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How To Organize Your Life By Priority And Not Urgency

How To Organize Your Life By Priority And Not Urgency

Lists, notes, follow-ups, calendars — these are all great tools to manage your ever-growing list of things you need to accomplish on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. But are they the right way to manage what you need to do? For you to visually understand the importance of what you need or have to do?

How many times have you spent Sunday night putting together a list of things that must get done, only to have one event throw it all away? How many times have you looked over that list at the end of the week and wondered “why do I not feel fulfilled?” or “why did I spend the whole week firefighting instead of doing what was really important to me, my team, my family, and my work?”

Perhaps the answer is not in what you need to do, but in how you organize the doing of those activities. In an era where we have notifications coming to us from a variety of sources, it is easy to confuse what is urgent with something that is important and let it move to the top of our list. It is even easier when these items have dates assigned to them which quickly push out our calendar of to-dos in favour of these requests.

If you take a step back to look at the post-its and items on your lists of what you need to do, you will probably start to see a trend. You’ll see those things you have to do, those you need to do, and those you want to do. Stop right now and go look at your last to-do list. What did you need to do? What did you want to do? You can easily see the buckets and overlaps, but once you truly understand what they mean, when those urgent items come to you, you’ll know where to put them.

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Have

Items I have to do are items that, regardless of what is on my list to of items to do, have to get to done. If I am looking at my list with a timeline of a week, it becomes very easy to identify the when I have to get these things completed. Whether it’s personal or professional, you know the items that go into this bucket. If you are training for a marathon and want to do it right, you have to train, if the servers go down at work and you’re the go-to gal, you have to get them back up and running.

We want to keep this list small. Take a look in your “have” circle — what are the items driven by? Who is driving them? Is it you? This is doubtful— items we have to do are often driven by external factors: our boss, our family, our friends, etc. They are driven by others. My daughter wants to go to soccer practice, so I have to drive her (otherwise she cannot get there). I have to finish the end-of-year report for next week (not by choice, I think the following week would be fine, but I’m not setting the priority).

Items we have to do are where our stress comes from because we feel we have no other choice.

Need

When you look at your list of things to do, you know the items that need to get done. These are the ones that you have prioritized as being important to get done so you feel like you have accomplished what you set out to do this day, week, month, etc.

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You need to get this item completed — you are driving the priority of what needs to be accomplished. This is where the majority of our internal conflict arises from. In general, we will classify nearly everything as a “need” until this circle is bursting in size. But if you look closely, you might start to notice that what you think you need to complete, what is really important for you to get done this week, is not at all. Instead, it is something that you really want to do to make you feel fulfilled.

Want

How many items on your list do you want to accomplish and finish this week? Why? What makes those items so special that you are willing to push them to the forefront of everything you want to do? What do they give to? How to they benefit your wellbeing? What makes them differ from a need?

Simply put, our wants, whether professional or personal, are the collection of our pursuits that let us go to bed at night feeling like we’ve really accomplished something. They are that simple.

Think of the Software Developer who has to complete a project on Friday. He needs to check in the code on Wednesday but he wants to refactor it on Thursday. If he only does the first part, he will have accomplished the goals of others by completing the work and satisfying his professional requirements, but what he really wants is the feeling of getting that last thing off the list which his team might not really be pushing for.

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What we want to accomplish will always be a large, ever-changing bucket of items going in and out. I want to learn to play the guitar, now the cello, now run the Ironman, etc, etc. Completing a “want” will always make us happy because it is directly attributed to what we want to accomplish — not what someone else does.

Putting it all together

The goal is a better understanding of where our priorities come from so we can better handle and manage them — not to find a faster way to check the boxes off on our list. If we know what we have to do over what we need and want to do, all of a sudden the priority ranking of our items changes to what we really feel we should do to feel accomplished at the end of some period in time.

Can items jump between circles? Can items jump between categories? Sure they can. As a “want” starts, it is something basic, undefined, a thought or idea. But as we refine it, put body to do it, the path to accomplish the want and the desire for it turns into a “need” that you must accomplish irrespective of its priority or time of the week.

Not sure how to get started or where to begin in classifying what’s on your list? Here are some easy steps to take.

