Friday, July 12, 2013

Setting Priorities

     Nooo, this can't be me! It can't be me.
     Oh, yes it is.
     Who says so? Who are YOU?
     The "me" inside of "you," that's who, and it's not the first time we've chatted. 
     No matter. The point is I know you too well. You think you can achieve more tasks than you can possibly get done in a given period. Aren't you  feeling just a tad overwhelmed because you underestimate what it takes to complete each task? Your to-do list increases exponentially every day, as do the crossed out, unstarted items. You procrastinate. You don't know where to begin so you hedge for something else to do. And the next thing you know, "poof," deadlines have passed! 
      So I've missed sticking to my to-do lists, or setting priorities. Sometimes I've said, "yes," when I should have said, "no." I've repented. I thought I'd learned. Now what am I going to do? 
     Well, honey––it's not too late. Just get back to good intentions––and they were good, remember! Review how much you want to do/get done/get accomplished. Ask yourself, "Did I carve out too much to do in a short time? What needs to get shaved off? Should I go back to the drawing board? Slow down, even?"
     I knew Me's facts were right––she was on target. I had backed myself into the denial corner. I knew the solution, but it takes a crisis before I can wrap my head around what caused the disintegration.
     After serious soul searching and a cool face wash, I pushed everything aside on my desk (actually everything went down to the floor to be dealt with later), and created a five-point table with individual  summaries to bring me to a better threshold of sanity.  

     That was a year ago, and I've been a stalwart student of Me. I'm also more in charge, in control, and I don't feel nearly as fatigued or stressed. I'm still tweaking some of it, and that's okay. If, in the end I add a point, it'll be to my advantage. Take a look at what I created as my strategy. It could be, some of what I've set for myself might be useful to you.

   1. Let go of perfect
For too long, I believed I could. Do. It. All. Stumbling and falling too many times showed me I can't do it all, and certainly not perfectly. It's not been easy to ditch a point so ingrained, but the truth is, to hold onto it is too damaging. Even here, it's progress, not perfection, but it's important enough in my life that I wrote it as the first point.

   2. Say "No"and "Let it go" 
Besides letting go of perfectionism, I learned to adapt daily and let go of things that would only frustrate my efforts to do what was important for the day. It was an either/or situation: Either let go or be dragged.

   3. Use fresh hours for important tasks
I'm not an early, early morning person, but I am a morning person. Reading, thinking, planning, creating, writing––all have a better chance of a good outcome when mid-morning is given over to it.

   4. Set priorities based on deadlines
Priorities have deadlines. Deadlines are priorities. I've learned to shuffle and to adapt. I strive not to overestimate just as much as not to underestimate. This has thinned out my procrastination tactics. As a result, it's immensely satisfying to put my mind and shoulder to the task, and to move if not accomplish. Also, I'm tackling the challenging tasks first, and feeling a new confidence about that. Another is that I use a system of red checks (done) and cross outs (not done). At week's end, I know what my priorities of priorities will be for the following week. It's been working.

   5. Allow for contingency
Something will always come up that wasn't planned. Be prepared to breathe in, breathe out, and accept: phone calls, visiting friends in a hospital, traffic snafus, stubbed toes.

   6. Set particular days of each week for repetitive to-do's
     Mondays are solely allocated to household management tasks: laundry, pressing, hair cut, dog groomer, vet appointments, dry cleaner, and grocery shopping. Not all these need attention every single Monday, but that's the day I've set aside to accomplish those tasks or chores even if it requires setting up appointments ahead of time.
     Tuesdays  I start the day with a review of my writing priorities for the current and next weeks. After identifying deadlines (if any), I spend two to three hours (sometimes more) engaged in some process of writing. Piano practice. I factor in contingency planning.
     Wednesdays  As a student in classical piano, the day begins with practice, which leads to a two-hour session with my instructor, and a return home to review new areas covered in that class. Any time left over is spent returning phone calls, reading, or time on the internet.
     Thursdays  Alternate Thursdays, my writing group meets mid-morning for two hours. Piano practice. Writing on these days happens between three to six in the evening.
     Fridays are Blog days, and I am consistent with it. Whether it's creating a new post for the day, or preparing posts in advance because my calendar indicates a Friday or two when I will have other commitments. Piano practice.
     Saturdays  This is the "catch-up-day." Piano practice.
     Sundays  This is "family day." That can take many forms based on many variables, but it speaks for itself.
     Take a one-minute peak in what Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, has to say on setting priorities. If you've got the book, check out "Habit 3: Put First Things First." He begins the unit with a quote from Goethe:
Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.
If you have a successful time-management plan, congratulate yourself, and if you do please share some of your tried-and-true methods. Or if you're just beginning to carve out something doable for yourself, has any of the above helped advance it? Or do you have something very different? I look forward to hearing from you. Stay cool and dry this week.