Are you concerned about setting priorities? It may surprise you to learn that the concept of priorities (plural) has been around for less than 100 years. Before that, life was simpler—there was only a singular priority.

The word priority is derived from the Latin prioritas, meaning “first in rank, order, or dignity.” There can only be one first thing—one priority.

Before 1900, the word priorities rarely appeared in print. Starting around 1940, however, time management experts accomplished the impossible—they turned the singular priority into multiple priorities. The following graph from GoogleBooks shows the trend.

Now we have work priorities, family priorities, health priorities, spiritual priorities and “sharpen the saw” priorities. When that’s not enough, we prioritize our priorities using a coding system such as A, B, C.

Don’t fool yourself. Only the first priority is your priority. It is impossible to direct your attention to more than one thing at a time.

When you multitask, you do not focus on more than one task at the same time. Rather, you switch rapidly between tasks. A more appropriate name would be rapidtasking.

Of course, we all have multiple goals and many tasks we need to accomplish. But we can only do so one priority at a time.

It all boils down to how we spend our time. Time is a non-renewable resource. 

“You can’t make time. You have to find and redistribute it.” —Dianna Booher 
In a sense, the only decision we ever make is how we spend our time. So, the most important question to ask is: What’s your priority?

What’s to do?

Determine your priority at this moment. Focus on the here and now. What is the best use of your time? Gary Keller recommends asking yourself: “What’s the one thing [emphasis added] I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Let go of a non-priority task. The only way to find time to work on your priority is to reduce time spent on non-priority activities. Whenever you take on a new task, identify an existing task you can eliminate or delegate. By delegating the task to a team member, you reap the double benefit of helping the other person develop their skills while freeing your time.

Reserve time for your priority. Reallocate the time you save by scheduling blocks of time to work on your priority. Defend your “priority” time vigilantly!


Bailey, N. (1730). Dictionarium Britannicum: Or a More Compleat Universal Etymological English Dictionary Than Any Extant. Retrieved from

Booher, D. D. (1997). Get a Life without Sacrificing Your Career: How to Make More Time for What’s Really Important. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Covey, S. R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Keller, G. (2013). The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. Austin, TX: Bard Press.

McKeown, G. (2014). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. New York: Crown Business.