March 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm #157078
This morning I had the pleasure of talking with one of my mentees. Her question sounded like one I’d asked myself a thousand times. To paraphrase, she was basically asking for my thoughts on prioritizing life. She had many projects going on, had made many commitments, and wasn’t feeling as if she was doing anything particularly well. What responsible active person hasn’t been in THIS position?
Without a specific scenario, my thoughts are this:
1. Get clear on your personal mission. My personal mission is what I’m here on earth to do. I suspect for many of us, this includes aspects of life beyond the workplace. Many of us have family, health, spiritual and other reasons for doing what we do. The challenge is clarity and application.
Sun Tzu wrote that it’s as important to know ourselves as it is to know our enemy. Knowing ourselves is about knowing what motivates us, what we’re good at, what we’re not good at, what frightens us, what we love, etc.
For example, I realized when I was 12 years old that I am good in a crisis. With small broom in hand, I climbed into a vehicle involved in a car crash a block from my home in New York. I used that broom to gently remove glass from a bleeding and very frightened woman in the car. I talked with her and calmed her down. The value I was creating in that situation was real and satisfying to me. It spawned a lifetime of service as a fire fighter, a first responder, an EMT, a Navy Corpsman, a Boy Scout Leader and a member of FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team. I’d do this stuff whether someone paid me or not (in many cases they do not). It’s a part of what makes me who I am.
I have similar clarity around my desired financial condition, my family life, my health, my social life, etc. Getting clear in our hearts and minds about our life mission helps us to keep moving in the right direction. If what I’m asked to do is in line with my life mission, then the answer is likely yes. If it’s not, the answer is no.
2. Put things into Covey’s Quadrants. I’ve found Steven Covey’s quadrant system a great way to categorize things that come my way. I’ve committed to working in Quadrant 2 as much as possible. Quadrant 1 is occasionally necessary, but Quadrants 3 and 4 are easy to say “no” to. I will occasionally go into Quadrant 3 for a friend or family member, but for the most part, I stay in Quadrant 2. Click on the image to see a larger version. If it’s not self evident, send me a note and I will explain. Else, buy the book. It’s a really excellent read.
3. Play To Your Strengths. There is a theory that we need to work on our weaknesses. I don’t buy into it. I’d rather play to my strengths and either hire someone who’s good at things I’m weak at, or share the workload with someone who’s strong where I am weak / weak where I am strong. Life is too short.
Sure, we have to do things we’re not good at, but lose the baggage as soon as you can. If you’re considering two possible paths – you’re strong in the things you need to go down one path and you’re weak in the things you need to go down the second path, chose the path of strength. You’ll create more value and be happier doing it.
There are a few exceptions to the play-to-your strengths rule. A. if you don’t know what your strengths are yet B. you’re deliberately building your skills inventory or C. there is no way to accomplish what you need or want to accomplish without it.
What do you use to help you prioritize life?
Are you clear about your life mission?
How aligned is what you do with your life mission?
March 26, 2012 at 7:21 pm #157096
I like the graph, I’d actually like that on a whiteboard so that I could better keep track of everything that needs to be done and what needs to be done first. I try to prioritize first by what is going to help me get to where I’m going, then -unless it’s urgent- focus on what is going to help out others. It’s much easier to be helpful to other people when I don’t have the stress of worrying about my own daily tasks.
March 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm #157094
I’m not great at this but I do think a basic step is just to even spend some time thinking about it. For example, I was with my 2 best friends in Atlanta for NCAA tournament this weekend – all of us married, some with kids so it’s really hard for us to get together. I had some items I needed to catch up on and was about to do it for couple hours on Sunday before the game…but I thought to myself, how often do I see my friends? How important is this task really? And went back to spending time with my friends
March 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm #157092
Every day I make a list, I number it and then I get to work. That’s less effective for the long run but on a daily task list it helps me keep checking things off at a steady pace.
March 27, 2012 at 7:53 pm #157090
Just to clarify by helping others I was referring to things like volunteerism, not so much family or in the workplace!
March 27, 2012 at 7:54 pm #157088
Ha! Good call, Corey. I used to put this graph on my white board too. For a long time it occupied a corner to remind me to separate out our activities.
March 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm #157086
This is an excellent example, Steve. You have clearly spent some time working out your personal mission, and it sounds like this has helped you find balance in life. 🙂
So how’d the game turn out? I was camping with a group of Scouts myself. Ha!
March 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm #157084
March 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm #157082
How well do you think you would manage your priorities if you went three months without recording a single to-do physically or electronically? If memory was your only source of all your to-do’s, would you spend more or less of your time on high priorities?
August 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm #157080
Chris – if I don’t organize into lists at some point, I forget important things. 1. My memory just isn’t the same that it used to be 2. I spent years practicing to forget about work stuff when I went home at night.
Once the core is set and you understand your priorities, I think lists can be helpful ways to help us achieve them.
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