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How to Live Intentionally : A Primer

A life lived according to personal ideals seems idyllic but just how to live intentionally seems daunting. It doesn’t have to be that way, however; in fact living with intention is more about paying attention than anything else.

A wire bound tablet with pencil and cup of tea on a table with leaves.

Find focus and get started with intentional living with these simple, doable steps that will allow you build the life you desire.

Identify Priorities

What is it that you intend to do? How do you want your intentional life to look?

Write it down. This is important. Keep an actual list of personal priorities to which you can refer.

This is not about what you currently do but rather ideally how your life would look on a day to day basis.

These priorities are individual and personal but here are some potential priorities : time to engage in creative pursuits – travel to see family or to visit new places – more date nights with your partner – cooking from scratch more often – the list goes on.

Identify Responsibilities

We all have things we have to do on a daily basis. We may have to work, raise children, care for aging or ill parents, etc. These responsibilities must be built into an intentional life. They are real time commitments that we must put first.

Again, write them down. Every little thing and if possible write down how many hours in a day it takes to do them. For example, work is 8 hours plus commute time.

Paper planners, smart phone, and pens sitting on a work table.

Identify the Other Things

What else do you do in a day that aren’t on the priorities or responsibilities lists? Some examples might include: scrolling instagram or social media feeds, watching TV, shopping, eating out, etc.

A computer tablet and smart phone with headphones and a journal with pen on a wood table.

And again, write these things down.

Be brutally honest with yourself here. This is the way to cut the fat, so to speak. This list is where we find out why we’re not living as intentionally as we would like.

Compare the Lists

Responsibilities, obviously, have to stay. There may be ways to make those more efficient or to cut back time but likely they don’t disappear completely.

Choose the priorities that are most meaningful. Circle them on your list. Be honest about how much time after responsibilities is available. No one can do it all, we all have to choose wisely.

A vase filled with daisies on a windowsill and text overlay.

Now the other things – what things can be cut completely or simply scaled back? For most of us, we don’t even actually realize how much time we spend playing games on our phones or scrolling social media or binge watching that engrossing series…

Decide on time limits for the things that can be scaled back, social media or TV for example. Choose what things can go – maybe the community group isn’t bringing you joy any more – give notice and quit.

Be Vigilant

The other things are the things that stop us from living intentionally. Be vigilant in paying attention to those things and replacing them with things from the priority list. It is so easy to be distracted and yet the magic happens when we focus.

A book and a ball of yarn with hat in progress on knitting needles sitting on a stool.

This takes practice and repeated efforts. We all get distracted, we all fall short now and then. Refocus as necessary and keep pushing forward.

Keeping track of your days is a great way to be vigilant. A simple bullet list of what you have do, want to do, and what you actually do is a great way to see clearly how the hours pass. Do this in a paper journal or on your phone.

Review your days and make adjustments as necessary.

Remember that Practice Builds Efficiency

The more we do something, anything, the better we get at it. This is not about being perfect, it’s about gaining confidence and skill.

The first time we try anything, it is likely messing and time consuming. However, the more we repeat it, the easier it becomes because we learn little tricks, muscle memory comes into play and more.

Hands kneading bread dough on a board.

This is as true for baking bread or knitting as it is for living simply and intentionally. It will take a little while to find a groove but it will come just keep practicing.

Learn to Say No

No is a complete sentence. Make it polite with a No, thank you for asking if that makes you feel better. Say it however makes you feel better just learn to say no (see above about practice building efficiency).

You do not need to explain why you are saying no. That’s personal and no one else’s business. No is a complete sentence.

It’s not about being too busy, it’s about protecting your time so that you aren’t so busy and burnt out. It’s about staying active in the intentional life you want to lead.

A vase filled with daisies on a windowsill and text overlay.

There are no shortages of good causes that need volunteers or donations. There is, however; a shortage of your personal time and money. Choose wisely what you say yes too – saying yes to helping with the school fundraiser or buying the raffle ticket likely means saying no to something else on your priority list.

Do what you can when it is important, say no when it doesn’t perfectly align with your responsibilities and priorities.

Find Routine

Create a routine for yourself that automatically builds in your intentions. A routine does not block room for spontaneous events or changes that must be made because life happens.

A routine means that space is built into days so that things can switch when the weather is perfect for an afternoon hike or the car breaks down.

A closed journal with pen on top.

Build in necessary rest and rejuvenation to your routine. Everyone has different energy levels and health needs. Folks with chronic illness will likely need more time for rest than someone who doesn’t. Again, be brutally honest with your needs and routine.

Take it One Bite at a Time

Don’t try to do all the things in one day. Pick one or two priorities and get started. Build upon those successes and watch your world expand slowly and ideally.

This is truly a long journey, walk it slowly.

A dirt path winding through tree trunks in the woods.

Don’t try to declutter the whole house, for example, start with one drawer and build from there.

Instead of completely going cold turkey from social media, take a social media fast for a week or so. Alternatively, delete the apps from your phone and set a time limit on your desktop for using them every day.

Start with a small garden and build upon it year after year.

Look at those priorities and break them down into bite-sized steps and goals until you get to the reach the desired outcome.

Find Support

The intentional life is a bit outside of the norm or at least the mass marketed norm we’re all exposed to on a daily basis. Find support for the life you want to live.

Two cups of hibcus tea in cups on saucers with chocolate candies.

Do this by talking about it with understanding friends and family. Not everyone will be understanding or supportive – that’s okay, you do you, let them do them.

Find local groups that align with your ideals. Join a knitting circle for example as part of your routine to build in time for creative endeavors and learn from more experienced folks.

Use targeted social media groups but be careful – don’t let them be distraction only a support.

Take classes, read books, find mentors that will guide you along. They are everywhere just take time to do a little research and go for it.

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Saturday 1st of July 2023

Kathie, Thank you for this awesome article. Having just lost my job, I not only have the usual long laundry list of things I need to get done and want to do but now have the task of job hunting. Your article perfectly outlines the steps I have been using for a long time to work through a very deadline oriented work life, reminded me to take care of me, and will help me to create a new and more intentional life to keep moving forward. I am going to start building this weekend!


Friday 19th of May 2023

Thank for practical advice…encouraging…and timely 👍😃❤️

Mike Forness

Sunday 28th of August 2022

Thank you, this has really helped me in my mind.

Rain Beeson

Monday 27th of January 2020

I read and basked in every word you penned. The last two years I have been the total caregiver for my husband. He refuses hospice or anyone else to care for him but me. I love my man dearly but I have now hurt myself in the process of things, making a tough situation...tougher. I feel a little swamped by it all and have little personal time. I am going to apply some of your suggestions, to try to bring a bit more order out of my lovely chaos. Thanks for your encouraging words.

Kathie Lapcevic

Monday 27th of January 2020

Please take care of yourself. Such a hard thing you are experiencing and it can be so very difficult to find order.

Tessa Zundel

Wednesday 22nd of January 2020

This was a beautiful reminder for me today - thank you.