(Relearning) How To Prioritize

13 August 2011, by A. Cedilla

(Early hint: You think big, and act small.)

Life isn’t just about putting out fires, saving the day, and checking off lists. It’s not about racing at the treadmill or around the office. It’s about finding out who you are and what you’ve got to leave this world. It’s about finding meaning in what you do.

And if you can’t find it, you make it.

You have to have something to show for what you did — and are doing. Something that means you’re here, and that your life has an impact on those around you. That you are leading your life in pursuit (or discovery) of something: meaning, purpose, relevance, what have you.

  • An improved social condition, a good grade, a degree, a circle of good friends.
  • A clutter-free house, for the most part, a restful haven from the pressure and speed of the outside world.
  • A child who can now write all her lower-case letters clearly and knows how to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome.’
  • More limber hamstrings, knees that don’t complain, a back that doesn’t threaten to give out, an all-clear from the doctor regarding your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Less anxiety over money matters, bolstered by an actual, working system to handle emergencies, with a good financial cushion in place.
  • A healthy relationship with your loved ones. A graceful, grateful, humor-filled self-acceptance of who you are and who you’re not.

It’s a sure thing that you have your own goals and dreams in hand, and you’ve done a lot of things — a lot — to make these goals and dreams come true, so…what did you accomplish today, and what are you working on tomorrow?

Relearning how to prioritize in this context means a consistent, regular assessment of your actions and your direction. You check in with yourself constantly. Are the things you are doing taking you somewhere? And by that, we mean somewhere you want to go?

In a previous fourpart series, we deconstructed personal time management by breaking down visions and goals. Assuming you’re familiar with the GTD method (Getting Things Done) kicked off by time-management expert David Allen, who wrote a book about GTD, which in turn was predated by Stephen R. Covey‘s seminal work, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” basically, old-school ‘getting things done’ is accomplished by breaking them down into 4 categories, laying them out over a matrix of Urgent/ Non-urgent, and Important/Unimportant. Using these factors, we get the following:

A urgent and important
B urgent and unimportant
C non-urgent but still important
D not urgent and not important

Which, if you lay them in a list for today, goes a little something like the following:

A MIT (Most important tasks) for today
B Support activities
C Follow-up
D Laying the groundwork for tomorrow

This isn’t about telling you which things to put first. Everyone has their own thing, their own troubles and gifts, their own life, and the particulars of each life are specific to each person, so what works for someone you admire and maybe even want to emulate may not necessarily work for you. This is about being authentic, and respecting that authenticity — the core of you — with your actions, every day.

(Supporting hint: You practice living your priorities from the inside out.)

Committing to a consistent personal check-in is being aware of the direction that your life is flowing, of where you want to go, of the dozens and hundreds of steps you take to get there, and being conscious when taking those steps — that they are taking you somewhere, so don’t give up, don’t lose track of what you’re doing all of this for, slogging through discomfort, frustration, sheer mind-numbing ennui and that universal cry of “Why am I doing this? What the heck’s the point!”

You have your reasons, you just lost the connections to them. Adjust, shift, get some refreshed perspective and keep on walking.

Re-member why you’re doing what you’re doing by checking in with yourself. Keep in touch with your end-goals and anchor yourself so instead of being pulled and pushed about by life’s whimsy you live from a steady center, and respond to life as the captain of your fate.

You know what you want to fill your life with. Not ‘everything.’ Aside from realizing you don’t have room, you don’t want everything, you don’t even need everything…just the really neat things that matter to you. Just…enough.

So, how do you fill your life? Tweak the question a bit: how is your life filled?

  • There are things you choose and thing you don’t get to choose. How do you handle them?
  • There are things that just get dumped on you, and there are things that you dump on others. How do you deal?
  • There’s things you accept, and things you bear. What keeps you going?

How you deal with these things shows what you believe is important.

Part of checking-in is asking yourself: Am I content with how things are going?

I’m not talking about ‘happy.’ Happy is a matter of moments, or hours. I’m talking about being content, being at peace. A steady joy, not a constant party. You get ‘steady’ by being consistent, by showing up. By making mistakes, adjusting, changing direction, rethinking things and yet still going forward. You build a life by knowing what your priorities are, and by doing the actions that show you honor your priorities.

You know what that is? That is embodying your beliefs. That’s incorporation, from the Latin ‘corpore‘ or body, which is just like making a recognized business entity for tax and legal purposes. But instead of resulting in a legal entity, you’re building a body of life. You’re living from the inside out.

But to put it in more practicable terms. What are your end goals? What is your time-line? What do you want to show for your priorities and your labor?

  • Lay them out over a year, and tear your goals to itty shreds. How can you ensure that at the end of the year you get to say, “I did it my way?” That despite everything else, you had a great year, best ever because you’re still here?
  • Chunk it into quarters if the thought of holycraptwelveMONTHS freaks you out. How much can you accomplish in 90 days? Still too much? How about forty-five days? Thirty ? A week? 16 hours awake? Here are a few questions to get the ball rolling:

For tomorrow:
What one, two or three things do I have to finish to make the best part of this day count?
How will I sabotage myself from doing them?
What can I do to make sure I do them?

At the end of the day:
What is it that I did NOT do that will hurt me tomorrow? Can I still prep for it?
Did I get the best use of my 16 hours awake?

Keep going with this line of questions for the beginning and the end of your time period. A big problem gives smaller pains when you spread it out over time, and looking ahead to predict reasonable outcomes for your actions helps enormously in ironing out potential issues.

At the end of the week:
How much have I got to show for the past seven days? Did I get the important stuff done? Am I okay with what I’ve finished?
How can I make next week flow just as smoothly (or go better than this week?)
What did I forget? Can I make up for it or can I let it stand?
What’s coming up that I have to prep for?

At the end of the month:
What do have to show for the last 30 days? How much have I accomplishment of my goals for the month?

At the end of the year:
What have I got for my year here on Earth?
What have I given back in the additional year that the world has had me?

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