Hello again! Hope you’ve all been enjoying your spring! I hope you forgive my absence. It’s funny… when things are going really well in all spheres of your life, you sometimes enjoy living to the fullest a teensy bit too much, and forget some of your obligations. But I’m back, attempting to be back on a more regular basis again!
I recently heard about a priorities matrix that can shine some light on the reason why I’ve been absent yet again. The matrix puts Urgent vs. Important in two separate grids and reminded me that I sometimes struggle with always doing things that are urgent (things that I feel like I have to do right away), concentrating on things that might seem pressing in the moment, but that generally do not lead me to focus on the big picture, the important, that is the true goals I have for my life. And so, I keep putting out seemingly urgent fires and by the time I’ve put them all out, I find that I have no energy left for the truly important things.
So when my energy has been spent on working (hard) all day, and putting out fires in my free time, well it’s no wonder that I get home and feel so drained that I’m not focusing on my priorities.
What Are Your Priorities?
So this week I wanted to call on you to list out your priorities – what’s important to you? What do you want for yourself in the big picture?
To start us all out, I’ll give you my example. My priorities include things like solidifying my career, starting a family with someone who understands and loves me, focusing on my faith, documenting my life by journaling and also writing this blog on a consistent basis, spending a great portion of my free time on things that stretch my mind (like reading quality fiction, seeing plays, going to concerts, heck even cooking yummy new meals) and stretch my muscles (like doing yoga, hiking and trying new workouts), exploring my city with close friends to stay connected to what’s going on, and obviously having time to myself (true to my introverted nature).
So obviously, this is a long list, so then I went through these match up what each thing would lead me to… would it make me feel more settled, or relax me, or prolong my life by keeping a fit body, mind and soul?
Document Your Current Life – From Minutiae to the Big Stuff
Now that you’ve listed your priorities, write out how you spent today, or yesterday. Write down all of the activities you made time for throughout the day. Then write out what you did last week, or keep a journal for this coming week. The important thing here is to be honest with yourself – you’re not trying to change anything, you’re just trying to be conscious of how you’re spending your time.
How Do You Spend Your Days?
Once you have a long enough sample to analyze, on a scale of one to five, rate how important each activity is to one of your big picture goals. If you’re like me, you’ll notice that you spend a lot of time on things that aren’t at all part of the important goals.
I noticed that I spend a lot of time planning, scheduling, budgeting, which seems like it should be important, but it also takes away important time from doing things like reading good fiction, or journaling or blogging. I also noticed that I leave zero time in the evenings after work for myself to blog because I work out or spend time with friends almost every night and get home around 8 or 9, and am absolutely too emotionally spent to work on anything. I tried to look back at my last 4 weekends and noticed that each weekend I had planned to spend a little bit of time writing, and then at the last minute, I got invited to do something with friends, or I had the time that morning, but I ended up accepting a last minute invitation to some social gathering that kept my granny self up until 2am… and then I end up sleeping in and being too groggy to write something worthwhile.
I also had been spending almost every evening after work exercising, like going to yoga or to pure barre with a friend. But then when I was invited to fun things with friends, suddenly it started to be easier to push aside my planned time working out. At first, I’d only cancel working out when I had concrete plans with a friend, but then it became even easier to wimp out for no reason (or just saying, “I’m sooo tired today”), and just going home to watch spend an hour and a half sifting through Netflix movie suggestions and settling on some crappy show after not finding anything satisfying…
I’m also an introvert, so I have a limited reserve of time I can spend with people before I need a little bit of time to reflect about what happened that day, or whatever else we introverts like to think about. And I noticed that I wasn’t honoring this need by spending time with friends every evening after work. Sure, wanted to stay connected with everyone, but I noticed that if I didn’t schedule thoughtfully at the beginning of the week, I’d just say yes to everything and forget to spend time alone doing something I enjoyed, and then get so unbelievably burnt out that I couldn’t muster the strength to pull away from my Netflix queue when I finally made it home.
