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Figuring out what you want to be when you grow up: The Prioritizer!

Two of my favorite PF bloggers are contemplating the fine points of goal-setting. J.D. at Get Rich Slowly introduces a reader’s plea for direction in a project to overcome debt and then asks readers how they accomplish a seemingly unsurmountable task. Meanwhile, Paid Twice, whose whole blog is the story of a goal, trots out (ta DAAAH!) The Prioritizer, a self-help toy that’s been around on CNN for a while, and suggests you could use it not just to to analyze financial issues but “to understand what is deeply important to you and how to find balance.”  

Ah hah! Just recently we were talking about (ahem) one of us who can’t figure out what she wants to do with her life. This is a job for The Prioritizer!

So, it was off to CNN to find the answers to life’s persistent questions…or at least figure out which question matters the most. 

The Prioritizer works by asking you to list up to fifteen goals, then presenting them to you in pairs and asking you which member of each set is more important to you. After you’ve jumped through this hoop several times, you get a list in descending order of priority, with scores alleging to quantify each item’s relative importance.

Well, I came up with ten:

• Lose about 15 pounds
 Get more exercise
• Write a detective novel and peddle it to my current favorite publisher of pulp fiction
• Get through the coming layoff without going broke
• Retire without financial pain
• Beat stress
• Learn to draw and paint
• Develop a craft or art, such as jewelry-making, that will generate some money
• Be lots less bored than I am. 
• Quit working

 All very worthy goals (some might say), but they presented a problem for The Prioritizer: some  overlap to such an extent that to pick one or the other, I had to state a preference for one of two things that are identical or nearly identical. “Lose weight,” for example, bleeds into “get more exercise.” And getting more exercise is a key strategy in beating stress.  The result looked a little strange:

We end up with “get more exercise” and “lose 15 pounds” separated by three slots, and we conclude that losing weight is about half as important as getting more exercise. In reality, they’re about the same when it comes to maintaining and improving my health. “Develop a craft or art to make some money” is indeed different from “learn to draw and paint”: I don’t delude myself that anyone would want to buy any of my pictures, but I do think I could make jewelry or other tchochkies that would sell. “Stop working” essentially repeats “retire without financial pain,” but again we see them widely separated, and “be lots less bored” is about the same as items 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8. 

Evidently, the questions were poorly crafted. Let’s try again, with (implicit) goal number 1 being “eliminate redundancy”:

Seems we had a fair amount of redundancy: the list is now cut in half. But does it enlighten?

Well, in a way. Clearly, writing detective novels is not the pond I want to plunge into next. And it is true that the coming enforced retirement occupies my mind more than anything else just now and probably is the most important thing I need to handle, at least financially. And it’s reasonable to think that I need to get cracking on an exercise and diet program if I’m going to stay healthy in old age. It doesn’t do much to answer the question J.D.’s reader posed, which was how do you get a handle on a single important goal? But then that’s not what we asked it to do.

Oddly, it does succeed in ranging the broad things I’d like to accomplish in order from most to least important. A Ouija board might have done as well. But hey! Whatever works, works.

2 thoughts on “Figuring out what you want to be when you grow up: The Prioritizer!”

  1. There’s actually lots of evidence that exercising more, while beneficial to health, may not cause weight loss. It makes sense to me to consider them separate goals. Some people will prioritize the weight loss and consider exercise only as it pertains to that goal, and some people will prioritize the exercise and not worry so much about the dieting that they might need in addition so they can lose weight.

  2. Two things come to mind. One is that some goals, when reached, are achieved. (Like paying off your house). Others–like exercise–are ongoing.

    Second thought: I know I am a born teacher and that you may not be, but I think your sections next fall may help with some of your goals. You will have more people to talk to (colleagues and students); you can get exercise walking around campus; and you’ll make a bit of money.

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