The Art of Prioritizing

If I look in the mirror and this is what I see - I'd get scared because that isn't me!!! (Oh, what if it WAS me? I would say it's time to prioritize!) "Overwhelmed" by Walt Stoneburner on Flickr

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.

Sometimes, the best place for weary bones is watching a good movie in a comfy theater. "Old-school Movie Theater" by Daveybot on Flickr

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):

  1.  My personal well-being
  2. The well-being of living things in my care
  3. Generating enough income to pay bills, eat, have clothing and a roof over my head and yes, even PLAY on occasion
  4. Supporting friends and loved ones in times of need
  5. 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.

Don't let the pretty lights fool you. Bumping around in there would hurt! "Pinball Bumpers" by Kapungo on Flickr

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

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About Amy Buchheit

I am a Signature Member of the International Society of Acrylic Painters and an Ambassador for Artist Trust. I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Marylhurst University and have exhibited on regional, national and international levels since 2000. I am committed to connecting with the viewer through my work - stirring buried emotions to the surface for further inspection and introspection. The inspiration for my art comes from direct observations, research of subjects I am passionate about and personal experiences. For more information about my art, workshops and exhibitions, visit my website at http://www.amybuchheit.com. My blog "Fantastic Voyage" can be found at http://www.amybuchheit.wordpress.com, and I can be found on Facebook under Amy Buchheit Art and on Twitter as @AmyBuchheit.
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12 Responses to The Art of Prioritizing

  1. This is today’s question!

    The good news? My new book is receiving so much press and attention (yay!) I can’t get a damn thing done! When I have a free moment, I sit there gobsmacked and vacant….

    My top priority right now is to find and hire an assistant to relieve me of the crucial admin. and follow-ups I need to grow my business….so I can get ON with the next book and the one after that. I find it’s frighteningly easy to lose sight (and time) of the end goal, which for me is always sustaining income.

    http://malledthebook.com/

  2. Amy Buchheit says:

    Well, congratulations on your success, Caitlin! That is what I like to call a “happy problem”. 🙂

    Just FYI … I usually don’t keep links up that are posted without being asked for (smacks a bit of spamminess to me). I will leave yours up though – and here is why. #1: You actually seem to have read the post (most spammers don’t bother) and #2: I chose (for whatever reason, usually don’t!) to click through. And … I feel the need to support your book. Why? I too ended up in an unintentional (short term) career in retail. I have lived your story – though I was in my late 20s when it happened and (thankfully) I wasn’t unemployed as long. My guess is that I could totally relate to the book. And, I love the chapter title “Deck the Halls – Not the Customers” … enough said. 🙂

    Best of luck to you in your writing endeavors. May your challenges continue to be ones of prosperity!

    Amy

  3. Patrick Ross says:

    Oh my, Amy, this post really resonates. I hit the ground running in 2011, so many new projects. Six months in I’ve realized I can’t possibly do all of them, not to the degree I’d like. I read awhile back that you should have no more than three major initiatives in your life, I had about 10. I’ve put some on hold, including one I really was excited about, but the amount of time required to build it to operation vs. short-term return just didn’t pay off.

    As far as going to the movies, you can release some of that guilt. For creatives, a movie adventure can help push some of your creative initiatives briefly down to your subconscious, giving you a rest, but the creativity of the screenwriters, director and actors can provide some fertilizer for those initiatives. So in a way it’s work-related!

  4. Amy Buchheit says:

    Thank you for the reply, Patrick … good to see I am not alone in the frantic search for super powers! 😉 I can related to having to set aside projects, but I’m sure they will come to fruition in their own time. Even though it has taken me years to get established as an art instructor and to do my first mural … the seeds were planted long ago. It just wasn’t their time yet. They needed more rest and nourishment before they could burst forth and grow to their potential (though both have plenty of room to grow stronger!).

    Thank you for reminding me of a good justification for movie time! 🙂 Either via Netflix or the theater … it is often those little blocks of time that I allow myself, even when I don’t give myself full days off for several weeks due to deadlines. When I have full days that are true “down days” (not full of errands to run or places to go) … my favorite thing to do is read for hours. 🙂

  5. I think one of my largest problems is exactly what you mentioned at the beginning. I run around like a chicken with my head cut off until I sit down and think “Yeah, I’m going to play video games/watch a movie/read a book/geek out over Doctor Who for the next six hours, consequences be damned.”
    Prioritizing is key, and I think your “top five” is incredibly reasonable.
    Mine?
    1. Well being of my friends and loved ones.
    2. My personal health and well being. (Only because I have to take myself down a peg now and then, and remember that I’m really not the only person in the world.)
    3. Job hunting, schooling, bill paying, not starving. (Directly tied into the above two.)
    4. Improving my craft and myself as a professional.
    5. Helping out the community. (A generalization. Local community, online community, writing/religious/geek community. One more reminder that I’m not the only person in the world. I’m admittedly a little self-centered, and I’m working on that.)

    Great post!

    • Amy Buchheit says:

      O.K. … I have to ask … what is a geek community? I’m dying to know!

      I can see why you choose the top five in the order you did. So long as you are taking care of yourself/not working yourself into the ground, I think they make sense! (Although perhaps “not starving” should be further up on the list? 😉 ) I too am about giving back … I would say that would be a close #6 for me. Growing my business comes first because I am 100% committed to making my living working for myself and only myself by the fall of 2012. At that point, my business would move up to number 3 and the list below would shift up one place. 🙂

      I like your fall back/post burn out activities. I haven’t watched a LOT of Dr. Who myself, but have friends that are totally into it. What season (do they call them seasons?) do you like best?

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Nice to “meet” you! 🙂

      Amy

      • LOL. The geek community includes anyone with a geeky interest(s) who enjoy the company of other geeks. Convention goers, for instance. =]

        I’m a big fan of the few year stretch where David Tennant was The Doctor. He’s really got the goofy/hilarious/dramatic/emotional combination down, and I’m a big fan of inner turmoil. He displayed his fantastically well. What about you? =D

        Good luck reaching your goal by 2012! If you’re determined, I’m absolutely sure you can do it. ^^

      • Amy Buchheit says:

        Hi Kit! Thank you for the explanation of geek culture. Are geeks distinct from fans though? So if someone loves a band, they are still a fan, right, not a geek? (Yes, I am interested in the semantics of it all!)

        I must admit … I don’t remember who was Who in the episodes I have seen. Perhaps I will have to rent some on Netflix this summer.

        Stop on by any time to say hello. I am getting an education with your replies! 🙂

  6. Ollin says:

    As my mother always says: HEALTH FIRST. It’s logical and yet so many people put their personal well-being last. This has a terrible effect on every other aspect of your life: work, relationships, etc. Why would you do that?

    Thank you for reminding us Amy what’s important.

    • Amy Buchheit says:

      Hi Ollin! 🙂 Well, I used to be one of those people until I got stricken with Chronic Fatigue and Immune Deficiency Syndrome 14 years ago. Even then, it took me years of struggling with my bad habits to push myself way beyond what I could do whenever I deemed it necessary. It is something that I do have to pay close attention to now, but once I notice it, I’m much more likely to err on the side of listening to my body now. It makes for a much more pleasant life overall.

      Thank you for popping by and commenting! 🙂

  7. Sue Mitchell says:

    Thanks for this reminder to place a high priority on prioritizing. 🙂 Pretty much any time I start to feel overwhelmed and stressed, it’s because I forgot to prioritize.

    As you said, priorities shift, so I have short and long-term priorities. My overarching, long-term priorities are very similar to yours. Then at any given time, I try to have no more than three short-term priorities. I actually post them on the wall on colorful sticky notes so I don’t forget to focus on those.

    I also try to limit each day to no more than three task priorities. It’s hard, but it makes me really look at what genuinely matters. We create a lot of false urgency around our to-do lists, and many things we feel pressure to do don’t really need to be done at all, ever.

    I’ve found lowering expectations about what I’m going to get done really helps me get *more* done because if I feel overwhelmed, I tend to do nothing. (Though I totally agree with Patrick that going to a movie or doing something else that sparks ideas or allows you to incubate is not doing nothing.)

    • Amy Buchheit says:

      Hi Sue, thanks for popping by! 🙂 I love that you have a structure in place to keep your priorities in existence for yourself. I do as well. Rather than sticky notes, I follow a plan set up by a member of my Mastermind Group that includes creating a yearly overview, then building quarterly plans from that. Those get broken down into a “weekly action sheet” … which my committed listener (we talk 3 – 5 days per week) then checks to help keep me on course. Keeps me from flopping around willie nillie … which is easy to do when I have lots of potential projects I could be working on.

      I like what you are saying about “many things we feel pressure to do don’t really need to be done at all, ever.” I learned that one when I got that no one would die if I didn’t decorate for Christmas. Now, I love doing it, but when it becomes the lead weight on my overburdened “to do” list … not so much. I live alone now but even when I was married, my ex didn’t care and didn’t help me. I don’t have kids. So why did I make it a “have to”? Don’t know. Just know I don’t worry about it any more. If I want Christmas spirit, I can always go out to get it, which I do. And …. I often do at least a *little* decorating … just for fun. 😉

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