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  • Draw 3 circles on a page. Label them have, need, and want.
  • Throw everything you want/must do that week into each circle (don’t overload your circles or you might feel pretty down at the end of the week — keep them legit).
  • Now, look at what exists between each circle. Are there conflicting priorities? Can you see what will be overridden where simply by visually seeing it?
  • Where are the similarities? Are your needs being derived by your wants? Can you really accomplish that many things?
  • Now, track throughout some arbitrary time period. What did you accomplish? What moved between circles? What was in direct conflict? What external urgencies pushed what was important to you out of the way? How close did you get to accomplishing what you wanted to accomplish?
  • Now, do it again and again until what you have to do, need to do, and want to do align to work with each other, leaving you fulfilled in what you’ve accomplished.

If you’re in the scenario where you have this massive want circle, don’t worry — you’re not alone. Underline the top ones you want to work on and focus on this week.

Featured photo credit: Alejandro Escamilla via images.unsplash.com

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Greg Thomas

Software Architect

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Last Updated on December 17, 2018

Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

We live in a time of productivity overload.

Everywhere you turn are articles and books about how to be more productive, how to squeeze 27 hours of work out of every 24, how to double your work pace, how to do more and more all in the name of someday getting out of the rat race. Well this is about the side effects of those ideas. If we aren’t multitasking, we feel lazy. If we aren’t doing everything, we feel like we’re slacking. We compare ourselves to others who we think are doing more, having more, getting more and achieving more, and it’s driving us crazy. We feel overwhelmed when we think we have too much to do, too much is expected of us, or that a stressor is too much for us to handle. And we respond by lashing out with emotions of anger, irritability, anxiety, doubt and helplessness.

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This season especially is the most stressful time of year. Between the holidays, final exams, family gatherings and general feelings of guilt that it’s the end of the year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the things you still need to get done. But if you use these tips, not only will you get the important stuff done, you’ll keep your sanity while doing it!

    Is this you?

    Change your thought pattern-stop thinking negatively

    When you feel overwhelmed, the first thing you do is start thinking negatively or begin to resent why it’s your responsibility in the first place! The first thing you have to do is to stop! Stop thinking negatively immediately. Instead, focus on the positive. If you’re stuck in traffic, think of how great it is to have some time to yourself. If you’re rushing trying to get things done by a deadline, think how lucky you are to have a purpose and to be working towards it. If you’re stressing about a final exam, think of how fortunate you are to be given the opportunity of higher education. After you’ve changed your thought patterns, you must then say to yourself “I can do this.” Keep saying it until you believe it and you’re more than halfway to ending feeling overwhelmed.

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    Take a deep breath/change your body posture

    When you’re stressed certain things happen to your body. You start to breath shallowly, you hunch over, you immediately tense up and all that tension drives your feelings of stress even more. Relax! Straighten your posture and take at least ten deep, cleansing, breaths. Force yourself to smile and do something to change your state. It could be as simple as giving yourself a hug or as silly as clapping your hands three times, throwing them up in the air and shouting “I GOT THIS!” Think to yourself, how would I sit/stand if I had perfect confidence and control of the situation?

    Focus on right now

    Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.

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    Take Action

    Now that you know what’s most important and what to do about it, do it! Start with the first step and focus on getting that done. Don’t worry about anything else right now, just on what your first step is and how to get it done. Once that’s done with, determine the next most important step and get that done.

    Let go of what you can’t control (the gambler’s theory)

    Seasoned gamblers understand the importance of due diligence and knowing when to let go. The Gambler’s Theory is that once your bet is placed there is nothing you can do, so you might as well relax and enjoy the process. The time to worry is when you’re figuring out the best odds and making the decision of what to bet when you can actually take action. I used this one a lot in college. After an exam, there is absolutely no point in stressing about it. There’s nothing you can do. And the same goes for feeling overwhelmed. If you can do something about your situation, do it, focus and take action. But if you’ve done what you could and now are just waiting, or if you’re worried about something you have no control over, realize that there’s no point. You might as well relax and enjoy the moment.

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    yoga-422196_1280
      Relax and enjoy the moment

      Stop feeling guilty

      Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. If you are at your wits end trying to keep up with what you think you should be doing, you aren’t being fair to yourself. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for improvement, just don’t go overboard because you feel like you have to. Only you know what’s really important to you, and your personal success journey so focus on what your top priorities are, not someone else’s.

      Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. The important thing is to realize it’s normal and that you can do something about it by taking focused and deliberate action. Happy Holidays!

      Featured photo credit: Stress Therapy via flickr.com

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