Episode 348: How to Prioritize What Matters Most

Episode Summary

In this episode, you’ll learn why prioritizing what matters most is a life-changing decision to make. We look closely at one of the most powerful tools ever created to get the best out of every day: pre-week planning. We explain how to set it up the right way, create a powerful WHY that will work as fuel, and approach it properly from a personal and professional point of view.

Rob Shallenberger: Welcome back to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners. This is your host, Rob Shallenberger today. Thank you for joining us. The hope in doing these is that it adds value in some way to your life — I really hope it does. That’s our vision and that’s the purpose that we keep doing these, in the hopes that it can add value to your life. Whether you’re in Rwanda, Europe, South Africa, wherever you might be in the world, that’s the purpose of doing this is to have that connect and have that friendship, and be able to share something each week that I hope makes a difference in your life. So today, I want to share a couple of stories to start out, and then we’ll get into why we’re talking about this and why I hope this podcast is a game-changer for those listening, that it’s a great reminder for some of us. And for others of us, I’m hoping to share something new, that maybe we hadn’t thought about before. And certainly, if you’ll listen to this all the way to the end, you’re going to have some thoughts and ideas come to the mind that is yours, whether those are heaven-inspired, whether those are your thoughts, whatever case that might be, I promise that you’re going to have some thoughts, and I invite you to act on those. Write them down when they come, put them in a place where you’ll see them, and then come back and act on them, and see and feel the impact that those have on your life when you take action.  

So, let me start out by just sharing a couple of stories and see what thoughts or ideas spurs in your mind. And the first is, I’m going to call it a fictional story. I’ve seen numerous different versions of it. I don’t know that it’s real. But I love the story for the principle that it teaches. So, here’s the gist of the story. It’s this father, he’s had a long day of work, he’s plugging away on his laptop, it’s late into the evening. So you can imagine the scene in your mind. He’s sitting at the table, he’s been working all day, pretty burnt out frustrated, and all the emotions that go along with that. Well, his young son walks up to him and asks, “Dad, how much do you make in an hour?” Well, this was not the time or the place. The father was already frustrated. And he looks at his son and he’s like, “Why are you asking? This is none of your business.” And the son has a little bit of a dejected look on his face. So, the dad says, “Fine, if you have to know, about $40 an hour.” And then the son responds and asks, “Well, Dad, can I borrow $20?” And now the dad’s frustrated and says, “No, but you can go to your room,” and basically sends him on his way. He lashed out strongly, and he should have, as the story goes. Well, the son goes to his room. And after a few minutes, the father’s emotions calm down a little bit and he realizes he was probably too hard on his son. So he gets up and he walks to his bedroom. And as he enters the son’s bedroom, he sees his son there in his, bed lights are off, and he’s got tears coming down his cheeks, and he’s crying. And the father notices on the headstand, next to the bed, a $20 bill. He walks up to the son and he sees the $20 bill — there’s obviously a lot more compassion at this point — and he asked his son, “I was probably a little too hard on you, and I’m sorry. You probably had a good reason for asking for some money. Why were you asking for the $20?” And his son starts to get a little smile on his face through the tears, and he says, “Dad, I just wanted to be able to buy an hour of your time.”  

Could you imagine — whether this story is real or not — what’s the impact that would have if you are the parent and heard that from your son? Wouldn’t that just be like a total gut punch? As far as a reality check of where the priorities were. And it’s not to say that that work wasn’t important, but it’s just a reshift of priorities and say, “Wait a second, are we really doing what matters most?” And just off the cuff, I’ll share another story, I hadn’t even thought about this prior to the podcast. I just heard the other day, someone was talking with a coworker. This particular coworker was 20-30 years older than they were. And they just shared some of the frustrations they were having with their young kids, and this coworker got tears in his eyes and said, “You know what? Don’t make the mistake I made.” He said, “I turned around and blinked and suddenly my kids were 19 years old, and I didn’t know what they liked, what they did, or anything else because I spent all of my time working.” So, again, I’m not saying that we don’t show up professionally. I’m not saying that at all. What I’m saying is that there is a way to balance all of these things in our lives that demand our time and attention, and our priorities, and stepping back and doing what matters most.  

