A Priority

“What are your top three priorities for today?” the boss asks. Emails, meetings, and moving that stuck project forward all dance through our head.

But we rarely stop to think that having many priorities is somewhat of an oxymoron. How can everything be the most important?

The English word came from Old French “priorite”, which is the, “state of being earlier.” It meant first, highest, and most important.

But today when we talk about priorities, we almost always think in terms of lists. We’ve lowered our threshold of a priority to be anything worth doing today.

So when did priority become plural? Fairly recently, according to its popularity in books Google has indexed.

On some level it’s impractical to talk about having only one priority. Of course we’re doing more than one thing every day, and we highly value more than one “role” in life (husband, father, mentor, etc.).

But just listing everything as a priority doesn’t help us get more things done. It doesn’t give us more time, just less focus on what really matters. A priority.

I’ll end with the way Greg McKeown talks about this in his book, Essentialism. 

The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality.

– Greg McKeown

We reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality…