In the go-go-go world in which we live, sometimes it feels impossible to prioritize – there’s always so much going on, and so much to do, and so much we should be doing. We careen along our lives as if we’re in one giant pinball machine, banging into buzzers, whizzing by bumpers and – sometimes – losing ourselves deep black holes, with the only option… to start all over again. Pull that spring back as far as it’ll go and – wham! – you’re launched right the chaos of blinking lights and dinging bells.
Bing. Bing bing. Bing bing bing. Bing. Thwack. Bing. Bing. Bing.
Knowing your priorities can make this a whole lot easier.
Oh, I know that there are some who say, “Priorities, schmi-orities. No one’s gonna tell me what to do, and where to go! No way, man!” (or, “dude”, depending on age group).
Yes, for some people priorities feel limiting and inflexible. But for all of their no-way-man resistance, they still have priorities which they serve.
How do I know?
Simple. I watch what they do.
Because you can only see what someone truly prioritizes by watching what they do. Actions always reveal true intentions.
There are a couple of ways to identify your priorities. First, you can use my Personal Planning Tool worksheet, which ultimately drives you to identify those things, in rank order, that are most important today. Download the PDF.
You can also sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil and do this exercise. Pick a day last week – a typical day when you had stuff to do. Ask yourself:
When did I wake up? How did I feel?
When did I get out of bed? How did I feel?
What did I do first? How did I feel about that?
What did I do next? How did I feel about it?
[note: be more specific than saying "I went to work"; say, "I drove to the parking lot, parked, went to my office, read email, went to the meeting with Jim, phone calls with Tom, Dick and Harry. Lunch at desk while checking email," etc. and continue to note how you felt at each of these times.]
Keep asking “What did I do next/how did it feel?” until you get to when you got into bed and when you fell asleep.
Now, go back and look at this typical day. Anything pop out at you?
What did you make time for, without fail?
Where did you always say yes?
Where did you feel great? Where did it feel awful?
It’s a hunch, but I’ll bet that the people, places and things you said yes to, made time for and felt great about are your true priorities.
And the other stuff may be other people’s priorities, or what society tells you “should” be priorities, but which really hold no oomph for you.
So, looking at your time, it might be revealed that your true priority is your daily five mile run.
Or the office fantasy football league discussions. Which allow you to feel the deep satisfaction of belonging.
Or taking your kids to school and picking them up. Allowing the space to be fully engaged in their lives.
Or your health. Or someone else’s health. Permitting the grace of caregiving, or the power of self-care.
Or your own learning and growth. Gaining mastery of knowledge and understanding.
Whatever it is, it’s yours. And by honing in on your priorities, you come into awareness of your own ability to achieve, and to accomplish, and to be at your best more of the time.
So you might say one thing is a priority – often it’s around work, or your marriage, or your kids – but when you take an honest look at how you really spend your time, something else might show up.
Whatever that is? That’s your real priority. It’s not necessarily your spoken priority, mind you. But it is what you’re serving.
Address this misalignment between what we say and what we do and – just like getting bonus time – we’re on the road to getting happier, more effective and wiser.
So instead of saying, “My work is my priority”, honor that maybe your real priority is the things your work allows you to do – to connect with others, to learn, to grow, to have the space and time to run five miles a day, or pick your kids up from school.
It’s your choice. All of it – your choice.
You can be the ball.
Or you can be the Pinball Wizard, working the flipper to serve your most vital priority.