Working with Competing Priorities

Large projects. Small projects. It all needs to be finished by yesterday! Whether you are working for  yourself or someone else, a whole load of tasks screams for your attention every day. Competing priorities is a struggle that most people face. Unless you want your life to simply happen to you, you’re going to need to take some initiative and make some plans. 

Consider these thoughts about balancing out competing priorities: 

The Tyranny of the Urgent

The difference between important and urgent may sometimes be difficult to distinguish. Along the lines of Charles Hummel’s book from the 1960s, the demands in your life can get out of order. Even though making cookies might not be first on your list for the day, if your book club president calls at the last minute to say they’re coming to your place tonight, all of the sudden you start baking! Even though you really don’t have time.

In reality, you’re trying to build your business and your plan was to make phone calls to new clients this afternoon. Now, with the cookies, your priorities are conflicting. Ask yourself, which is important vs. urgent? In this case, your work is obviously more important but the book club cookies seem urgent. Can you manage to do both without completely failing? 

Plan for Interruptions

If your schedule is so tight that there’s no white space to be seen on your calendar, it’s too packed. No matter how detailed you are micromanaging your schedule, you must accept that things will not always go as planned. Traffic jams, illnesses, and other interruptions can mean that you need to be flexible and adjust on the fly. If you leave a bit of room between appointments and keep your expectations realistic, interruptions won’t stress you out.

Schedule Time for Yourself

Self-care may not seem like it should be on the top of the list of priorities. However, if you don’t give yourself space to breathe, you’ll burn out and won’t be useful to anyone! As Albert Einstein wrote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

For instance, take the important businesswoman I knew who had a non-negotiable standing Friday lunch appointment. One Friday, I happened to see her out at lunch time—sitting at a table with a four-year-old. Even for this powerful businesswoman, spending time with her granddaughter was a priority that no one was going to get in the way of.

The intangible benefits of taking time for yourself through exercise, meditation, time with family or other fulfilling activities, will give an immeasurable boost to your mental, physical, and emotional productivity.

Learn to Say No

You may have to say “no”. Even if it might disappoint someone! That book club meeting? It might just need to happen somewhere other than your house. Or you can ask someone else to provide the snacks. Part of learning to prioritize is knowing how much you can handle—and what you might need to let go of. Remember... Saying "no" to something allows you to say "yes" to something else.

Getting a handle on putting first-things-first might take some practice. But with a little perspective and a measure of balance, you can live your life in a way that reflects your true priorities. You’ll reap the benefits through more productivity and a whole lot of joy! 

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