Prioritise Your Goals With The Heat Map Strategy

Taking decisions and acting on them is the way to long-term success, but you first have to know which goals to stick to, out of all the options you have.

You might have a list of goals, but you can’t tackle everything at the same time. You need to prioritise. Once you’ve chosen your top priorities, you will then be able to slice and dice them into sub tasks.

Priorities are part of a long-term purpose. Too many people pick up something and drop it 3 weeks later. The more precise your goals and the steps to your success will be, the more likely you will be to succeed. But how do you prioritise?


List down your goals.

Use one line per goal. The layout has to be extremely clear.

Go unfiltered. Very easy. Don’t worry about being realistic, timelines, expectations, or anything getting in the way of your goals. Go wild, list down everything you’re thinking of.

Here is an example list:

  • Write a book
  • Train for a marathon
  • Get better at chess
  • Learn a 3rd language
  • Cook more
  • Bike 100km per week
  • Take swimming classes
  • Plan big summer vacation
  • Draw
  • Gain muscle mass
  • Read 100 books
  • Learn to sing
  • Open a clothing store
  • Hike 300km in Norway

Again, go broad, push the boundaries, don’t think of limitations. Your list might be a lot longer than this. It’s up to you.

Now is time to filter and prioritise.

The mathematical approach: the point system

The goal here is to end up with 3 Top Items that will not move for a medium to long period of time. They will remain in your Top 3 long enough for you to be able to make progress with each of them. Under those 3 items, you will have the rest of the items, ordered by decreasing level of importance.

The power of using a point system is that once you stick with it, it’s a lot easier to navigate your life on a daily basis. You can evaluate to what level things get in the way of your work, and react accordingly.

If you encounter something blocking you when you’re trying to work on one of your Top 3 priorities, you absolutely need to get rid of it. But if you’re blocked by something while working on the 10th item on your list, it can wait, because the 10th item on your list is not the most important.

Let the rating begin

Go through your list from the top, and rate each item with a grade from 1 to 5.

  • 1 is extremely important. This is something you really want to work on, something you know you want to do deep inside. Also, you know you won’t drop it after 3 weeks of working on it.
  • 2 is important as well, but not as much. You have to work on this, and you want to, but it’s not as important to you as giving it a 1.
  • 3 is of medium importance. You’ll do it but it’s not something you’re going to highly prioritise.
  • 4 is irrelevant most of the time. Keep it in your back pocket for later, but forget about it for now.
  • 5 is for items that in the end, don’t really matter. You wrote it down when unfiltered, but in the end, it’s really not something you need to do.

NOTE: Don’t confuse challenge and non-priority. Just because something is challenging and definitely seems unreal/impossible doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be a priority. If deep inside you know you want to give it a try, and you know it could happen if you got to work on it, then give it at least a 3. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Sorting

Rating was the hardest part. Now, let’s sort your items from highest to lowest priority (1 to 5).

For instance:

  • Write a book [1]
  • Train for a marathon [1]
  • Learn a 3rd language [1]
  • Cook more [1]
  • Plan big summer vacation [2]
  • Gain muscle mass [2]
  • Get better at chess [3]
  • Draw [4]
  • Read 100 books [4]
  • Hike 300km in Norway [4]
  • Bike 100km per week [5]
  • Take swimming classes [5]
  • Learn to sing [5]
  • Open a clothing store [5]

TIP: input the list in a Google spreadsheet and assign a colour code for each grade. It will give you a heat map of your priorities.

Here is our example heatmap:

Ideally, you shouldn’t have more than 3 priorities rated with a 1.

If you do (like in our case), isolate all the items you rated with a 1, and put them on a separate list. We’ll call this list The Pretenders.

  • Write a book [1]
  • Train for a marathon [1]
  • Learn a 3rd language [1]
  • Cook more [1]

Apply this scoring system to The Pretenders:

1. The strongest of the bunch

2. Close second

3. Made it to the Top 3

4. Doesn’t make the cut

1, 2 and 3 can only be applied to one item each. All the other Pretenders should be rated 4.

  • Train for a marathon [1]
  • Learn a 3rd language [2]
  • Write a book [3]
  • Cook more [4]

Remove all the 4s from The Pretenders, and add them to the main list with a score of 2. Your list of Pretenders now only consists of 3 items. Those are your Top 3 Priorities.

In the end, this is what our example list looks like:

Reading the data

Now that you have your heat map, all you have to do is get to work. Allocate your time to each item based on its score.

Estimate how much time you’re willing to spend per week on your Top 3 Priorities. Here are some numbers to help you figure that out.

  • A week is 168 Hours
  • If you sleep 7 hours per night and work from 9 to 5, you have 63 hours left in your week.
  • If you spend 1 hour per day in the bathroom, 2 eating, and 1 procrastinating, you still have 35 hours left.
  • If you do a lot of other things next to a normal life, and shave off 10 more hours of your week, that’s still 25 hours left. That’s more than 2 days.

Once you’ve decided how much time you are going to spend per week on your Top 3 Priorities, you can get an estimate of how much you’re going to spend on the rest by following this rule of thumb:

  • 2 gets 50% of the time 1 gets
  • 3 gets 40% of the time 2 gets
  • 4 gets 30% of the time 3 gets
  • 5 gets nothing

Example. If you decide that you will spend 25 hours per week on your Top 3 priorities, you should spend on average:

  • 12.5 hours on grade 2 items (50% of 25)
  • 5 hours on grade 3 items (40% of 12.5)
  • 1.5 hours on grade 4 items (30% of 5)
  • 0 hours on grade 5 items

Conclusion

If you’re like me, you like to do everything at the same time. But we all get 24 hours in a day, or 168 hours in a week. You’ll quickly come to realise that you can’t do everything at the same time. That is why prioritisation is necessary.

I used to want to play chess, go on long bike rides, train for a marathon, volunteer in a club, start a blog, learn a new language, and cook more, all at the same time. It simply wasn’t possible.

Even by just keeping 3 Top Priorities and grade 2 items, I couldn’t fit it all in. So I had to move a lot of items to grade 4 and 5. Once I’ve achieved my current Top 3 Priorities, I will be able to look into my back pocket and see what new things I could bring to the Priority Box. But for now, the Top 3 priorities get all the attention.

Prioritisation is key to success. Too much of everything overwhelms.

Don’t relinquish growing slow. Relinquish standing still.

Prioritise. Move forward. Achieve.

What’s on your Top 3 List?

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