The last couple of weeks has seen me having to dig deep into my toolbox and my resilience reserves. The why for me has been the hospitalisation of my mom and a difficult diagnosis to begin to process. And although this is personally my current reality, all of us will have had, are experiencing now, and will face again in the future, events that will test us to new limits.
In December and January, I ran some workshops on tackling overwhelm, with my dear friend and talented coach Jenn Paster Detmer of Livthentic. One of the core themes of that was how to prioritise. It’s interesting to me then, that less than a month later, my own ability to prioritise has been called upon in rather epic fashion.
Just a few short years ago I was the type of person who not only tried to, but also believed I could, take on everything. Delegation was not in my vocabulary. I believed that if I wanted something doing fast and efficiently, it was better to do it myself. I did not always appreciate the investment of my time in others - to enable them, enrich their experience and ultimately help me longer term. I believed I should be able to manage it all – it’s what management meant. And it extended beyond the boundaries of work. Although there was little appetite for it, I also felt I should be fulfilling an impressive catalogue of extra-curricular activities and was therefore frequently disappointed with myself when I invariably didn’t. I didn’t like asking for help, with anything, it felt like failure to me, it meant I was less.
Had this continued to be my go-to behaviour I can say with complete certainty that today would be so much harder than it already is. There comes a point where we must let go of something. The phrase that has been in my mind over and over again in the last weeks has been “ditch it”. It came from Jenn and is one of the quadrants in the prioritisation tool we shared in the workshop (if you don’t know it and want it, please let me know and I will merrily email it out). As far as the tool goes, ‘ditch it’ covers those low priority items over which we also have little control. I confess I have extended it slightly for my own purposes and have also applied it to things that I do have control over and normally would have higher priority for me… needs must.
What’s in it for us then when we do prioritise?
The benefits of prioritising:
Focus: I have lost count of the times I came to log off at the end of a day and multiple tabs open, most with started but unfinished tasks. When we have a clear prioritisation of tasks in place, then we are far more likely to remain focussed on each task in turn and close it off. The potential to be side tracked is significantly reduced. It’s a key weapon against procrastination.
Increased productivity and efficiency: when we are focussed and closing out tasks, as opposed to just pushing them about, we are immediately being more efficient and productive. Taking my beloved ‘ditch it’ – if we clear the decks of the non-value adding farting about that we all do (you know we do), if we ditch that, we open up time and energy to get the important stuff done – and done well.
Better time management: ever been told to work smarter not harder? This requires us to be able to more dispassionately assess where our focus is best placed. Where can we achieve the best results? Where can we expect the best opportunities? And then have the courage to cut out or cut back on the rest, the low value tasks, at least in the immediate term.
Boundaries and balance: and I mentioned courage. Yes, we need it to create and communicate those boundaries that are going to have to be in play to protect our ability to follow through on this prioritisation. What’s important to you? What are you trying to achieve by prioritising? For the sake of what? Define what balance is for you – establish it and then stop compromising on it.
Create space and calm (aka less stress & anxiety): Ah for the sake of what? For so many of us it is for this. Space, calm, less stress, and less anxiety. My goodness that’s worth it isn’t it? And yet it is ourselves and our sanity that we so frequently sacrifice first, and for what? Another couple of hours at the laptop that quite often passes completely unnoticed by anyone except ourselves.
None of us need to wait for a big life event before we choose to experiment with how to prioritise. And as with all things we don’t need to become someone totally new overnight (or ever), we can make small tweaks, calm our nerves, and then have another tweak a bit later.
How to start prioritising
Any fellow stationery lovers? Here’s a great time to get yourself a nice notebook… it’s always a motivator for me! Writing things down, getting things out of your head an in front of your eyes is a great place to start. Then we are working with data as opposed to thoughts, which will be adding a narrative alongside the task. So, list them and then start categorising.
Important versus urgent: a good distinction to get familiar with. It is often other people’s tasks that are urgent, not our own. The person on the other end of the phone/email who needs it now. It feels easier, especially for the people pleasers amongst us, to satisfy these demands first, at the expense of what we had planned.
What are your targets? Spending a few minutes understanding what it is specifically that you are trying to achieve, helps you get that bigger picture and helps you with the why. When we understand our why in any task, it becomes easier to keep the motivation in place (and hold our ground when other things vie for our attention and time).
Deadlines: helpful in the war against procrastination. When there is a clear deadline most of us are more motivated to focus and get on with it.
Don’t let your inbox drive your workload: similar to the important versus urgent. We can so easily get distracted by constantly checking our messages and then jumping in and immediately responding. Try instead to have set times to check your email – and define a process that works for you on slotting these new tasks into your existing prioritisation list accordingly.
Block your diary: This is a favourite of mine, it helps me concentrate on one thing at a time and ensures I consider the time I want to allocate to something to do it justice (but not overdo it!). My tasks become meetings- with me. I am not available during these times, it’s my time to focus.
Communicate: when we are experimenting with new behaviours and strategies it is smart to communicate this to those around you. Not only does this help others understand your new boundaries but it helps in accountability – you are inviting others to support your endeavours.
You are a priority too. It can be a tough one to stick to. But we need to prioritise ourselves in amongst all this. An empty battery is worthless. Want to be effective? Efficient? Then you must recharge yourself consistently. A one off pamper every few months isn’t going to cut it – little and often is the mantra here. You always come under the category of important.
Be prepared to be flexible and keep a light hold. Best laid plans and all that. Be the bamboo that flexes with the wind, not the brittle branch that breaks at the first sign of it. The only certainty is change and we will need to adapt to this, so keeping an open mind and being receptive to changes and tweaks will save you much stress.
Man plans, God laughs. Yiddish proverb
Sometimes it takes something big to make us stop. Covid for example made many of us pause, reflect and acknowledge what was really important to us. If we can apply just a small part of this reflection now, without the big life event needing to occur, then we provide ourselves with the opportunity to make positive change. To prioritise what really matter to us, recognising we are a vital part of that equation.
If I’ve piqued your curiosity I offer a free 30-minute call. You can book that directly in my diary here. I don’t do hassle, I can’t bear it when people try it with me, so of course you get to mull it over and a no thanks from you is final, I promise. And for those that like the detail (I’m one of those), have a look at my website, where I aim to provide complete transparency on what to expect – and that includes pricing.
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