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Maxwell Leadership Guide to New Year’s Resolutions: 3 Ways to Master Your Priorities

By Maxwell Leadership | December 26, 2023
Maxwell Leadership Guide to New Year’s Resolutions: 3 Ways to Master Your Priorities

It’s no secret that New Year’s resolutions are, for most Americans, a losing battle. Over the next week, millions of Americans will outline how they would like their lives to be different in 2024. And over the following month, most of those millions will remember why their lives always stay the same: change, while worth it, is hard; familiarity, while uncomfortable, is easy.

But if you are determined to experience real growth in the new year, there’s one thing that must shift – your priorities.

Priorities: Your Key to Realizing Your New Year’s Resolutions

Author Robert J. McKain says, “The reason most goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second things first.” Let’s face it, there are a lot of things vying for your attention. Many people want to put you on their agenda. Thousands of manufacturers want you to spend your money on their products. Even your own desires can be so diverse and your attention so scattered that you often aren’t sure what should get your concentration. As you pursue your goal, keep these 3 things top of mind:


“A man went to the Super Bowl and climbed to the top row in the end zone section of the stadium to reach his seat. After the game started, he spotted an empty seat on the fifty-yard line. After working his way down to it, he asked the man in the next seat, “Excuse me, but is anyone sitting here?”

“No,” replied the man. “Actually, the seat belongs to me. I was supposed to come with my wife, but she died. This is the first Super Bowl we haven’t been to together since we got married in 1967.”

“That’s very sad. But still, couldn’t you find anyone else to take the seat—a relative or close friend?”

“No,” replied the man, “they’re all at the funeral.”

Priorities don’t stay put; you have to revisit them every day. Why? Because conditions continually change. So do methods of getting things done. Your values, once defined, are going to be steady. You will be able to rely on them. But how you carry them out needs to be flexible.


Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel in the early twentieth century, once met with public relations and management consultant Ivy Lee because he wanted to improve his company’s productivity. “We know what we should be doing,” explained Schwab. “Now, if you can show us a better way of getting it done, I’ll listen to you—and pay you anything within reason.”

Lee said that he could help him, and that it would take only twenty minutes of his time. He handed Schwab a blank sheet of paper and said, “Write down the six most important things you have to do tomorrow.” Schwab complied.

“Now number them in the order of their importance to you and the company.” When Schwab had finished, Lee continued, “Now put that paper in your pocket, and first thing tomorrow morning, take it out and look at item number one. Don’t look at the others, just number one, and start working on it and stay with it until it’s completed. Then take item number two the same way, then number three, and so on until you have to quit for the day. Don’t worry if you have finished only one or two. You’ll be working on “the most important ones. The others you could not have finished with any other method. And without some kind of system, you’d probably take ten times as long to finish them—and might not even have them in the order of their importance.

“Do this every workday,” said Lee. “After you’re convinced of the value of this system, have your people try it out. Try it as long as you like, and then send me a check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

In a few weeks, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 along with a letter saying that it was the most profitable lesson he had ever learned. Not long after that, Bethlehem Steel became the largest independent steel producer of its day.

According to a survey taken by Day-Timers, Inc., only one-third of American workers plan their daily schedules. If you want to be effective, you must be able to make the transition to planning.


According to time management expert Alec Mackenzie, surveys show that most executives don’t get to their most important tasks until midafternoon. Why? Most finished off low-priority tasks so that they could have a sense of accomplishment.

“Follow your plan” is such simple advice that it seems like it goes without saying. But simple is powerful. That same Day-Timers survey found that of the one-third of Americans who plan their schedules, one 9% of them actually follow through with their plan. Not only does it need to be said, it bears repeating: if you want your New Year’s resolutions to be realized, you must follow through with your plan.

German novelist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” If you prioritize your life and plan your day but don’t follow through, your results will be the same as those of someone who didn’t prioritize at all.

If you loved this blog post and would like to get daily wisdom…

We have a suggestion… and it’s free of charge. Join the over 800,000 leaders who are growing daily with the Minute with Maxwell motivational video series. Your Free Minute with Maxwell Subscription includes daily coaching videos delivered straight to your inbox to help you positively impact your own life and the lives of those around you. You can subscribe here. You’ll be surprised what one mindful moment, day after day, can do to help you grow into the leader you’ve always dreamed of being. Let today be Day 1.

This blog post has been adapted from Dr. John Maxwell’s personal productivity resource, Today Matters. John Maxwell has been one of the world’s foremost leadership and personal growth experts for more than 40 years, and this guidebook for success planning contains invaluable insights. You can pick up a copy here.

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