I’m coming to appreciate that an integral component of prioritizing is getting comfortable with all the things that we are not doing. We all have much more on our to do lists than we can ever do. And life will continue to give us more and more possibilities.
Like waves in the ocean, stuff to do just keeps coming. Prioritizing isn’t about figuring out how to ride all the waves. It’s about figuring out which waves are worth riding. And perhaps even more importantly, it’s about making peace with the fact that most waves will pass us by.
I encourage you to think of your to do list as a place to capture ideas. The items on your list (or wherever you choose to capture them) are just options. You are not obligated to do them all. You get to decide which options will truly contribute to what is meaningful in your life, and which options may have to be let go. When we can accept that we can’t do it all, we are liberated to be truly present and focused on what we can do.
Prioritizing your options
Some items are so integral to your values and needs, that you won’t be willing to suffer the consequences of not doing them. These are the easy, no-brainer priorities. Do them without question and don’t begrudge the time they take.
But when you get to the next tier of possibilities, you need to make some decisions. I think many people make very good decisions when they trust their instinct, so don’t be afraid to try it. If you prefer to use specific criteria for setting priorities, like the Eisenhower Matrix, popularized by Steven Covey, or Rory Vaden’s Focus Funnel, that’s fine, too. Use whatever feels right.
My guess is that a major challenge in your confidence with prioritizing is that you are haunted by what you don’t choose. This self-doubt becomes a huge distraction and time waster. It may compel you to work in ways that aren’t sustainable, or that produce poor quality results.
Most of us only have enough discretionary time to do 1-3 extra activities on any given day, (outside of our normal, routine, activities). When we accept this limitation, and the fact that most of the things on our list won’t get done, it’s much easier to identify the things that will truly serve us well. And we can relax, knowing we are doing what’s most important.
Dealing with self-doubt
So, how do we stop ourselves from worrying and being distracted by the undone tasks? Here are some steps that might help:
- Take a few seconds to acknowledge your grief or disappointment that you can’t do it all. Don’t hide from the feeling. If necessary, take some deep breaths or do some other stress relieving activity.
- Remind yourself of what’s truly important in your life.
- Identify the activities that are in alignment with your core values and needs.
- Take a few seconds to be grateful you have the capacity to choose and do the things that are the most meaningful to you.
I can’t end without mentioning that there will be times when hindsight reveals that you didn’t make the best choice. It happens to all of us. When we do nothing because we are afraid of making a mistake, it usually creates far greater problems than the mistakes themselves. Learn from your mistakes as best you can, and move on.
In my next post, I will discuss setting intentions and increasing the likelihood of accomplishing the things we prioritize.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net