The ability to prioritize is probably one of the most challenging aspects of life. How do you know what’s more important – work, family, your health, you? And when you decide what’s more important at any given moment how will that affect your future? Will you be able to adjust appropriately when circumstances change – when you have to let go of one thing to pursue another?
I juggled a full-time job, going to college full-time, and taking care of my family and myself for almost 10 years. I would like to say that I was calm, cool, and collected for all of it, but there’s no point in lying to either you or myself. I was a basket case most of the time.
Oh hell, let me be brutally honest. I was a raving bitch most of the time. I needed to be in control 24/7 and if I didn’t feel like I was in control then everyone around me needed to look out! And Lord help anyone who was around when I had a deadline to meet.
I am better now. I have learned to compartmentalize my life. I have learned that just because I have a lot of things happening at once I am better off concentrating on them one at a time until it’s complete or I can go no further at that particular time instead of jumping from one thing to another.
Here’s a life lesson for you.
Multi-tasking isn’t possible. Yep, I said it. It is a scientifically proven fact that the human brain is only able to concentrate on one thing or thought at a time. So all of you proficient multi-taskers out there are only jumping from one thing to the next without ever concentrating fully on any one thing. And all that does is lower productivity.
Let me say that again – it is impossible to do more than one thing at a time!
So how do I ever get anything done? What happens if something last minute comes up and I’m in the middle of another project? How do I remember everything if I’m not trying to remember everything at once? Two words.
“What the heck are priority wheels?” You may ask.
They help me visualize and concentrate on the project at hand while keep track of the other projects/tasks/priorities that will become more important as soon as this project is complete. All the while keeping my stress levels down because I am able to plan and prepare for any last minute glitches.
My wheels are purely mental, but I can see the upside of having physical wheels.
Draw as many circles or wheels as you need (I have three priority wheels. One for work, one for home/family, and one for me) and then use sticky notes to write down projects/tasks/priorities. The ones on top are the ones that have the most importance, highest priority, or need to be finished first. The wheels themselves can also be moved because as much as we would like to always put our families or ourselves first, work is always going to sneak to the top sometimes.
Each wheel has a certain number of tasks which are obviously changing all the time. But the great thing about wheels is they spin easily and allow for quick adjustment – like when my boss comes into my office with another “great idea” that needs to be done now. So I spin the wheel. Or something breaks at home and I have to figure out how to fix it – so I spin the wheel.
The trick to this is not letting all of the other tasks that I can’t concentrate on bother me while I am accomplishing the current task. They’re still there but not as important at that time. And when my mind tries to scream at me that I’m forgetting something all I have to do is remember that everything is on one of my wheels.
It’s not like anything falls off when I have to spin them around.
Organizing my priorities wheels and limiting them to two or three was the first step in this process. I don’t think it was a conscious decision at first. I only knew that I needed to make some adjustments or I would ruin every relationship in my life – most importantly the one with my husband, R.J. He bore the brunt of every panic attack and neurotic episode in the early years. The fact that he’s stuck with me all these years (19 this month!) is a testament to what a wonderful person he is.
Once I learned that not everything needed to be finished at once, it took a great deal of pressure off of me. It wasn’t about procrastinating – although I’m pretty good at that too! It was about prioritizing, and once I started to actually finish projects or reaching certain milestones within projects my confidence began to build and surprising my stress levels began to go down.
It also helped when I was able to remove some things that shouldn’t be priorities. If you can’t see the circle on your priority wheel then you may have too much to do. It helps to simplify your life first and realize that down time isn’t the enemy. Sleep and recreation are necessary for us too, hence the wheel for me! 🙂
For a while I thought there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t rushing to meet deadlines anymore. I was completing projects with time to spare and was actually enjoying myself. I would observe other people – especially at work – and notice they would be screaming and yelling and having horrible days. They would complain non-stop about not having enough time. I seriously started to think there was something wrong with me because my days (for the most part) weren’t like that anymore.
Then I remembered. My priority wheels must be working! Phew, I realized that I wasn’t a slacker or lazy because I wasn’t strung out all the time.
So why not free yourself from self-imposed stress and anxiety?
Figure out what your priorities are and then how to accomplish your goals. Then prioritize them accordingly and get comfortable with having to move and shift them around sometimes.
Life wasn’t meant to be lived in a straight line or with hard, constraining corners. Life is more like a river with its boundaries are ever changing, its path is full of falls, and its destination leading to wide open possibilities.