The key to prioritising people

Recently I have done a couple of corporate sessions on time management and prioritisation. One of the biggest questions I always get asked is how do you become better at prioritising? The idea is that some people are good at it and others are not. If you can learn how productive people manage time then you can learn how to become better at managing time yourself.

The time that we spend is precious. Often times, we waste it on tasks or situations that are not that important. We also, I believe, make a lot of decisions as to who we spend time with. We prioritise people. This involves deciding who is worthwhile meeting up with. Like managing time, managing time for people is a skill that we must work on.

In work, it is straightforward. We use the term ‘key stakeholders’ to refer to the important people that we need to pay attention to. In the real world, things aren’t so easy. It is harder to decide with whom to spend our time because there are less objective measures for establishing importance. 

Back in hunter gatherer times, we learned to bond with others in order to survive. Rejection meant isolation from social groups which put us in danger. Therefore, rejection became painful. Indeed, physical pain and pain from rejection activate the same regions of the brain. It is because we hate being rejected so much that we actually attempt to try harder and spend time winning over those who reject us. What this means is that often we can prioritise the very people that we should not be prioritising.

In order to become better at prioritising people, we need to bring everything back to the future goals that we have rather than reacting out of a feeling of rejection. We must learn to accept the failure to successfully connect with another and move on rather than continuously trying over and over again. What this means is that we need to ask ourselves some questions:

  • ‘What do I want to achieve in my life and how can this person help me achieve it?’
  • ‘What do I like about this person and what do they like about me?’
  • ‘How much does this person prioritise me?’

These questions can give us the information necessary to make the best decision possible. The real trick is that they help us to navigate our way to intelligent choices in spending our time because the mistakes we find ourselves making are often very easy to diagnose and repeat.

When people take days to get back to you, cancel on you at short notice or choose to spend time consistently in other ways than with you, you are not prioritised. It is that simple. This may hurt but the truth is you do the same thing to those you do not prioritise. Personally, I have experienced not being prioritised plenty and hate it but the problem did not lie with the other person. It lay in the expectations that I had of the other person.

To become happier with whom we spend our time with, we must prioritise those who come through for us and value us. Some people for whatever reason value you more than others. It could be the type of person they are or it could simply be that you are not very high up in their pecking order. Regardless, the key is to accept this, move on and make the decision to focus on those who do. 

All we have in this life are millions of moments. Spending more of the moments with people who respect and value you is so much better for you than chasing those that don’t.


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