And to that point, let me share one more example with you as we’re on this topic of time. And I’m going to make up this name of April. She may actually be listening to this podcast, so I’m going to use the made-up name of April because other people listening to this, certainly, would know who she is. She has been on different courses with people and they would recognize her. So, here’s this lady named April. She was frustrated, she was burned out in her job, she felt like all her energy was gone by 11 in the morning, she really didn’t feel connected to her husband after all these years of just being in the grind, and she rarely saw her older children. Basically, she just described her family as “everybody going in different directions.” Maybe not unlike a lot of families. Well, six months after she went through the Do What Matters Most course and started applying the principles and habits of Do What Matters Most — vision, goals, and especially pre-week planning — she wrote me this multi-paragraph email and said that she’s lost 55 pounds in six months, the fire has come back into her marriage for the first time in years, and she’s intentionally making time every week for her three older children. Now, that’s on the personal side. On the professional side, she said she’s gone back into her organization to develop a plan for the remainder of the year. She started intentionally meeting with her people to get to know their stories and what drives and motivates them. In other words, making the shift from transactional to transformational.  

So, what’s the impact? Whether it’s April, whether it’s this fictional father, whether it’s this example of the gentleman and the coworker — it’s all about time. So, what we’re going to focus on today is time. And if you listen to our podcast for any length of time — speaking of — you’ve heard me talk about the dash. Now, if you look at a headstone, there’s a birthdate and a death date. And typically, what’s in between is the dash. And for me, there’s just so much symbolism in that. And if you think about each one of us right now, at some point, we’re going to have a date on the right side of our dash because right now, our dash is open-ended. But the thing is, tomorrow is not guaranteed for any one of us. And if you look at the dash on any headstone, I always think what’s in that dash? What stories make up that dash? And once that time comes, our dash is going to be filled with what we choose to do with our time. And that’s why this podcast is dedicated to how we use our time, and really how to do what matters most. Because whether it’s for me, whether it’s April, or thousands of others, what changes our lives is pre-week planning. And you probably heard us talking about pre-week planning multiple times through the years if you’ve been listening to this. And I hope today, like I mentioned earlier, will be a reinforcement of maybe what you already know. And if pre-week planning has not been a part of your life, if you’re not familiar with Becoming Your Best or haven’t been through some of our trainings, then I hope that what I share today will just give you two or three new things that can really make a positive difference in your life.  

Let me make an invitation here because there’s a little action on your part that will have a huge impact here: To get the most out of this podcast, I encourage you to have one of two items in front of you, that is either the Becoming Your Best planner; if you’re listening to this in 2022, then it’d be for 2022; if you’re in 2023, great, for that particular year. Whatever year you’re listening to this, have the Becoming Your Best planner. Or as an alternative, if you’re more of a digital person like Chrome, Google, or Outlook, then get the Do What Matters Most digital planner, and you can get either one of those at And if you have those in front of you, this will be a lot better because it’ll make a lot more sense.  

So, let’s get into time. Let’s use pre-week planning as the foundation. In our research and studies over the years, we found that 68% of people felt like prioritizing their time was their number one challenge. Can you relate to that? And yet, what’s interesting is that 80% of those same people did not have a process outside of sticky notes and to-do lists — the proverbial sticky notes and to-do lists that we’ve all used so many times throughout our lives. Well, clearly there’s a big gap. On one hand, all of these people feel like prioritizing their time is a big deal, and yet they don’t have a process or a way to stay on top of it. So, what that can result in is a lot of frustration; it almost feels like spinning your wheels. So what I hear all the time is that people are frustrated because of work-life balance, trying to juggle so many priorities at the same time. For example, parents, being a partner or a spouse, showing up in your professional role, while at the same time taking care of our own mental and physical health, and so on. The point is that you have all of these priorities, and how do you juggle them all? Well, that’s the power of pre-week planning. That’s what pre-week planning solves, is it gives people a system and a process. What I’ve found is that how to do pre-week planning is really simple. And I love what one of our coaching clients said: “Rob, pre-week planning is simple, but it’s not easy.” And he’s exactly right, and I’m going to walk through the four steps of how to do pre-week planning. And as you hear those, you’re going to be like, “Well, that’s pretty simple.” And indeed, it is. Well, how about committing to do pre-week planning every week for the rest of your life? That’s not so easy, is it?  

