So … you have 30 tasks you feel MUST be done today, and time to do about 20 of them. What do you do? Work yourself until you are so exhausted you can’t remain upright any longer, then claw your way out of bed to do it again the next day? (Is this sounding like the voice of experience? Hmmmm …) Go to the movies because there is no way you could do all of it, so why even try? Do the 20 things you *can* squeeze in, then beat yourself up with a (hopefully) imaginary cat-o-nine tails for failing?
For 15 years or so, I most often worked myself to the bone or beat myself to a pulp for failing. I flailed around without much of a plan, or one that was so unrealistic there was no way I could possibly accomplish it all. But as I get older (and feel less indestructible), I find the sane approach to getting things done is utilizing the art of prioritization.
Why do I call prioritizing an art? It isn’t just to fit it in to the theme of this blog (although, that does work out nicely). I label it as such because in my experience, there is no one right way to do it. It is a generative, even somewhat creative act.
When prioritizing throughout the day, I ask myself, “What do I need, right now?”. There are times the answer *is* to go to the movies, because my brain and/or body are on overload. The priority is resting and taking care of myself. Sometimes I put the tasks at hand in order of importance, accomplish as much as I can and put the rest on the “to do list” for the following day. At other times, a deadline is looming and work becomes the top priority, so I push myself to accomplish the goal.
I don’t operate at random any more – I choose the direction my life will take. I ask myself – What exhibitions are right for me, and showcase my work in its best light? What grants should I spend my time applying for? What marketing is likely to make the most difference? I ask these questions before selecting what to do, and make sure my actions fit my priorities.
While prioritization is a shifting, generative act, there are things I use as an overarching guideline … a master priority list, of sorts. It, too, can change as situations arise, such as a when a friend or family member is grievously ill and needs my support NOW. But in general, this is the list I use (in order of importance):
- My personal well-being
- The well-being of living things in my care
- Generating enough income to pay bills, eat, have clothing and a roof over my head and yes, even PLAY on occasion
- Supporting friends and loved ones in times of need
- Growing my business
It may seem surprising that growing my business is on the bottom of my “Top 5” list. But without personal well-being, I won’t have the energy to do anything! If I don’t take care of the living things around me (my dog, my cat, my plants, friends and family in need), I will eventually feel guilt and remorse. If I don’t generate enough money to pay the bills and provide the basics, I will, at some point, be worried. Worry, guilt and remorse are all energy drainers that work in direct opposition to creating a life that works.
I’m not saying that prioritizing comes naturally. My tendency is to work furiously toward a goal until I’m exhausted. So now, when life isn’t going according to plan I have to stop myself to ask – what is really important? Sleep, or getting the blog posted this week? (You may have noticed that lately, the answer has been sleep!) By asking the question, I give myself the opportunity to choose. I find that to be much more powerful than being bounced amongst the bumpers in the pinball game of life.
Do you take the time to prioritize things in your life? If so, what are your top five? If not, does it work for you to always just “go with the flow”? I’d love to hear what works for you.
© 2011 Amy Buchheit All Rights Reserved