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Michelle Nickolaisen

Priorities. We all need them. But people have a really hard time setting them – we have so many things tugging at our attention and energy, it can be incredibly hard to figure out what’s worthwhile and what’s not.



During a workshop I did on productivity for freelancers, I taught the participants an exercise they seemed to find particularly useful in filtering goals/tasks/systems to create priorities – you'll find it outlined below. 


Step One: Know your big vision.

This is different than a super detailed goal – this is basically your guiding light when it comes to making decisions. I encourage people to have a one year vision and a five year vision. Again, this is about clarity, not details.

For example, “By the end of this year, I want to be doing 75% group work and 25% 1:1 work,” not “By the end of this year, I want to be making $X a month through these six income streams, split up in these ratios.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with having goals that detailed. That’s just not what I mean when I say “big vision,” and it’s not what we’re talking about in this context.)


Step Two: Make a list

This list should include everything you're paying attention to right now, including: 

  • projects for clients
  • your side projects
  • any lingering or miscellaneous tasks
  • business systems you're trying to work on


Step Three: Use the matrix to sort

Things will fall into one of four categories:

  1. Supportive of your big vision + high leverage. These are things that will give you a disproportionate ROI for your time and effort, and support your big vision. I’d categorize my guest post for Design*Sponge that I did last year as falling in this category. For most freelancers, client and customer follow up falls in this category, too.
  2. Supportive of your big vision + low leverage. These, you won’t necessarily get the same sort of return on investment – you’re not going to put in a few hours and see huge results for it. But it’s still worth doing, because it’s moving you towards your vision.
  3. Not supportive of your big vision + high leverage. These are the “take it or leave it” things. Obviously, you don’t want to be doing anything that’s counter to your big vision! This might be something that doesn’t move you actively away from your vision, but isn’t necessarily moving you towards it by leaps and bounds, either. But will still give you some kind of dividend if you do it.  I’d suggest outsourcing or delegating this, if you’re going to do it.
  4. Not supportive of your big vision + low leverage. Throw this shit out, you don’t need to worry about it.

At the end, you want to have three priorities or less. If you’ve got three tasks/projects/systems that fall into area #1, then bam. You’re done. Once you get those knocked out, you can move onto area two. And so on.



The great thing about this process is that it can be used to give you a quick point of reference on the macro level or the micro level. You can use it for your yearly priorities and goals just as easily as you can use it for your monthly, weekly, or daily goals, or really any time you to figure out what to clear off your plate.



If you want a printable to help you work through the process, you can download one here.



Michelle Nickolaisen is a freelance writer/content marketer & business owner based in Austin, TX.