So what I found is that if the motivation internally is strong enough, if the Why is powerful enough, then the discipline to do it will follow. And I’m going to share several tips here that will help us develop the actual habit of doing it. What I want to start with though is the Why. That Why that comes from inside of us. And if that Why is strong enough, following the four simple steps becomes a lot easier to actually do that. So, as I dig down to the Why, whether it’s the story of that father, whether it’s April, whatever it might be, I’m going to read a few quotes for you. And as you listen to these quotes, think about how they might apply in your life, whether on the professional side and especially on the personal side as well. So, here are a few quotes. This is one that you’ve heard us say all the time: “We’ll either lead a life by design or live a life by default.” Now think about that. One of those is very intentional: “Lead a life by design,” we used the word “lead” there. The other one is very reactionary: “Live a life by default,” whatever shows up, shows up, and away we go. So, one of the things about pre-week planning is it’s very intentional. It’s leading a life by design, rather than living that life by default. Here are a few other quotes: “Kids spell love, T-I-M-E.” In other words, yes, quantity matters, but so does quality. And vice versa, quality matters, but so does quantity. We need both of those when we’re talking about the important people in our lives. Here’s another one: “Where focus goes, energy flows.” So, again, pre-week planning is the tool, the process, to allow us to focus on what matters most. Here are a few more. This one, I’ll tribute to someone; the other one, I have no idea who’s actually said them. This one is from a man named Dieter Uchtdorf, and he said: “I think most of us intuitively understand how important the fundamentals are. It’s just that sometimes we get distracted by so many things that seem more enticing.” In other words, maybe not our priorities. And like Harry Lloyd said, “Success is only another form of failure if we forget what our priorities should be.” And I love this one, two more to go, Brandon Sanderson: “The mark of a great man or woman is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.” And this one from Johann Wolfgang: “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”  

So, this is what I feel like is the Why behind pre-week planning. It’s what are we doing with our dash. What are the stories that will be a part of our dash? Are we using our time to really do the things that matter most? Are we getting sucked into all of these things that might be somewhat important, but they’re not the true priorities? And I — from my perspective, background, and experience — will suggest that pre-week planning is a game-changer because pre-week planning is about scheduling our priorities rather than prioritizing our schedule. In other words, we’re flipping time management on its head, it’s not reactive to-do lists. Instead, we’re sitting down to proactively think about what are our priorities, and scheduling those first. So, when I use the term “where our focus goes, our energy flows,” pre-week planning is that process of identifying what matters most and then focusing on those things. So, for those that may not be familiar with this or for those that once started pre-week planning and maybe have stopped for whatever reason, let me just give us a brief refresher on what it actually is. And again, if you don’t have the planner, having the planner or the Google Outlook version is really handy: And if you look at your planner, you’ll see on the top of the page, there’s a little box that says “pre-week planning,” and right next to it are the four steps to do pre-week planning. Now, as I walk through these with you briefly and I know that this is audio only so you can only hear my voice, imagine the impact of doing this every weekend. What impact would it have on your personal life, your relationships, the way you show up professionally and across the board? So let’s walk through these together and imagine the impact. Now, for most people, they’ll do this between Friday afternoon, somewhere throughout the weekend up to Sunday evening. For most people, Monday morning is too late because we’re already in the thick of the fire. So, somewhere between Friday afternoon before you leave or up to Sunday evening — somewhere in that range. For most people, it takes between 20 to 45 minutes, somewhere in there.  

So, imagine doing this, here are the four steps: Number one, you sit down and you review your vision, roles, and goals. For those that have read Do What Matters Most or have been through our training, one of the things that you remember is that you develop a written personal vision for each role, and one to four goals this year — roles and goals — in each of your key roles. So, step one is to sit down and review those. Now — simple, not easy — only 1% of people actually review their vision and goals that often. I mean, if we step back a little further, only 2% of people have a written personal vision, and only 10% of people have both personal and professional written goals. So, already by having those, you’re in a small statistical group of people. Only 1% of people, however, review them every week. So, can you imagine the alignment that that would create in your own life by looking at your vision and goals every week in step one? And then step two is to identify your roles. The same roles that you use in your vision and goals would be the same rules you use in pre-week planning. So, for a lot of people, partner or spouse, parent, maybe friend, brother or sister, or son or daughter, or you can just lump that all together and call it family, whatever works best for you. Others that I’ve seen people use are caretaker, maybe encompassing everything around your home or whatever it might be, your assets, your finances. Other people say friend, philanthropist, or church member if that’s applicable to them, whatever it is.  

