172: How Smart Leaders Prioritize | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
April 28, 2020   |   Episode #:

172: How Smart Leaders Prioritize

In This Episode:

How do you prioritize when everything feels like a priority? It’s nearly impossible when you’re not using the right system. This is why you need to ditch the tired, old to-do list and upgrade to a priority list instead. In this episode, I’ll be exploring why a priority list will help you become a better leader and more intentional with your time. You’ll learn how to decide what’s urgent and what’s important, and how a priority list can help you manage it effectively. If you’ve been having a hard time making room for your priorities, then you’ll want to hear this episode.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Treat your priorities a priority.

Questions I Answer

  • How do I prioritize when everything feels important?
  • How can I be more productive at work?
  • What can I do to minimize distractions?
  • How can I focus?

Actions to Take

  • Ready to start putting your priorities first? Grab my Daily Download Notepad so you can wake up each day prepared to take on the day and maximize productivity.
  • Begin to ask yourself, “What things are actually priorities?” Having a hard time figuring it out? Think about the tasks that are aligned with your north star for guidance.

Key Topics in the Show

  • Focusing on the tasks that are connected to your north star

  • Determining what’s urgent and what’s important

  • Holding yourself accountable to complete and accomplish your priorities

  • Doing the things that nourish you, your soul and those around you

  • Taking distractions off your plate so you can focus on your priorities

Resources and Links

Show Transcript

This is Productivity Paradox with your host, Tonya Dalton an entrepreneur
best selling author, nationally recognized productivity expert, and mom of two. This
season is all about leading with confidence. Tonya is shifting mindsets, redefining
productivity and equipping women with strategies you need to step into
intentional leadership. Are you ready? Here’s your host, Tonya Dalton.
Hello. Hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tonya Dalton,
and this is Episode 172. Now, over the past few weeks, we have started diving into our
season-long topic of leading with confidence.
So we’ve talked about what leadership looks like and why we need it so badly from
women today. And we also talked about habits of effective leaders. But here’s the
thing. One of the things I really noticed, one of the things that really seems to hold us
back from taking leadership is the idea of time. I mean, how do we possibly make
time to lead others if we don’t feel like we have time to do the things that are on our
list already? So that’s what I want to dive into today.
How do you prioritize when everything feels like a priority, especially at work, or with
your business to places that are primed for you to step into leadership. You see, it’s
hard to really prioritize if you’re using a to-do list. I know right now you’re thinking,
“but I love my to do list, it’s like the highlight of my morning sitting down and writing
this incredibly long, incredibly unachievable list of things to do,” Right, and I get it.
We like the idea of making lists, but to-do lists push us to arrange our tasks in an
overly simplistic way. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of apps lately, you know, on my phone or
on my computer, things that are designed to really create a to do list for you. And it’s
supposed to make it easier to organize our tasks. But what it does is it organizes our
tasks based off of when they’re due, and so we try to force ourselves to organize this
way as well focused on the deadlines. Not necessarily by priority, we’re focused on
the urgency and not the importance.
The urgent fires are taking center stage and a hog of all of our time because, well,
they’re urgent, right but not because they are important. Everything seems to
revolve around the deadlines and the due dates and the urgency instead of what
really should be tackled first, because it’s the most important part of the project or
the task for the presentation or whatever it is. And this, my friends, this is where we
run into trouble when it comes to not just our planning but also cultivating
productivity. Oftentimes, these deadlines that we set for ourselves, they look great on
paper, but they don’t really work out in real-time because you know, life. Yeah, life
happens and deadlines get moved or rather shoved, don’t they? Due dates are
essentially arbitrary deadlines that can change depending on what’s happening.
And I feel pretty confident, saying we all know that’s true right now because of what

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we’re experiencing. This global pandemic has caused a lot of our tasks, a lot of our
deadlines, not even our jobs themselves to shift and move and pivot and change.
Hasn’t there been a lot of shuffling around of your due dates lately? I mean, I know

