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  • by Jaclyn Foster, HC

If it Matters, Prioritize It

For most of us, if we are asked how we are doing, the words “busy” often comes to mind. Our to-do list and responsibilities between jobs, families, and home chores alone can fill our days. Not to mention, if you have kids or other projects outside of that, life can get very full very easily.

So, when it comes to thinking about the goal to get more exercise, lose weight, or to work on that creative project you think about every day, it can feel very hard to get started.

The challenge is, if you are always putting out fires, how can you get it all done? The dishes need to be washed, you need to pick up a few groceries, the laundry is piling up, you got a bill in the mail you have to take care of, not to mention you have a full-time job you just got home from and its already 6pm. Eeek.

The truth is, we can’t, and shouldn’t expect ourselves to be on top of everything all the time. One of the most effective ways to work with our busy lives is to start to enforce boundaries for ourselves.

The first thing we need to do to establish boundaries is to know what we are even protecting in the first place. This may sound silly and oversimplified, but think about it for a minute. To make changes, we need to get clear on what is most important to us so we can reflect on how much time we actually need to dedicate towards that priority.

When it comes to our time and limited availability we need to ask ourselves: what are my top priorities? What are the things that, if nothing else got done, I would feel satisfied, or have a sense of accomplishment with my day?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine your top priorities:

  • What activities and commitments bring me the greatest sense of fulfillment or happiness?

  • What is most important to me in my life?

  • If I had unlimited time and attention, I would be excited to dedicate more of my energy to…

I recommend making a list of everything that comes up when asking yourself these questions and then take a look at the list and narrow it down to your top three. Remember you can always refresh your priorities list – this will most likely evolve over time and that is perfect.

One of my favorite things to do after narrowing down the list is to determine what I need to do to make sure my priorities stay my priorities (regardless of what comes up in life.)

For example, say my stress levels are through the roof and I want to prioritize reducing my stress. I might make a list of things like: take more walks, look into meditation, try a Yoga class, do a body scan relaxation audio on YouTube, color, draw, start a gratitude journal, find a therapist or a coach to talk through this process with.

Once my list is made, I choose one and decide how often I would like to do that activity. There is no wrong answer, and you can (and most likely will) adjust how often you do an activity or even change the activity entirely.

Now that I have my list, it’s my responsibility to protect that time. I will be thrown curve balls, that is a natural part of life, and my job then becomes identifying what truly needs my attention and what I can let go of. The decision to put my established priorities first takes practice. The more I practice, the better I become at staying true to my boundaries and making the time for those things most important to me.

Here are a few ways you can find time and fit your priorities in:

  1. Group together activities: When you have activities you do on a regular basis, pick a time to do them all at once. This will help you clear your headspace during the week because you won’t be thinking, “I have to do that… and this, and this thing popped up”. You’ll have a day that is designated to these activities. It could be paying bills, doing the laundry, responding to emails, or going grocery shopping. Try it and see how it goes. See if mentally and physically that allows you to make more room for your new priorities.

  2. Identify and Track Your Time Suckers: Today many of us are surrounded by activities that make us lose track of time before we know it’s happening. A few of the usual suspects are email, social media, and texting. If you feel hard pressed for time, track how much time a day you are spending doing those three things. Consider limiting time spent on these activities or devoting a set time to engaging in them, turning off alerts, or possibly shutting off phone and computer distractions completely when you are starting other tasks.

  3. Choose one priority at a time: When we try to tackle too many things at once, we can easily end up in a place where we give up on everything because we are overwhelmed. Incremental change is often the best choice we can make. Start with one new activity connected to one priority and then in a few weeks check-in to see how it’s going and if anything has to be adjusted for you to stay committed.

You can accomplish your goals – it just takes commitment, re-commitment, and checking in to see what does and doesn’t work so you can continually make the necessary tweaks for success.


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