems that are begging for your attention right now. Self explanatory.

Three: Use the matrix to sort. Things will fall into one of four categories:

  1. Supportive of your big vision + high leverage. These are things that will give you a disproportionate ROI for your time and effort, and support your big vision. I’d categorize my guest post for Design*Sponge that I did last year as falling in this category. For most service providers, client and customer follow up falls in this category, too.
  2. Supportive of your big vision + low leverage. These, you won’t necessarily get the same sort of return on investment – you’re not going to put in a few hours and see huge results for it. But it’s still worth doing, because it’s moving you towards your vision.
  3. Not supportive of your big vision + high leverage. These are the “take it or leave it” things. Obviously, you don’t want to be doing anything that’s counter to your big vision! This might be something that doesn’t move you actively away from your vision, but isn’t necessarily moving you towards it by leaps and bounds, either. But will still give you some kind of dividend if you do it.  I’d suggest outsourcing or delegating this, if you’re going to do it.
  4. Not supportive of your big vision + low leverage. Throw this shit out, you don’t need to worry about it.

At the end, you want to have three priorities or less. If you’ve got three tasks/projects/systems that fall into area #1, then bam. You’re done. Once you get those knocked out, you can move onto area two. And so on.

The great thing about this process is that it can be used to give you a quick point of reference on the macro level or the micro level. You can use it for your yearly priorities and goals just as easily as you can use it for your monthly, weekly, or daily goals, or really any time you to figure out what to clear off your plate.

And if you want a printable to help you work through the process, I made one for ya. Just make a list of all the projects/tasks/etc. you need to filter, then print this out & categorize them:

does this support my big vision-

(right click or CMD-click the image & “save as” to download the PDF)

If you want to learn more, check out Rock Your Systems – now in self-study format! 


  1. Hi Michelle. This is awesome!

    I do have a question about ‘leverage’ though. I’m not quite clear on what it means. I get the gist, but I don’t think I’m clear enough to actually apply it to my business.

    Is it things that will multiply my income? My ‘brand awareness’? My speaking gigs? Or does what gets leveraged depend on what my Big Vision is?

    Elinor <3


    • Hi Elinor! Good question. (I was probably not clear enough in the video!)

      So leverage just refers to moving you towards your big version. And it’s also relative – meaning, there’s not really an absolute way to measure it.


      Activities A and B are both moving you towards your big vision.

      Activity A will take five hours and is likely to pay a disproportionate amount of return on investment, for the amount of time you’ll spend on it. You’ll make much higher than your hourly rate, or you’ll get a lot of referrals from it. In my history, guest posting Design*Sponge was a good example of this – I spent a few hours on a guest post, had a significant boost in both traffic and email subscribers, and am still getting traffic from it a year later.

      Activity B will take the same amount of time, but is likely to make you less money and/or pay less dividends in other ways (email subscribers, recognition, speaking gigs, rah rah rah). You might still profit from it (not just in cash but in whatever way you want to) but it will be closer to “normal” levels – no significant advantage.

      Therefore, activity A is higher leverage than activity B, and it would go in square 1, where activity B would probably go in square 2.

      Does that make sense? I hope it helps some. Happy to answer more questions 🙂


      • Yes, that does make sense, thank you.

        (I think that’s pretty much exactly what you said in the video, but seeing it in writing somehow made more sense!)

        Elinor <3


  2. Dear Michelle,

    great post which I find very helpful – I tend to lose sight of “not all projects/ideas are created equal” 😉
    Just one question: I wanted to save the article to refer back to it later, but I couldn’t save it to Evernote using Clearly. And when I tried via marking text and then using “save to Evernote” from the context menu, it also didn’t work. That rarely happens, so I wanted to let you know.



    • Nina – so sorry I missed this until now! Thank you for the heads up, I’ll have my web guy look into it! I’m glad you enjoyed the post though 🙂


  3. Pingback: What to do when Basecamp goes down: the perils of online project management | Bombchelle

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