I’m feeling it, and yes, this is extraordinary circumstances. But even during quote-
unquote normal times, studies have shown that the way many of us approach

streamlining our workload by using to-do lists is entirely wrong. I want to say that
again. The way we approach our to-do list is entirely wrong. In fact, research has
found that people change their due dates on about 50% of their tasks, that’s more
than half.
So what we need, of course, to flatten that curve is to bring the tired, old, to-do list
you’ve been using to the next level, which this is where surprise, surprise, The priority
list comes in. All right, Not much of a surprise. Let’s be honest here. You’ve heard me
talk about the importance of using a priority list in the name of true productivity,
many, many, many, many, many times, right. I mean, I talk about it in the book. I talk
about it on my YouTube videos. I talk about it in my course. I talk about it here on the
podcast, here, there, everywhere. I’m always talking about the idea of the priority list
because truly it does make the biggest difference. And here’s what I want you to
remember moving forward from today to do list do not take priority levels into
account because a priority level is more than just a due date. It’s all about focusing
on what matters most. I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but that’s
what priority lists do.
They get us to focus on the important tasks first, and by important, I mean
connected that north star of yours. They’re linked to a goal. There’s something that’s
on investment in you or your growth, not one mention of the word time or deadline
or due dates, none of that comes into play. When we’re talking about what’s
important, we have to realize that just because something is urgent doesn’t mean
it’s important. That’s a mindset shift because it’s really easy to want to tackle the
fires, to want to take on the screaming things because, well, they’re screaming, and it
makes sense that we just want to quiet them down so we can focus on other things.
But if we choose instead to focus on the task that truly are a priority, it’s going to
make a huge difference in how we feel about our days, how we feel about our time
and how you really can step into that leadership. We have to realize that just because
something is due soon, it doesn’t mean it’s important. It just means that it’s urgent.
So when we think about boosting our productivity, the simple act of prioritizing the
responsibilities that we have in front of us and then holding ourselves accountable
for how we’re using our time, that’s really at the heart of it. All right, I’ll just go ahead
and hop down off my soapbox because you know, it’s tempting for me to dive into
the priority list and how they work and start talking about the inserts that we have
over at inkWELL Press and how to use them, or even talking about where certain
work tasks may fall on your own list. What I want us to instead, focus on today is
exactly how we can make time for the priorities that we set, which can both
encompass and extend well beyond our lives at work.
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So here’s what I’ll do. I’ll go ahead and post a bunch of episodes where I’ve talked
about the priority list in my show notes. So if you go to TonyaDalton.com/podcasts If
you look under Episode 172, there’s a lot more there for you. If this priority list thing is
brand new to you and you’ve never heard me talk about it before, go there and I’ll
have a list of resource is for you.
But here today on this episode, the question I want us to think about the big
question is, how do we truly make a priority? A priority? How do we hold ourselves
accountable and really make and take time to complete what we want to
accomplish on really any given day?
You know, being successful in checking items off of our priority list hinges almost
exclusively on our ability to hold ourselves accountable for making room for them in
the first place. So you’ll notice that phrase that I use there, making room. This space
for your priorities is not going to magically appear. It’s not gonna suddenly show up
in the you know, this beautiful cloud burst or something like that where the skies
part and the sun shines down. We have to actively make that room for ourselves. It’s
really about making yourself accountable for making that room, and I know this is a
challenge for so many of you because I get your emails, I get your DMs. I see the post
in my Facebook group. Where do I start? How much do I do? Where do I focus?
And I get it with so much and ironically, with so little happening all at once in our
world, it becomes easier and easier to live in a loop where we’re doing just the things
that are urgent, or we’re doing the things that are screaming at us, that we’re doing
the things that are tied to a deadline, and then we don’t make room for what’s truly
important. I get it. You know, I totally understand because I feel like some of my days
in the past few weeks where I’ve been sheltering at home, they make me feel a little
bit like Bill Murray in Ground Hog Day. And you know, quite honestly, some days I’m
beginning to wonder if I’m looking like Bill Murray, when I go to many days cooped
up in the house without showering, right?
We get in this loop where things feel the same and we’re tackling these same tasks
over and over again. It’s easy right now to feel stagnant and uninspired and
unmotivated to do really much of anything. Well, I mean anything beyond, you know,
bingeing Tiger King or The Office, right? And I have to be honest, you know, I’m
