As I sit here looking out the window at a world blanketed in pristine white snow, it’s easy to forget about today’s priorities. I mean, cold weather and snow practically demand that we sleep in late or huddle by the fire with our mugs of hot cocoa. Dealing with the drudgery of real life seems trivial when every major school district in the metroplex shuts down for the day.
To give a little perspective: I live in North Texas, so we’re talking about a few inches of snow, not feet. Everyone just forgets how to drive when the roadways turn white, so while shutting down the city will seem melodramatic to some, it’s the only way to keep thousands of people out of a ditch…
Anyway. The thing about our priorities, our real priorities, is that they stay priorities regardless of what’s going on around us. Barring an end of the world apocalypse in Mayan calendar fashion, we should be able to set priorities we can stick to. After all, priorities that change with your every whim aren’t really priorities, are they?
The trouble with setting priorities
I thought I had my priorities set and in perfect order. Family, work, personal time…check. Unfortunately, what I began to learn was that I was lumping things together too much instead of defining each little thing. Basically, I was making nothing important by making everything important.
So, even though I’d set my priorities in broad strokes, I defined nothing. When the chips were down and not everything was getting done, which client project took priority? In dealing with my own personal writing time, would fiction take priority or would non-fiction?
Until this weekend, I couldn’t answer any of those questions.
Is there a point in having too many priorities?
In a way, it’s wishful thinking more than laziness that stops us from defining the exact nature of our true priorities. It’s not that I can’t figure out which client project must come first, it’s that I don’t want to. In a perfect world, I want to complete all my client work in the schedule I create for myself.
It’s the same with my writing. I desperately want there to be adequate time for all of it. The sad fact remains that there isn’t.
By not setting priorities with a clear hierarchy of importance, I’ve just been setting myself up for failure. If you think about it, so have you. Sure, maybe you meet all the obligations in an overbooked calendar for a few weeks or months but, at some point, you will run out of time.
The key to setting priorities the right way
If setting priorities you can actually follow is something you want to do, you must be willing to make the difficult choices as they come. Will you be comfortable saying no to a business or social engagement when it conflicts with a higher priority commitment? Are you willing to cut out aspects of your life – maybe even things you love – as you readjust your priorities?
I never said this was going to be easy, y’all. For what it’s worth, I’m having to give things up right now as well and it’s absolutely killing me to do so. You are not alone.
It’s possible that this process for setting priorities won’t be as painful for you as it’s been for me. I was simply lumping too many different things together and calling it one priority.
To set priorities in a way you can actually follow:
- Create a list of the opposing forces in your life – be it school, family, work, hobbies, etc
- List subtasks for each opposing force, like multiple types of family or work obligations
- Consider how each subtask aligns with your personal values and beliefs
- Write your subtasks in their order of importance without regard for overall category.
Now that you’ve done that, sleep on it. You may think you’ve created the end all, be all list of priorities, but I guarantee something will change once you get away from it for a while. More important than creating the list is putting it down before final review. Gaining some level of perspective is the key to setting priorities.
Letting perspective shape your priorities
Okay, it’s time for all of us to face a hard truth. You probably won’t like me very much for saying it, but you need to hear it. Your family will not always get to be your highest priority.
I know, but hear me out please.
Realistically, your ability to earn the living that keeps a roof over your family’s head and food in their bellies is your top priority. We could debate the semantics of it all day, but if your only choices came down to working extra hours during their school play to avoid getting thrown out on the street, can you honestly say you’d go to the play instead of work? In a way, you’re still putting your family first, if you think about it, just not in the way we typically think of.
If you’ve been breaking your priorities down into sweeping categories like Faith, Family, Work, Hobbies…Well, it’s time you thought about things in a new way. Your spouse or significant other deserves a separate category from the kids and extended family. Work projects that earn your primary income deserve a separate category from work projects that increase your advancement opportunities. Being devoted to your individual faith deserves a separate category from going to church every Sunday morning.
Do you see what I’m getting at?
Now, return to your priority list with a set of fresh, realistic eyes and review it. Ask yourself:
- Are these realistic priorities or “perfect world” ideals?
- Can I use this priority list as a guide for making decisions, or will I have to go off book to function?
- Did I let enough time pass between creating the list and revisiting it? (at least 24 hours)
- Did I let feelings of guilt or the “should’ves” dictate my priorities instead of reality?
- Does this list include time drains like watching television and playing on social media?
- Is this list an accurate depiction of my real world values?
If you didn’t like the answers you gave to those questions, go back and tweak your priority list until you do.
How will setting realistic priorities help your life?
I have to make just one more point before I can turn it over to you. If you didn’t include any time drains on your priority list, you’re destined to fail. Since most of us already know we’re going to spend time watching TV, playing on Facebook or surfing the Internet, it makes sense to throw ‘em on the list. Even though they aren’t usually important items, putting them on the list sends a subconscious message that we should complete higher priority tasks before reading about our favorite celeb’s shoe-buying habits.
Just a thought.
So, how will setting priorities in a realistic manner impact your life? As you consider your current priorities, have you had to face any hard truths about what’s working and what isn’t? Do you have any tips for setting priorities you’d like to add to the list?
“If you can change your mind, you can change your life.”
Photo Credit: add1sun via Flickr
© 2011, Jen Whitten. All rights reserved. Using content from The Positive Piper without permission will cause the Negativity Beast to attack. BEWARE!