Where’s The Structure?
When I started thinking about it… These were the things I wanted to avoid. I wanted to either be with friends and fully commit to my time with them, or have some time alone to reflect, to journal, to read, to learn, and to write. And the way things were going, I was saying yes to all invitations and then getting burnt out without realizing it, and wasting the crucial time I had to myself because I hadn’t planned ahead.
So for me, I noticed the biggest thing lacking was structure and planning. Because if I had planned, and stuck to a well thought-out schedule, I would have time and energy for the things I currently was not prioritizing. When was the last time I read a good book? And yet books were slowly piling up on my cramped desk at home. I looked at my journal to see that the last time I journaled was months ago… and yet this was IMPORTANT to me! And I had plenty of evidence that I was neglecting my writing and blog since I hadn’t even opened my laptop for something unrelated to online shopping or budgeting in MONTHS!! And the same thing could be said for to going outside my comfort zone to meet new people. I was devoting all my social time to hang out with my favorite people… focusing so completely on them that I never made it out to meet new people. For someone who wants to start a family, it would be helpful to meet that special someone, right? You’re not meeting him in your living room watching El Bachelór. Sure, you have many fun things happen to you when you spend time with your bestie eating gelato and laughing your pants off! But if you spend time with your friends alone, especially when those friends aren’t also looking to meet someone because, well, how do you put it, they’re married! Well, you won’t go out of your comfort zone to meet people when they’re around.
Please watch this clip if you don’t know the meaning of NEGLECT:
I had a long road ahead of me if I wanted to change what I was spending my time on to balance friendship, love, my career, my body, soul and mind, my finances, my talents… etc.
Map Out A Schedule
Ok, so now that you’ve analyzed how you actually spend your time, and possibly found some gaps in terms of the things you’d like to do more of, it’s time write down a realistic schedule for yourself. But before you do, think about the things you ARE doing right. What things are you already doing that lead to your important goals? It’s important to stay as close to your current schedule as you can at the beginning. Make a few important, but manageable tweaks. You don’t want to go all out in your first week, think that you can commit to changing ALL of your big habits, and expect not to get totally burnt out after a week or two.
For me, I had already been going to yoga or some fitness class almost every day of the work week, so I don’t find this to be a big tweak to plan to go 3 nights a week. This was something I got out of the habit doing during a month or two. So I could put these back on my calendar and agree with myself to do this more.
Now for the extra 2 nights a week, I would devote one to my bestie – who thankfully has a very busy social calendar and probably wouldn’t be able to spend time with me more than that during the week anyways. And that would leave my evenings after yoga free for me to spend 30 minutes on journaling. And the last free night I would plan ahead about, but I could either spend it with friends, or spend it on blogging. But the key to that fifth night would be to DECIDE about it ahead of time, commit to this decision, and carry out what I had intended for it. As much as I loved thinking of myself as a spur-of-the-moment type of gal, I realized that time was slipping out of my fingers if I didn’t plan.
As for blogging on the consistent, I had two options. I could get up at 5:30am every weekday to spend an hour on blogging before getting ready for work. Or I could cut out my Saturday escapades with friends in the morning and daytime, and spend 4-8 hours punching my QUERTY keyboard.
I’d tried both in the past, but for some reason getting up at 5:30am meant that I’d have to go to bed BY 9pm. I couldn’t be journaling or watching tv until 10 or 11pm. I had to commit to going to bed on time. And for REALZIES! I had in the past successfully written on Saturdays and Sundays. But that meant I had to stay firm in not always hanging out with friends. And also this meant that I had to go bed at a reasonable hour on Friday night. Because I figured out that a sure way to wake up unmotivated and groggy was by staying up super late the night before.
The other thing I noticed in putting together my schedule was that I had two hours on most days where I could do something productive. I always took an hour for lunch. I could get my social time in there, but I also could do some of the things that are on my important list that don’t necessarily take a lot of time – like reading a chapter of a book every day, or working out by taking an hour-long walk, or by even writing a few paragraphs of my blog!
