I’m going to make an effort to have many of the pieces at Productivityist be as evergreen as possible, so when I say that I’ve been thinking a lot about prioritization lately I’m sure that it won’t be only now that that happens. The year is coming to a close, and a new calendar year is coming. Next month I’d usually take time to fully recharge, but the way our family vacation has been slated I can’t spend all of January doing that. So instead I’m going to spend part of the month in rejuvenation mode and the rest focusing primarily on one thing as an overarching project.
One thing. One priority. By definition. As it should be.
The problem is, I have so many things I want to do. That’s when prioritization becomes difficult. And since I already have a ton on my plate, making decisions on priorities isn’t a challenge I need right now (or that’s the story I tell myself). As a result, either everything becomes prioritized equally (often without intent) or nothing is prioritized other than the daily tasks on my list. Not good.
Whenever I find myself in this kind of state of mind, I recall a quote from one of my son’s favourite films:
“…when everyone’s super no one will be.”
That’s the tail end of the plan devised by super-villain Syndrome in The Incredibles. He plans to turn everyone in the world into superheroes because when that happens, no one will be any better than anyone else.
We do the same thing when we overload our calendars with important tasks that are only date-specific because we made them that way. We do the same thing when we take on a ton of projects at once, giving them all equality in some fashion. And we do the same thing when we make everything a priority.
It’s Time to Choose
Now is one of the best times of the year to set your priorities. Not just for the months and weeks ahead, but for the immediate future. The holidays – whether it’s n late December or found in pockets in the summer months – have a slower pace to them, which provides us the ideal atmosphere to think clearer and with more depth. There’s less doing going on and a lot more being. You’re less connected to the office and more connected to the home – and the self. When that happens, you can really align what you want to do with the things you ought to do and need to do.
There are two reasons:
- The things you need to do are generally less during slow periods. Chances are you were proactive and put yourself in a position where anything that was due was done before you left the office for this brief respite. That means urgency is lessened too. And when urgency is lessened, then importance can rise to the occasion and be noticed. Better still, importance gets the intention and attention it deserves.
- The things you ought to do are able to shift into one of the other two areas (need to and want to) far easier because there is less friction when things have slowed down. Leaving things in the middle (which is pretty much where the ought to stuff stays a lot of the time) isn’t a default. In fact, this is the time where moving the things in that category to one of the other two areas makes a lot of sense. Think of the things you ought to do as a combination of the common Getting Things Done contexts of Someday/Maybe items and goals. When there is less demand on your time, you can get clearer about whether or not those items belong left or right of center. And that’s going to free up a considerable amount of bandwidth for you.
The things you want to do really stand out during breaks like this. You have more freedom and more relaxation time, which puts you mind in a state where it gets the rest it needs to make better decisions that will impact you over the long haul. And when your mind has the time to be truly mindful, you can go beyond simply choosing.
You can choose wisely.
The priority should be a single thing. It should get done first and then you can move on to the next thing, which now becomes the priority. A priority is not a project; it’s a way of picking tasks that will move projects forward at the speed you desire. Sometimes the priority on its own will not be what you desire, but because it is a priority you will want to move it forward so you can choose one that can be.
So what was the priority for me now? Clearly it was writing this post. I have several other things to do, and now I can choose one as the next priority. And because things are slower, I can choose it mindfully based on what my pre-designed system indicates it could be as well as my own human intuition and initiative.
As a matter of fact, the reason I use a task manager isn’t to figure what I need to do next; it’s to see everything I have available for me to do next…and then choose. I’m not using a to-do list. I’m orchestrating a roadmap for my life. And just like you can’t truly do two things at once (let alone everything at once), you can’t be in two places at once.
Whether you follow my lead and theme your months to give you waypoints for your year or you use another method to map out your path, the key is to realize that you will only be at one place in your life at any given time. So choose to focus on the priority that will help you get to the next place every time instead of trying to focus on several.
Because when everything’s a priority…nothing is.
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