The Reality of Priorities

Stop and ask yourself…what is important? What am I working for?

There are only so many things that can be important to us. Our priorities. Whether we actively define them or not we all have them.

"We don’t get our shoulds, we get our musts.” — Tony Robbins

I know for me, I have a lot I want to do in life. It is a long list. Although it is certainly possible for me to accomplish all my goals and dreams, I have to pick what to do when. I have to prioritize.

Frequently people take on busywork and act as if a flurry of activity denotes merit. Rather than step back to assess our lives and the current situation — we trudge ahead putting out fires as they occur, and occupying all of our moments with stuff we “have to do”.

I would argue that plenty of the things we habitually use our time for shouldn’t be our top priorities. We shouldn’t invest our time (the ultimate non-renewable resource) in directions that distract from or diminish our true desires. The thing is we need to actively define our priorities.

But what is the best way to determine our priorities?

I’ll elaborate…

Within the confines of our 24-hour daily allotment, we can only make a certain amount of our ambitions manifest. There will always be the carryover to the next day with whatever we could not find time for. We did use all 24 hours, though. Whether intentionally or unintentionally a day went by. Our priorities are reflected in the details of the day.

Priorities, in my eyes, are not what we should do or even what we want to do, but what we actually are doing currently with ourselves, and the limited time we have.

If we want to prioritize our fitness, but spend all our time glued to a screen or digital device, we will soon find that we “don’t have time” to do both. It does not have to be a screen or digital vice either, it can be anything that takes up our time. Our use of time is what priorities really means.

Whatever we decide (consciously or unconsciously) to do with our days, and our lives, there will be things that fall by the wayside as time circulates throughout our life. We should have learned a second language, or played more piano. We should have traveled more. Should. Should. Should.

Although we can look back on all the things we should have done, places we should have gone, and people we should have cared more for — we can also look at ourselves right now. Whatever we did today is a reflection of our priorities, and so is whatever we do next.

It is possible, and nay, desirable to be assertive with our use of time. This involves a much more thoughtful approach and controlling our perpetual reactivity as a species. The key to this is questions.

If we ask ourselves variations of the following questions throughout our days, we can start to take back our time for ourselves.

-How important is this? We should evaluate our answer against criteria such as immediateness versus long-term importance, and whether we are making something more important than it really is.

-What is the most important thing I can be doing in this moment? Not just things on our To Do list, important things can be much smaller. Being grateful, for instance, is a perpetual answer to this question that can improve our lives immensely.

-I can make time for either “X” or “Y” but not both, which do I choose? This is active prioritization that ties in both our other questions. How important is “X”? How important is “Y”? When it is too close to determine a clear choice, we ask the second question. Which is closest to what’s actually most important right now? Which will make us happier? (what about long term happiness?)

The reality of priorities is that we must take responsibility for our own lives, and make the most of them. If we always wanted to learn something but didn’t create the time — we can look back with the distorted view that “that’s just life” or we can realize we used our time elsewhere, and our desire was not strong enough to compel us to shift our priorities. It was not important enough. We valued other things more — whether we knew it or not.

Writing this is a priority for me. It has been now for 44 weeks straight. Its unclear whether my motivation for this piece is to keep up the 44-week streak, or to simply be writing. I would like to think both, but I do not know.

I started to understand priorities only recently and that’s why I’m writing about how we use our time. I think it is best to define what is most important and then scale it back so we can focus on a meaningful specifics, as opposed to large generalities. A few key areas of importance.

I can provide a personal example: Writing. Writing Wednesday has been a way for me to prioritize writing. I have perimeters, accountability, and positive constraints: I will write 1000+ words, every Wednesday — psycho-emotional rain or shine (Maria Popova’s words I’m borrowing). Here I am right now prioritizing writing above a lot of other things I “have to” do.

I know that I chose to sit here and write. I know that I could have been doing myriad other activities with this time. I know that writing this is a priority, that’s why I made it happen. Pushing through exhaustion and excuses. Practicing priorities.

Writing is important to me, and I chose it tonight over rest and leisure. I hope to foster this priority even more and allocate more and more time to writing in various forms. I am willing to recognize the value of my time and know that spending time writing has major rewards.

Priorities. We all have them. Have you chosen yours, or have they been chosen for you? It’s not too late to pick what is important to us and make time for it.

This is the 44th installment of Writing Wednesday. Not my best but still got it done.

Let me know what you think of it.

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