I was watching a video interview of Simon Sinek a few weeks ago and he was talking about the origins of the word ‘priority’.  A quick online search about the origin of the word ‘priority’ confirms what Simon Sinek was saying. The word priority is a Latin derived word meaning, ‘first in rank, order or dignity.’ So, there can only be one first thing – only one priority. Apparently before the early 1900’s the word ‘priorities’ rarely appeared in print. But now we use the word ‘priorities’ in our everyday language, probably more than we use the word ‘priority’.

At this time of the year, I am making lists of the things to get done each day or in the week, at work and at home. There are so many things, I can’t hold it all in my head, so I write it down, so I don’t miss or forget anything. I know I get a dopamine hit every time I complete a task and tick it off the list, so it feels good for a moment.

But I can get drawn to the mundane and small tasks and focus on these and not give my attention to the bigger and more important tasks. Filling my life with little tasks that are easy to complete might give me a boost of dopamine which helps with pleasure and reward. But it is not really giving me the focus I need to pursue my passion or purpose in life. Simon Sinek describes that in the armed forces when there is a rescue mission there is only one task, the priority is to get the person out alive. Not getting distracted with other tasks in a rescue mission is crucial to saving someone’s life. When we focus on one thing at a time, that is a priority, it can help us to feel an accomplishment but also to make progress in something bigger than the mundane tasks of everyday life. We can then make progress and head towards something that is important to us or fits with our values and principles. This not only releases dopamine but builds a sense of us as a person.

I recently took up painting, mostly to just have ‘time out’ where my brain can just focus on one thing. I also enjoy the challenge of improving on something and sticking with it so I can learn more. I reflected recently on the time it takes to paint a masterpiece. I spend 3 hours a week in class and think that is all that is needed to complete a painting. But my art teacher reminds me that it took the masters months and years to complete their masterpieces. When we work on the bigger tasks in life, they can take time and sometimes take longer than we like them to.  But they are so worthwhile in the end. Monet’s Water Lilies took three decades of his life, while Rembrandt’s Night Watch took three years and Michelangelo worked 12 hours a day, every day for 4 years to paint the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo clearly had one priority in those 4 years!

What is your priority this week, month, or year? What is one thing you want to focus on that will help you make progress in your life, or that will build your sense of feeling that you are actioning your values or beliefs? How can you focus on your own masterpiece that will really make a difference to your own life and maybe to other’s lives?

If you want some help with getting focussed in a priority area, then get in touch with Veronica at Leadership In Mind.




Gino, F, & Staats, B, 2016.  Your Desire to Get Things Done can Undermine Your Effectiveness. Harvard Business Review

Sinek, S., 2014. Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. Penguin. 

Be a Great Leader: How to Inspire Others to Do Remarkable Things with Simon Sinek.  (2016).