Now, your most important role — I always remind people about this — is personal. In other words, we’ve got to keep our flame burning bright if we’re going to like other people’s claims. This is leading a life by design; it starts internally. So, that personal role is the most important one. So, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, all of that would be in the personal role. Ironically, it’s probably the only role that I’m really aware of that’s inward-focused, whereas most of the other roles are outward-focused. So, personal, if it has to do with your physical health, your mental health, emotional, or spiritual health, that’s in your personal role, that’s inward focused. All those other roles are outward-focused. Whatever your professional title is. Maybe you have one or two other professional roles, all of those are outward-focused. So, that’s step two is to identify your roles; the same ones that you would use in your vision and roles and goals. Step three, and this is the most important step of pre-week planning, that is to sit back and brainstorm with yourself what matters most in each role this week. And I invite you to write this phrase down if you’re in a place where you can do it: “It’s about what you can do, not what you have to do.” And if we think about that traditional to-do list are the things that we “have to do.” You go down the list, “Here’s what I have to do this week.” Well, in pre-week planning step three, you’re looking at your roles and asking yourself, what can you do in that role this week? Maybe it’s to send a text to so and so or write a note to your spouse telling him or her how much you love them. Maybe it’s to bring doughnuts to the office. Maybe it’s to call an important client. Or on the personal side, exercise, reading, physicals, all that kind of stuff would be in the personal role. And then step four is assigning a time for each action item when you’ll do it. If you’re using our digital planners for either Google or Outlook, it’s very simple: From Google, you click and drop; in Outlook, it’s drag and drop. So, you have the action items on top, and then assign a time in the calendar, and then it syncs across all of your devices. It’s awesome. I’ve been using it now for over a year and have been doing pre-week planning for 23 years, and I just love the digital version of it.  

So, those are the four steps. Can you see simple but not easy? Let me just review those. Step one, what is your vision and goals? Review those. Number two, identify your roles that week. Number three, what are the action items for each roll? In other words, what matters most this week by role? And step four, assigning a time when you will do it. And that’s why we said “simple.” Those are four relatively easy steps or simple steps, I should say. But discipline to do every week, that’s not necessarily so easy. Having just said and gone through those four steps, could you imagine the impact in your life if you did this every weekend? By stepping back and looking at your vision and goals, asking yourself what you can do in each role that matters most this week, and then assigning a time to it. What would be the impact on your relationships? Just like April. How about time with the people who are most important in your life? How about professionally how you would show up at work? Rather than getting sucked into all these little things, you’re really prioritizing what matters most.  

So, in our research that we did two years ago, someone doing pre-week planning will have more than 800 to 1200 accomplishments in a year — and I should add — with less stress, than someone who didn’t do pre-week planning or had they not done pre-week planning. So we track someone over the course of four to six weeks, we established a baseline in week one, and then over the course of four to six weeks, watched the increase in productivity. And that ends up being the math. A person doing pre-week planning will accomplish between 800 to 1200 additional accomplishments this year, that otherwise would not have happened with pre-week planning. That’s powerful.  

Now, let me just share a couple of final things here. One of the things that I hear sometimes as a question is, does pre-week planning take away spontaneity? That’s a good question. So let me just share two examples of this. There was a lady one time that went through the training. And as we walked through pre-week planning, and then everyone did it, she asked a question, and her question was about the life role. That’s one of the roles that she came up with. She said, “I put in my role to write a note to my husband, telling him I love him, but I just feel like that’s not being very spontaneous.” So I asked her a question, and I asked her, “How long have you been married?” And her response was, “Five years.” “In those last five years, how many times have you just spontaneously written him a note, telling him how much you loved him?” And she started to laugh, as did everybody else in the room. And she said, “Well, I actually never have.” So, then I followed up with another question and I asked her, “So, if you do write this note, you just tell him how much you love him, it maybe takes a minute to do that; what would be his response?” And then she started laughing even harder. She’s like, “Yeah, he’s gonna be wondering what I want. Do you want a new ring or a new car?” So, the whole point is that a light bulb came on and she says, “Now I get it.” So, for him, would it have been spontaneous to get a note from her? Absolutely. And from her? Yes. Although she put that in there as part of pre-week planning, it’s never happening before. So, she’s doing things that she’d never did before, and what’s the impact on the relationship? Of course, it’s going to deepen the relationship.  

Now, does it truly take away from things that are spontaneous? Absolutely not. When we’re doing pre-week planning, yes, we can schedule our priorities into our week, that still leaves room for a lot of spontaneity. I mean, my wife and I go on four-wheeler rides all the time, we did this last night. Just for the moment, quick, 30-minute ride. It was spontaneous and it was awesome. At the same time, yesterday, I went on a 30-minute horse ride with my daughter, Clara; for her, that was spontaneous; for me, it was part of pre-week planning. And I can tell you, there’s 100% certainty, that would not have happened yesterday without pre-week planning.  