The other thing I noticed was that now that I committed to a new yoga studio for the summer, I had an hour between when my work day was over at 5pm, and when the class started at 6pm. Instead of sitting at my desk at work for an hour, finishing up work in a half-ass way – since mentally I felt checked out after 5pm, but I was still at my desk getting things together… So I could definitely work on my blog or do something more passive (i.e. attainable after working hard since 8am)
So it was up to me to decide to draw boundaries for my Saturday mornings. I could sleep in until 7am on Saturdays (compared to 6am, that’s sleeping in, btw!) And then I was allowed (or encouraged) to shower to kick my brain into high gear, and then forced to set up my laptop IMMEDIATELY in a place free of distractions. This meant that I had get out of my bedroom, and either set up on my dining room table, OR plan a second shower for studying at your local coffee shop means that you, your clothes and hair will wreak of coffee grinds.
Sundays, I had done a pretty good job committing to church, groceries, cooking and cleaning. Church was important, and the other three were urgent in terms of having a relaxing week, staying within my budget in avoiding eating out, and living in a healthy environment.
Set Aside Time For the Urgent
The other thing that is VERY important to do schedule time for the urgent, instead of always addressing urgent things as they come up – like checking your email, paying your bills, etc… We all know that once we get pulled away from something important to do something urgent, that we get sucked into doing something else and rarely get back to the thing we were planning to do. A great way to this is by SCHEDULING your urgent things.
Obviously, some things come up and you have to address them as they happen. But I’ve found that if I schedule time to pay my bills once a month, or if I schedule an hour to deal with urgent things once a week, I won’t pull myself away from an important activity, like reading a great chapter of a book when I remember that I have to pay my bar dues, or my car insurance is coming up… Instead, write down urgent things in your phone as they come up, but don’t stop doing what you’re doing… If you were reading a book or heading out the door to go to yoga class and suddenly remember something pressing, write down that you need to pay that bill you forgot to add to your budget, but then keep doing what you were doing.
I noticed that I generally can’t resist stopping whatever I’m doing to pay off that bill, or order that toothbrush replacement online, and then I get distracted and do something else while I’m online, like read some silly article, or search for cute shoes (that I won’t buy, of course – I’m a recovering shopaholic, duh!)
And this idea of scheduling time to deal with the urgent can be applied to being more productive at work, just as it is in your personal life! Just make sure you have a way to record all of the urgent things, since you obviously want to make sure you do them, even if it’s in the afternoon instead of at 8:15am when you remembered it.
I also have trouble not replying to a friend’s text or email right away, or when someone asks me to question I don’t know the answer to, I feel unhelpful if I don’t look up the answer right away. As much as this seems like a great way to live, to be a good friend or peer, it actually takes away your energy and focus from the task at hand. So my resolution for this year is to turn my phone off when I am doing something important, and to ignore those texts for the hour I dedicate to reading a good book, or doing something else that is important to me, but may not be as urgent as replying to that text about where something is located.
At some point in your life, you have to put yourself first. Put your priorities over other people’s “urgent” needs. I’m not saying you need to be a bad friend, but unless it’s life or death, the person requesting your time can wait. Do your friends reply to you immediately? Of course not! I had to tell myself this to get myself to stop checking my phone every 3 seconds or dropping whatever I was doing to respond to someone, no matter how much I care for that person.
Sidenote reminder for myself: Unless it’s life or death, a person can wait an hour or two – or whatever time it takes for me to complete my important task, even if it’s just reading a book. (lol, can you tell that I’ve completely neglected reading this year? And so now I’m using it as an example for my “important” category task that is CONSTANTLY interrupted – to the point that I can never finish a single page?!)
Write Down Your Schedule – to the Hour!
