The Radical Act of Prioritizing

Ever feel like you’ve got a ton of things to do, but don’t know when you’ll get 'em done? Then, when you have an hour free you feel pulled in every direction and have no idea what the heck to focus on? Do you put other people before you, in tiny ways like immediately responding to texts or emails, or in larger ways, like coming into the office on the weekends or saying yes to large projects you don’t have time for, that wind up costing you your health, or creating large demands of your time, money and energy? Do you compulsively check your phone, refreshing the feed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or... whatever your fix is? At the end of the day do you wonder where the time went? I am sure you said yes to something in this list. All of us do these things and feel this way at some point. 

Real good news is, I have something that will help. 

But first, a few more questions. 

Do you sit or lay down and allow yourself to do absolutely nothing ‘productive’? 
Do you move your body in ways that feel energizing, joyful and fun? 
Do you eat nourishing meals that taste delicious, sitting down, without distraction? 
Are you living a life of purpose, ease and joy? 

If you said ‘No’ to any of those, here is your wake up call: 

You can. You just have not made those things a priority.  

It’s not your fault. We live in an age of enormous distraction. Your attention is very valuable. Everyone and everything wants it. Every social media platform loves your every ‘like.’ Ads want your eyeballs so they can get your dollar. Friends and family would love you to focus on their problems. If we are people pleasers (most of us are) it is difficult to say “No.” 

Furthermore, now is the most difficult time in all of history to focus. See, we carry a ‘smart’ little device we feel obligated have on ‘in case of an emergency.’ The thing is, tiny texts like, “Hi, how are you? Let’s get coffee soon?” or “Can you pick up milk?” interrupt and steal our time. Checking twitter ‘just real quick’ while you wait in line for coffee asks you to make hundreds of decisions. The cumulative effect is massive brain drain. And it’s costing us our ability to contribute and live valuable lives. You think, “Oh, I will deal with getting milk later,” but it will loop in your brain until the milk is in the fridge. 

The main point?  You’re not living your top priority.

But there is a solution. It may seem small but it’s results are profound. It is the revolutionary act of prioritizing your priority. 

What the heck does that mean? Simply put, the act of prioritizing is putting things in order of importance. There is one thing that is #1, one thing that is #2, one thing that is #3--you get the point. The key is, priorities cannot have equal status. You cannot say, “my number one priority is my health, my business, and my family.” It doesn’t even make sense grammatically! And it cannot be fulfilled. You’re just tricking yourself if you’ve got several 'top priorities' and if you think any one of them gets your full attention. It cannot. When you try to prioritize multiple things at once you will be pulled in too many different directions. You won’t know where to focus. No meaningful progress gets done. You will disappoint yourself and other people. You will feel overworked, but unfulfilled. You will feel out of balance.  

So what do you need to do? Here are three small steps that will lead to big change: 

Step one: Reflect.

Get real honest with yourself about what you are currently prioritizing. How do you tell? Look at where spend your time. This is not just a matter of where you are physically (such as work) but where you are mentally.

Where you are physically spending your time? Look at the past week, and see where you were. How much time was spent was at work? Home? Commuting? Emailing? Social-media-ing? Playing? Sleeping? Meditating? Exercising? Eating? Connecting to people you love? Write it out and be completely honest. 

Where are you mentally spending your time? This can be more of a challenge. Rare is the moment we are fully present. You are at home with your spouse but mentally rehashing the conversation you had with a colleague. You are at the gym but wondering,  “what am I are going to do for dinner, who's going to pick up the kids from daycare, why did I say that thing to that friend at that party last weekend?” You know what I  mean. Most of us are physically in one place and mentally somewhere else. Yup, even during sex. 

But be intentional with your thoughts. Reflecting is not mindlessly letting your monkey mind bounce all over the place.  You know the ol’ monkey mind. It’s the unending barrage of thoughts you have all day long. Thoughts will take you in all kinds of directions that are usually not helpful. 

Instead, recognize what thoughts circle throughout the day. I have found meditation helps TREMENDOUSLY with this. You will find what works for you. Get a hold of what you are prioritizing in your mind. Do you think about a particular person and what they think of you? Do you worry about a particular issue at work? Do you think about your weight or how you look? 

A personal example: after a morning jog I realized most of my thoughts were looping about whether or not I had time to make my husband dinner that night. What? Why? Pretty ridiculous! It was very clear that his soup was taking way too much mental priority! That energy can be put toward much more thoughtful thought. When I run I like to think about an article I want to write or a new class to teach. Often, I try to let the thoughts go.  I want to be present in my body and connect to my breath. I want to feel the fresh air and look at the sky. I want to reflect and feel gratitude. Yes, I know this sounds cheesy! But when I let the soup rigamarole go, I show up for life. You can to.  Journal for a week and write down where your mind has been. 

