What you fail to prioritise, you prioritise to fail.

Life flows better when we are clear on our priorities. With clear priorities, we know what we must do and we can devote our energies to getting the job done. Easier said than done. 

How do we decide on our priorities? 

In a recent article in The Age Evelyn Lewin addressed the issue of To Do Lists. She suggested readers adopt a triage approach as is done in a hospital emergency department. 

Life and hospital emergency departments share the characteristic of having too much to do with not enough time and insufficient resources to do the job. Who hasn’t succumbed to the sense of complete and total overwhelm?

Following Lewin’s lead, the first question to ask is whether a particular item should even be on the list of our priorities? In the hospital example, some things are better dealt with by the local GP. Their skill set, resources and environment are geared to different priorities. Both patients and the hospital are better served when patients choose the most appropriate place to seek relief from what is bothering them. 

Applying this to our own lives, we can ask whether we wouldn’t be better paying someone else to do at least some of the jobs that fill us with dread, that we put off time and again, whether this be cleaning the house, weeding the garden, keeping out accounts up to date. The list of possibilities is different for each of us. 

I can’t afford it, is the common response and certainly one that I have used time and again. But think about it more deeply: if you had more time and energy to devote to what you really enjoy and love doing, wouldn’t that have a multiplier effect on the whole of your life?

But think about some of the things that are often listed as time wasters, for example, time on FaceBook or dealing with email. One of my mentors, Gihan Perera, points out that our email can represent other people’s priorities rather than our own. He believes strongly that an empty Inbox contributes greatly to sorting out priorities and getting the right things done. I think he has a point. The old saying, Out of sight, out of mind, seems to apply. Perera regularly clears his Inbox, either deleting or putting in another folder to be dealt with later, if at all. I contrast this with my own practice of using my Inbox as a kind of de facto, To Do list. Emails stay in front of me until I have ‘dealt’ with them. And sometimes I never do: they get overlooked, move further down the page, get forgotten. But all the time, they are energetically sapping me because  I know they are sitting there waiting for me to do something with them. 

But think about some of the things that are often listed as time wasters, for example, time on FaceBook or dealing with email. One of my mentors, Gihan Perera, points out that our email can represent other people’s priorities rather than our own. He believes strongly that an empty Inbox contributes greatly to sorting out priorities and getting the right things done. I think he has a point. The old saying, Out of sight, out of mind, seems to apply. Perera regularly clears his Inbox, either deleting or putting in another folder to be dealt with later, if at all. I contrast this with my own practice of using my Inbox as a kind of de facto, To Do list. Emails stay in front of me until I have ‘dealt’ with them. And sometimes I never do: they get overlooked, move further down the page, get forgotten. But all the time, they are energetically sapping me because  I know they are sitting there waiting for me to do something with them. 

A third approach to addressing priorities is to apply the 80/20 rule, the Pareto principle. You’ve probably heard about it. It says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort and 20% of your results come from 80% of your effort. This is a mathematical principle that seems to apply to pretty well everything. Many books have been written about it. The one I am reading at the moment is by Perry Marshall who has applied it to marketing, 80/20 Sales and marketing: The Definitive Guide to Working Less and making More

Taking this approach, we need to identify the 20% of our efforts that are giving us most of our results and put our energy into these rather than the other 80%. Remember the law, Where attention goes, energy flows. Or, What you place your attention on, grows. 

I hope that some of these ideas may be helpful to you too. Have questions? I’ll be happy to talk with you. Just text me or drop me a line and I’ll get back to you. 

In summary,

Getting clear on what our priorities are is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves.

Three ways to approach this are:

1. Take a look at where you are spending your time and energy and ask yourself, Should this even be a priority at all? Maybe the job can be done differently, by someone else, with a different set of skills?

2. Take another look at what you are doing every day and ask yourself, Am I living according to my own priorities or according to other people’s priorities? If we’re always meeting others’ priorities we lay ourselves open to getting sick or burning out. What can you do to put your own priorities at the top of the list?

3. Take yet another look at your life and apply the 80/20 rule. Identify the things that are working for you that bring you joy. Put more time and energy into these and let go of the rest.

Till next time,

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. - Leonardo da Vinci
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