So you’ve thought about what you want to achieve in a week, and you’ve considered how long each thing can take, and what can be substituted for what… and you’ve also factored in that you NEED to do unproductive things like watching a movie or tv show, or wasting an hour getting lost in your Netflix queue… Make sure you have a few cheat days so you don’t get burnt out too quickly.
So what are you waiting for??! Put together that detailed schedule.
Here’s my final weekday schedule – This part could stay the same for each day:
|6:15am to 7ish: get ready for the day7ish to 7:30/7:45: drive to work7:30/7:45am-12pm: work12-1: lunchtime: eat food with a friend, OR minor tweak: read for an hour or take a walk to get my heartrate up! (Note, do not eat lunch with friends EVERY day, especially on days when I have lots of meetings- since I definitely need alone time to regroup!)
And then I could add new components to the rest of the week:
|5-6: read a chapter of a book or blog6pm to 7:30pm: yoga7:30pm to 8pm: drive home8pm to 9:30pm: journal or read||5-6: read a chapter of a book or blog
6pm to 7:30pm: yoga7:30pm to 8pm: drive home8pm to 9:30pm: journal or read
|Evening to hang out with my bestie!||5-5:30 drive home5:30-6:30 shower, relax by watching a tv show, or do necessary errands7-9 Bible study9-9:30 get home9:30-10pm get settled, and try to go to bed asap||5-6: hour to finish up work or blog6pm to 7:30pm: yoga7:30pm to 8pm: drive home8pm to 10pm:Main goal: Resist going out so I can wake up on Saturday morning! Stay in to watch a movie to decompress|
And so on weekends, I could also make a bit more time to get things done:
|7am to 8am shower, make a yummy breakfast8am-8:30am- get thine butt to a coffee shop, or if roommates aren’t around, take over the dining room table8:30-12:30pm WRITE, WRITE, WRITE12:30-1:30pm pick up groceries1:30-3:30 cook for the week, or get back to writing3:30-6pm get ready for going out if that’s on the calendar6pm-11pm go out with friends (but alternate this to do something to meet new people every other week)– Goal again is not to stay out so long that you can’t get up tomorrow to do some important stuff first||7am to 8am shower, take the time to prepare a yummy breakfastIf church at 10am, head out around 9amIf church at 11am, work on blog or writing until 10:3010/11am to 1:30pm church1:30-3 get home, make a healthy lunch, and prepare lunches for the rest of the week (or at least for tomorrow)3-6pm work on writing for blog or journaling6-7pm SPEND AN HOUR ON PUTTING OUT FIRES – do the stuff that is urgent, now that you’ve done the important things7-8pm shower, do hair, lay out clothing for tomorrow8-9pm miscellaneous activity: reading, watching a movie (choose and decide on Friday!)|
So of course, this means that I need to practice this schedule for a couple week, paying particular attention to sticking to it, that is! And then I will reassess at the end of June – whether I need to tweak it a bit more to make it attainable at the same time as inclusive of the important things that get pushed aside by the urgent.
This blog post was partly therapeutic for me (but what writing isn’t therapeutic?). And also it was hopefully a good example of how you might decide to check your priorities against what you’re actually spending your time on.
I know for me, the last thing I want to do is wake up in ten years and realize I had completely neglected things that are important to me by dropping everything I was doing when something urgent came up… I know I don’t want to waste my time being too tired to blog or read a good book, and I know that I need to spend some time alone.
So what are your priorities? Do you sometimes miss the mark, as I do, by getting distracted by the urgent, and never actually getting to the important? Is there room in your schedule to do things that are important in the big picture, but maybe not pressing or urgent in that moment?
Please comment, share your thoughts and let me know what you think. Please help me keep this a positive forum, though. I am so excited for some debate, but let’s respect each other please. I reserve the right to monitor and delete inappropriate posts. Thanks in advance!
Featured image via – Portuguese Peter Pan!
PS- Obviously this blog post was really about hijacking our priorities, but I love me some pirates (Arg!) so I couldn’t resist using a little bit of alliteration in my title!