gonna tell you right now it’s okay if you’ve been feeling like this. If you been feeling
like, you know, it is so hard to get up off the couch right now, I’m feeling that, too.
Just because I’m a productivity expert doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes feel like
hiding away under a warm blanket of Netflix.
You know, we all have times where it’s tough to get going. But over the past few
weeks, I’ve really pushed myself to get focused on my priority items. I won’t say I’ve
turned off Netflix, but I’ve put it on pause, you know, and I find that when I’m getting
some good winds on the important work under me that builds this sense of
satisfaction where I feel good at the end of the day, instead of going to bed and
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thinking I didn’t do anything, I watch too much TV. I sat on the couch, I ate too many
chips. I’m thinking to myself, You know what? I made some small steps today, but
they were still steps and that feels pretty good.
That’s building up a lot of motivation in me. A lot more motivation, and that makes it
easier to keep moving. This is why I think it’s so important right now to really talk
about this idea of priority work, because when we do things that feel important,
which nourish us, which nourish our souls and which nourish those people around
us, because that’s really what the important work does. We build up motivation. We
build up that feeling of yes, I want to move forward and that’s why I want to dig into
some of these things.
You know, this is why I want to talk about this, and I want to dive into some of the
things that you might be looking to prioritize over the next few weeks, and I want to
talk about some different strategies to help you truly hold yourself accountable. And
quite frankly, let’s get some shit done and let’s feel good about it. How does that
sound? You know, because that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? It’s all about feeling
good about the work we’re creating, the impact we’re making, the ways that we are
living our lives. So let’s find some ways to use our time that feels good, tow us away
from the rabbit hole of social media or the continuous stream of news broadcast
that we’ve been glued to. Let’s find some ways to use our time that give us a sense of
control, that gives us a sense of impact, that give us a sense of “Yes, I can do this. I
can prioritize and I can do the things that are important to me and feel really good
about that.”
So I want to take a look at some of the things that we may want to start prioritizing,
you know, like maybe some time for some self development like we talked about last
week, for example, and how we can make the best use of the time that we have
available to do those things.
But first I want to take a short break to hear from today’s sponsor, and today’s show
happens to be sponsored by inkWELL Press. I really thought it was important to take
just a minute here in our mid-episode break to talk for just a minute about the fact
that when we talk about things like the priority list, when we talk about these
strategies that we can use to feel good about our days, I also happen to offer the
tools to make it even easier. The priority list that we’re talking about here today, all of
that is incorporated seamlessly into the planners that I offer. You’ll see it on the Daily
planners. You’ll see it on the Classic planners, and you’ll see that it’s easier to start to
implement a lot of these strategies that we talk about when you have the tools that
go along with them. And I know it feels like it’s the middle of the year, but right now
is an ideal time to get started because our academic year planners just launched. So
these are planners that run July through June so they run kind of like the school year
calendar, so they’re perfect. If you have kids or you’re in the academic field or really, if
you’re just like you know what, I don’t need to wait to January to get started. Today is
a good day to start. No matter what day today happens to be, just head to
inkwellpress.com to get all the information and pick up your own daily planner,
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weekly planner or even yes, we have restocked our goal setting planners. So right
now, this is the ideal time for you to start prioritizing to start putting the first things
Okay, Like I said, the priority list really is helpful To have that incorporated into your
planner. But I want to dive now back into this idea of making your priorities a priority,
which sounds kind of funny because of it. How to make your priority a priority. It feels
like it should be a no brainer. But unfortunately, despite all the care that we may take
filling out our lists or maybe even making a note about what our big priorities are in
our planner, we might say that something’s a priority now, really treating it that way.
And luckily, I’ve got a few strategies I can share with you that I think are really going
to help. And the best part is you can start using these right away. One thing I want
you to consider. And this is true whether you’re looking to improve your productivity
overall or just, you know, really focusing on this idea of building in your priorities into
your day. It means starting small. Maybe you’ve fallen off track. Maybe you need to
reboot. Maybe you’ve never used a priority list at all before.
That’s all okay, but start small. Don’t fall into the mindset that you need to have these
priority list inserts filled out to the max every day in order to put them to the best

