For Adams, it’s useful to think of your priorities as concentric circles, like a dartboard:
Your highest priority, in the center, is you: “If you ruin yourself, you won’t be able to work on any other priorities. So taking care of your health is job one.”
Your second-highest priority, in the second ring, is economics (e.g., your job, any investments, and your home): Adams admits that it may seem odd to put economics ahead of your family and friends, “but if you don’t get your financial engine right, you place a burden on everyone from your family to the country.”
The third ring includes your family, friends, and romantic partners: you need them to truly enjoy life.
The next rings are your local community, your country, and the world – in that order: don’t worry about trying to save the world until your inner rings are under control.
Adams acknowledges that the problem with his model is that life is never this simple: you can’t tell your boss that your assignment will be late because you want to go for a long, healthy walk.
To deal with conflicting priorities, he suggests a simple rule: judge how each one affects your personal energy.
It isn’t a foolproof gauge, but if you know a particular path will leave you drained, stressed, and unhealthy it’s probably the wrong choice. The right choices can be challenging, but they typically energize you.
For example, if your boss asks you to work over the weekend on something that you consider engaging and worthwhile, you may be willing to give up some of your personal life and health. But if your boss routinely asks you to work weekends “for no good reason other than to claw through piles of brain-deadening administrative work, you probably need to look for a new job.”
One criticism of using energy as your guide is that there are plenty of bad choices that energize you in the short run.
But as Adams points out, the dumb choices are usually obvious: “we all know, for example, that shoving cocaine up our noses isn’t a good long-term strategy.”