It’s not easy to stay focused—not in a world that seems to be moving at a million miles per hour, not in a world in which we are bombarded with endless news cycles that feed us stories ranging from deadly snow and cold in the northeast to ISIS beheadings in the Middle East to romantic tips for enjoying Valentine’s Day with your sweetheart. Throw in parental and spousal responsibilities (both of which I am blissfully aware these days), the obligations of running a household, managing your health, and—oh, by the way—running a business or sustaining a career, and it can all get a bit much at times.


Whether we realize it or not, we are all CEOs of our lives. We get to choose what to focus on and what to let go every minute of every day. Granted, it’s sometimes tough to admit for us “get-er-done” types, but there is only so much time in each day and only so much of us to go around. We can’t do it all, even though we’d like to.

It takes a real leader, someone comfortable with making choices and facing the consequences of those choices to say, “This is what I need to accomplish today or this week” versus “This is what I want to accomplish.”

  • To live, we need air, food, water, and shelter. We only want bottled water, a flat screen TV, the latest smartphone upgrade, and a big house. See the difference?
  • In relationships, we need love and companionship, while we may want to go out to dinner or the movies three times a week, or always be the life of the party.
  • In business and/or our jobs, we need to prove our value to our bosses or customers to remain gainfully employed or profitable. We only want to make as much profit/money as possible; we only want to beat all of our competitors; we only want to get that next promotion or land that big client even though our jobs/businesses are already satisfying our needs.

Now take a look at your “to-do” list for either work or home (or both) from the perspective of your needs vs. wants.

What do you need to accomplish today? What do you want to accomplish?

How can you use the notion of needs vs. wants to prioritize those items you must get done today, versus those you would like to get done today?

Make two new lists: your “need-to-do list” and your “want-to-do” list.

  • How many hours does your “need-to-do” list represent (and don’t forget to include adequate time for sleep and self-care)?
  • What happens if you don’t get to your “want-to-do” list items today . . . or any day for that matter?
  • If some of the want-to-do items have no real consequences if never addressed, do they really need to be on your list in the first place?

Look ahead several days, a week, or a month and identify those want-to-do items that by necessity will become need-to-do tasks (for example, completing projects on a deadline, paying bills, filing taxes, keeping a doctor’s appointment, etc.). How do these impending “need-to-do” items impact what new needs/wants you might consider going forward?

By keeping items on your radar that don’t need to get done today, but will eventually need to address, you can manage your workload better and juggle priorities so you don’t get overwhelmed down the road.

Granted, focusing only on doing what we need and never doing what we want could make for a very dull, utilitarian life. After all, it took lots of human aspiration and inspiration to get us where we are today—and where we are is pretty good, in general, no matter what the naysayers tell us. Every once in a while, we do need to treat ourselves by doing or getting something we want. It’s only human nature, and it’s really why we keep pushing and striving to do and be better. It’s the proverbial carrot at the end of the stick. It’s what drives innovation.

But on those days or during those weeks where there is just too much clutter and your priorities lack clarity, take a few minutes to assess your needs versus your wants and let some of your wants fall by the wayside, at least temporarily. You’ll be glad you did.

Dilbert cartoons where Wally ranks his priorities … and more!

Be the CEO—the leader—you need to be to give yourself permission to choose your priorities. Doing so just might be the answer you need to take charge of your life and keep it all in focus.