So, my invitation for anyone listening to this, you’re really coming from a couple of places here. One, you’re already familiar with pre-week planning and you’re doing it religiously every week. And if you’re doing that, awesome. Then my invitation for you is who else can you teach pre-week planning to? Is it a family member? A friend, a coworker? Who else could you share that habit with because, obviously, it’s been impactful in your life enough up to the point where it’s become a habit? The second group that might be on here is someone who started pre-week planning and for whatever reason, just stopped. So, for you, if you’re in that camp, I invite you to get back on that proverbial horse. In other words, for whatever reason you stopped doing pre-week planning, let’s start again. It’s interesting to me how many people out here say, “Yeah, pre-week planning changed my life. But I went on a vacation, probably like six months back and I haven’t picked it up again.” And I get it, that’s life. Well, if you’re in that camp, this is a gentle reminder, and I’m going to call it an important invitation to start pre-week planning again. And if you’d need it, here’s one of the things I found to be very helpful for people is to pull out your phone and set an alarm or calendar event reminder that repeats week to week with the text “pre-week planning” in it. And you assign the time, choose the time that you think would be best, could be Sunday morning, could be Friday afternoon. So, the whole point in having that alarm or calendar event reminder that recurs every week is so that it just serves as that gentle nudge for us. Well, that’s right, pre-week planning, and it connects the intent with the habit.  

Now, there’s one last group here, and that is you may not be familiar with this at all. And if you’re in that camp, go to and either get the Becoming Your Best Planner for the coming year — there’s an un-dated and a dated — or get the Google Outlook version. And again, you can get both of them to {ersonally, I use Google. I know some people love Outlook and I know some people love paper. So, really, whatever works for you. And there is one final group maybe, and this is the group that really wants to do pre-week planning, they know how powerful it is in their life, but they just get busy during the weekend, and life happens and it’s difficult for them, and they really need the accountability. We have four coaching clients right now who are part of our executive coaching program, and this is one of the main things they want is that weekly accountability. So they text me a little picture of their pre-week planning every Sunday evening. And if you’re in that camp, executive coaching may not be the right thing for you, maybe it is. But there’s another group that we’ve developed called the Founder’s Group. And if you’d like to be a part of the Founder’s Group, you can try it for just one month, and it’s only a buck for that month: $1. If you like it, staying is still only $57 a month. The point is, whether you’re part of the Founder’s Group, executive coaching, or you have your own accountability group, find someone that can help you stay accountable if that’s the thing for you. If you’re not doing pre-week planning, and you want to, and you know it’s important, and you just need accountability, join our Founder’s Group. It’s only $1 for the first month and $57 every month thereafter. We will keep you accountable. We’ll hold your hand and shepherd each of us through that process if necessary. If you have someone within your own peer group — a spouse, a coworker — and that works for you, then great go with that approach. As long as there’s accountability, and as long as it’s getting done, that’s the important thing. Because our dash is too important. We’re either going to lead a life by design or we’re going to live a life by default. And we never know when our day is going to come. And that’s it. We can’t go back and add experiences. We can’t go back and add memories. This is our time to really turn into what matters most. So, what I’m passionate about is not so much how you get it done, as long as you get pre-week planning done. So, whatever you need to ensure that it happens, I’m trying to offer some suggestions that I know have been beneficial for other people.  

So, as we get ready to wrap up the podcast, the whole intent in doing this was just remind us how precious time is and how it’s the greatest resource that we have; it’s the great equalizer. Everybody has the same amount of it, we can’t buy more if we have more money; it’s the great equalizer. And yet, at the end of the day, our dash will be comprised of our stories, the things that we’ve accumulated through our time, and what we’ve chosen to do with that time. So, my hope is that this has refocused us onto what matters most, that we will buy into the power of pre-week planning and commit to it. Now, here’s one more as I wrap this up: Commit to it not just for a couple of weeks, not just for a couple of months, not even for a year; that we would commit to pre-week planning for the rest of our lives. Why wouldn’t we? Every weekend, sitting down and saying, “What can I do in my roles this week that matters most?” And if we don’t accomplish all of them, that is okay. Even at a 70% to 80% productivity quotient, which means we’re accomplishing 70% to 80% of what we pre-week planned, that’s where that 800 to 1200 accomplishments in a year came from. So, my hope for all of us is that we can embody this quote from Ella Wilcox, when she said, “One ship drives east and another drives west. With the same winds that blow. Tis the set of the sails and not the gales that determine the way they’ll go.” In other words, we all have this figured of wind at our back in life. And the question for each of us is how will we choose to set our sail to catch that wind. Will we develop our vision? Will we work on our roles and goals of what matters most? And will we be consistent with the habit of pre-week planning because where our focus goes, our energy flows. 

I hope this has been helpful for you, that it’s giving you some thoughts or ideas. If you have any questions, comments, or anything that you would like to share, I invite you to write us an email at We can help you get the digital planner, the physical planner, or answer any other question that might have come up for you. So, thank you so much for being here. I hope you have a great rest of your day and a wonderful week.

Rob Shallenberger

CEO, Becoming Your Best

Leading authority on leadership and execution, F-16 Fighter Pilot, and father

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