use. In fact, please don’t do that. You don’t need to fill them out completely jam-
packing your day with one thing after the next. You know, a lot of times people feel

like the more things we cram into our day, the more productive we are, when in fact,
it’s just the opposite. Priorities need space because they are important work.
Generally, it’s the deeper work you want to do, and if you are cramming your day full,
you’re gonna wear yourself out first of all, but you aren’t really going to be able to
give those important tasks the room that they need… or quite frankly, the room they
deserve. You know, recently there was a post in my Facebook group where one of the
members shared that she’d had a breakthrough, concerning her priorities and
And guess what it has everything to do with what we’re talking about here. Instead
of trying to fill up her day with as many things as she possibly could, she realized she
was able to make more of a positive impact that she wanted, and she was able to
take some of the pressure she was feeling about her progress off of her shoulders
simply by choosing to narrow her focus and making time for just one of her priorities.
Each day, just one. I said, start small deny and I mean – start small. It’s such a great
tactic, especially, if you feel like you’ve been struggling more than usual lately. I
mean, you are not alone in that feeling, feeling like, Oh my gosh, there’s so many
things. Stop worrying about all the things. Start by focusing in on one. You know, we
touched on this idea back with that interview I had with John Zeratsky in episode
167, and if you remember, John calls this one priority item of the day, his highlight. So
once you’ve selected your daily highlight, you know, once you’ve zeroed in on that
one priority thing, that one priority item that you want to spend time on, you write it
down and then you use it to help structure the rest of the day around that one thing.

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Your one priority, maybe centered on some way of investing in yourself. Or maybe it’s
something that brings joy or satisfaction into your life. Or maybe it’s tied to the
bigger vision that you have for yourself. But it’s one thing. That’s where we want to
begin, with just one. So let’s work this out a little bit together so you can really take
what I’m talking about today and start implementing it right away into your life.
While you’re working on things for your job, whether it’s for your personal life or
whatever, let’s say that tomorrow you want your highlight to be sometime towards,
some of that self development that we talked about last week, that habit of really
continually learning. Maybe it’s reading some articles or a few chapters of a book
specific to your business. Okay, what happens next?
Okay, well, first, let’s decide how long you want to spend reading those articles.
When do you want to do it? And then let’s write it down. I must say that one more
time – Write it down. I cannot stress it enough. In fact, if you remember from last
week one of the ways that I have consistently been able to make so much time for
myself to be able to read and grow my business is by intentionally structuring my
days around this continual learning block. So for me, it means that I am always
blocking off that first hour after I come back for lunch. That’s my time to focus solely
on reading the articles that I’ve bookmarked or reading a couple of chapters of the
book that I’m reading.
So for you, this may look different. It could be any time that you choose whatever
makes the most sense to you and your life. So now if you’re at home right now with
kids who are homeschooling. I did do this when my kids were home, because I
started my first business with teeny tiny kids at my feet and we did quiet reading
time every day after lunch, everybody in the house read. Everybody, even people who
could not read could only look at books. Kate would be looking through her picture
books while Jack was reading by himself, and I was sitting, reading alongside of
them, reading my own books that were focused on growing my business.
So really, what makes the most sense for you? Is it you know, the first hour in your
morning? Or is it the last hour of your afternoon? You know, what is it that’s going to
work for you? Because the main takeaway here is that no matter what you’re
choosing to be your priority each day, regardless of how long you’re choosing to
focus on its or win progress only happens when we are intentional with our time. You
have to schedule it in, or else it gets scheduled nowhere. It doesn’t get done at all.
But what happens is after you started to find a pretty good rhythm and you want to
add another priority item on your list, you already have this strong foundation of This
is when this first thing happens, right? It’s kind of like a habit. You get one priority
under your belt, feeling good about it. Then you can start adding in more. Now the
more comfortable you get with a strategy like this, the easier it becomes to
implement. One of the things that I find really helpful is the time blocking where I do
have blocks where it’s like continual learning time.

