In life there are times of intense, driven productivity – months where everything falls into place, and your goals almost seemed to accomplish themselves. At the other extreme, there can been times in your life where you can be completely overwhelmed, burdened by different projects and responsibilities – and frustrated because so many of them not only challenged you, but didn’t matter to you.

There can be days when you ask yourself, how did I end up here? How did I end up working on all these things that aren’t who I am, and that don’t represent where I am going?

These ideas were originally shared on Zen Habits.

Some of our projects are extremely important to us, some matter a little – and some simply don’t matter to us at all. In this guide I’d like to discuss how to define and focus on what truly matters – and then discuss some strategies for making time for them.

Breaking It Down

Here are a few question to help you focus on what truly matters – and cut from your life items that don’t.

1. What does my life look like ten years from now? I love projecting into the future and imagining my life:  mentally time traveling to picture where I want to be. The power of this exercise is even more apparent when you consider that you are the product of where you came from. Think of your favorite memories, people and events from your past and you’ll see things that have shaped you into the person you are today.

Similarly, looking ten years down the road and imagining what I want helps me focus my energies today to make it happen tomorrow. If my future daydream is filled with thoughts of spending time with my family and celebrating with friends – then that tells me I need to focus on maintaining those relationships today.

2. What is my purpose? Leo has previously discussed his life’s purpose and tips for finding your own life’s mission. If you have determined your life’s mission, that provides a foundation for where you should be spending your time – along with the activities, and ends, you should be focusing on. This is sometimes difficult because we may believe our life’s purpose is not in line with a “practical career” – but I disagree.

There is no contradiction in using a “practical career” to pull yourself out of debt so you can be free for adventure, or perhaps to send your children to college. The disconnect occurs however, when your “practical career” is padding your bank account with money which means little to you – and you wish you were out living your true purpose instead.

3. What excites me? Sometimes we are scared to admit to ourselves what we really want to do, and who we really want to be because it’s not popular, or because it’s not as secure as the job we have. Deep down however, we know what excites us. We know what gets our heart pumping, and what gets us excited to jump out of bed in the morning.

4. What can I let slide? There are never enough hours in the day to do everything, absolutely everything, that I have some interest in doing. There is, however, enough time in the day to do everything that I am truly interested in, and that truly matters. Find what you can let slide -and then let it.

5. Do the consequences have meaning Every task and project has outcomes and consequences – but consequences don’t matter in and of themselves. What matters is how much those consequences mean to us. Sometimes we fight, claw and struggle towards down a path because other people want us to have the rewards at the end, or because the ends sound impressive – but if they don’t have meaning to us, then we will not be satisfied with the accomplishment.

In other cases we may have initially pursued a goal, but our interests and purpose changed. If something doesn’t mean anything to you, then regardless of how important it is to others, how impressive it may be or how important it may have been in the past, it may be time to let it go.

Making Time

You may already know what truly matters in your life – but are finding it difficult to make time for it, and to focus on it. Here are some tips to help you make time for what truly matters:

1. Do it first. In Zen To Done Leo suggests picking your 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) and doing them first thing in the morning. Similarly, once you find what truly matters, try to take care of it first before spending time on tasks that matter less to you. Some people have experienced significant increases in productivity when writing, working out, or meditating early in the morning.

I personally believe in paying myself first with my time, and live it every day. I work on my personal goals first thing in the morning, before I do anything else. This way every day begins positively and in line with my future.

2. Schedule it in. I’m very busy, and so is m family. My parents and I want to make time for each other however, so I literally schedule dinner in on my Google Calendar. I treat that appointment with the same seriousness as anything else in my life. It’s a commitment to my future and what truly matters.

3. Treat it as an emergency. My life is booked back to back with work, appointments and various commitments – but when I had to go into surgery for appendicitis, none of the little boxes in my task list got checked off that day. Instead, my routine came to a halt as I dealt with my medical emergency.

If you’re having trouble letting things slide, or aren’t sure where you can make time, then consider treating your life mission as an emergency. Clear important, but unnecessary items off your schedule for a day – and let them go. Every day that you spend on tasks that don’t matter is a day you can never recover – and that, to me, is an emergency.

What Truly Matters, Matters

We all know deep down there are different things that drive us – hobbies that excite us, passions that we wish we had more time to explore, people we wish could spend more time with. I believe that identifying, focusing on, and spending time on what matters to us, is not simply a thought exercise.

Focusing on what truly matters, truly matters.