After you reflect, you’ll know, or at least have a much better understanding, of what you’re prioritizing physically and mentally. You may realize you spend a lot more time on instagram than you do with your children. You may realize you spend a lot more time thinking about what others think about you than how you want to contribute to your family, friends or larger community. 

Step 2: Play ‘Would you rather?’ 

The next step is to clarify what you would rather prioritize. This is not a rushed or trivial exercise. It will change your life. Be very clear. Be very honest. Don’t try to please or appease anyone as you rediscover what your top priorities are. 

Ask yourself:  What do I value? When I leave this life, what do I want to leave behind? What will I regret not doing? Who are the people who bring me the most joy? Where do I find the most joy in life? Am I treating myself with love? What do I really want to do with my one precious life? 

Write, reflect, revise. Come up with 4-5 top priorities. When they are most truthful, they will elicit a sense of ease, purpose and joy. They will reflect YOU. 

When you have these priorities crystal clear, saying no to certain activities is easy. Play would you rather: “Would I rather spend this 25 min scrolling through instagram, or calling my 98 year old grandmother?” The choice becomes clear.  

Step #3. Prioritize the priorities. 

Put your top priorities in order. One can be at the top. ONE. It doesn’t mean you neglect the others, it means they come 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and so forth.

This is going to take time. It's a process. But small changes will lead to strong, powerful, and lasting transformation in how you spend your time and energy. 

In my life, my priority is nurturing myself. (I don't separate mind, body, and spirit because I believe it’s all one). Nothing comes before that. Not my business, not my husband, not my family or friends, and certainly not my emails. 

Second is my husband, third is family, fourth come friends and theatre, fifth is BalanceBySage. In action and amount of time spent, it may seem like my business is higher on that list, but work serves my first and second priorities. It doesn’t come first or second. I set my own schedule, I can travel with my work, and I don't have to make a commute. This way I can meditate and do yoga, eat dinner with my husband, gather with friends, create incredible art, travel to visit family, and get 8 hours of sleep. 

Initially putting yourself first may feel harsh or selfish. But it's not. I put myself first because no one else is going to. I put myself first because I am the one who has to hang out with Sage all day everyday until I die. If other folks are my first priority, then they don't have to put themselves first. I end up trying to manage other people's problems, expectations, and demands. If I spend all my energy doing that, my life will not be full of ease, purpose and joy. 

Ok. So pretend I am in the middle of meditation, and my husband has a heart attack. Would I keep ‘breathing and coming back to the present’? No. I want him to live because I love him and we share a life together. Would I rather meditate or keep my husband alive? Clear answer. 

But if he comes in and asks me to make him a sandwich, it's a clear no. That is his priority at that moment and mine is meditating. 

This can be very difficult, especially for people who are used to solving other people’s problems. We love to think of ourselves as helpful. Really, trying to solve other people’s problems is a way we manage our own emotions because we can’t stand conflict. We also want that person to like us. (I know this because this was me. And, of course, sometimes still is.)

For example. Recently, after a full morning of work, I intended to do yoga, meditate and reflect so I could clear my mind and be productive that afternoon. My husband went out to run some errands. His car battery was on its last leg. He came back to the house, not in a great mood, rummaging around for things. He talked about how big of a pain it was, and that he didn't want to spend time getting and changing the battery. 

Totally understandable. But I couldn’t do anything for him. Even so, it was so difficult not to get up and try to solve his problem!

I didn't. I let it be his priority. He had the time and recourses to fix it. Me chiming in wasn’t going to help. 

But mentally I was not so successful. Emotionally I was changing the battery with him. I was worried he was judging me because while he was having a battery- crisis I was 'just meditating.’ If I was truly putting myself first, I would have been able to focus on me. I know mediation serves my highest purpose. It allows me to be clear about what needs to happen when. Meditation is a cornerstone in my life of ease, purpose and joy. 

Does that mean I don't ever help people? Not at all! But when I do it matters. Whatever I am serving in the moment 100% of my focus (well. . . to the very best of my ability). 

So, now it’s your turn. Reflect on your top priorities and put them in order. Your order. Trust, this is the most compassionate order because it is the most honest. Don’t just pay lip service to the order of these priorities. Put them into action. Clean up your mind and schedule so you have time for what you value most. Revolutionize your life so it can be one of ease, purpose and joy. So you can move toward balance.