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Sometimes I do innovation time and things like that. Now, if you have a lot of fires to
put out in your day to day or lately, if you’re finding that you have a lot of distractions,
time blocking can get a little bit hairy. If you are stacking up one block up against
the next, with no wiggle room are no space to breathe. Remember what we said
about best-laid plans? Yep, not foolproof, right? Because life like we talked about
earlier, we need that flexibility. We need that grace, and the other thing that really
does help is if we have some other strategies that help hold you accountable. And
they help to limit some of those potential distractions. Oh, distractions, right? You
see, it’s not enough to just block out specific points in our day to work on these
priority items, we need to also use strategies like delegating or the act of simply
saying no to the things that distract you. We need to do what we can to minimize
distractions. That’s really what’s going to create that room to allow us to prioritize, to
allow us to have those blocks of time in place. So the question is, what distractions
can you take off your plate to allow you to focus on your priorities?
So let’s go back to those two things we just talked about. Delegation. What are some
things you can delegate to your team at home, for example, that will help you really
focus when it’s time to get to work, because that helps us. If we have home life
running pretty well, things are delegated there, we’re really able to give our fullest
selves to our work, to growing our businesses, or whatever it is we need to do. That
2nd one we talked about was the idea of saying no. So what do you need to say no
to? In order to make those blocks of time that you want to devote to your priorities
stick not just for today or tomorrow, but for the future as well. So let me give you an
example in my own life because right now I’ve decided to say no to starting any new
TV series. Okay, let me rephrase up a new TV series to me generally, their TV shows
that other people have already watched. And now I’m finding on Netflix or Amazon
or something like that. So anything where I’m going to get sucked into binging, I
really right now need to prioritize writing book number two. And it’s funny because
when I’m watching those shows that I’m binging, I feel really good. But the minute
the show stops and I realized what I have not done, the stress is just waiting for me.
So I’ve decided I’m gonna eliminate the stress by eliminating the distraction. I’m just
saying no to any new TV series to me. Stress and distractions, best friends, they love
each other, right? And so I’m gonna do my best to eliminate one so I can eliminate
the other as well. So, see, it’s not just that we need to block out the time. It’s really
making the room that we talked about. It’s really making the room through,
eliminating the distractions through doing things like delegating through, saying no
and then creating that space very intentionally. And you’re gonna notice, as we
continue to explore this topic of building in leadership and creating some leadership
opportunities in our own lives, you know, inspiring others through a place of
confidence. You’re going to see how we approach our priorities and be effective and
intentional with our time, because it is so vitally important to our success, especially
for the long term. And yes, while leadership, as we’ve talked about, is certainly about
serving others in an impactful ways. It also means allowing space for your priorities
to flourish and grow, because it’s when we spend time on those priorities that we
can truly step into effective leadership. To be successful to a truly embody that word
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leader, it means that we must always keep our sights set on the horizon by holding
our priorities, our objectives close at heart.
The more that our teams see us living and breathing our priorities, and the more
that others see that we’re able to harmonize the different parts of our lives the easier
it becomes for them to find inspiration and motivation that they need to do the
same in their own lives. And that’s how leadership starts. It starts by leading by
example, all right, I’m really excited because I truly believe a lot of what we talked
about today can be started today. It really can start small. Don’t overthink it. Don’t
over analyze it. Just start making the small steps you need to get rid of a distraction,
just one distraction, to allow space for a priority and then maybe eliminate two
distractions to allow space for two.
And we’ll continue to see it grow and build over time. That’s what gets me really
excited about this season because it truly is an opportunity for us to start
implementing things right away where we can start to see a difference in the lives of
And we’re gonna continue talking about leadership next week. I have a really
exciting guest coming on, who’s going to talk to us about how to figure out what to
fix next. I think it ties in really nicely with this conversation we had today on priorities
and speaking of priorities if you’re interested in picking up a priority list for yourself to
help you get started. Head over to inkwellpress.com and you’ll see all the tools that
go along with the strategies we talk about here on the show.
And finally, if you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, I would love for you to share a little bit
about it on social media, with your friends, the way we really step into leadership, the
way that we really start to make a difference and an impact is sharing the resource is
with others that are helping us. So he found this podcast helpful in the least. Do me
a favor.Just send a quick text message to a friend. Take a screenshot of this episode
posted on social media. It really does help us all together. Make a difference all right,
until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.