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Surprise!

Surprise!

my snake surprise

    Yesterday after a reasonably productive morning, I jauntily packed my gym bag, went downstairs to the garage and reached in to hit the garage door opener, started walking to my car and nearly stepped on a three foot long coiled snake.

    I do not like snakes.

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    Cats are better than people, dogs are great, fish are fine. Snakes? Not fine. Definitely not fine in my garage. Definitely, positively, utterly not fine when I practically step on one wearing sandals and shorts. I didn’t know it was possible to jump backward three feet, open a door in mid air slam it and scream bloody murder all at the same time. Now I do.

    Now this is not a post about snakes. I’ve seen all I want of snakes to last me a very long time. It’s about surprise. And how well – or not well – you’re prepared to handle surprise because surprises are things that you don’t get to organize, process, plan, review, add to your master task list and prioritize. They just jump out (or in this case, to be fair, you walk into) at you.

    How prepared are you for both predictable and unpredictable bad surprises? Predictable surprises like earthquakes in California and hurricanes in Florida. Unpredictable bad things like getting mugged on your way to your car, or tripping and breaking your wrist.

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    There’s a long list of web sites for the former (starting with this one), and having a backup paper copy of your identity and at least a passing familiarity with voice recognition (Vista comes with it, and it works) will help you deal with the latter, but above all else dealing with potentially nasty surprises is a mindset, an emergency mode you get into when that first burst of adrenaline hits your nervous system.

    After my close encounter of a reptile kind, I came up with this acronym to remind myself of what to do next time I find myself in a one of life’s little unplanned dramas. JUMP.

    • Jettison your plans and your need to protect possessions. I had my whole rest of the day planned out – a plan that went straight out the garage window when Mr. Snake decided he liked it just fine between me and my car. People sometimes would rather lose their lives than lose their plans – witness the depressingly regular news stories of the person drowned because they just had to drive across that flooded intersection and the water couldn’t possibly be too deep – until it was.

      As for possessions, 99.9999 percent of the time, it’s perfectly right to want to keep what you have – but that .0001 percent of the time like when there’s some punk with a knife in your face is a different story.

    • Are YOU or your loved ones in danger- real, actual danger this exact minute? We live in a world where everything is a priority, a crisis, a danger – from screaming bosses to screaming headlines to no disaster however remote being as close as your TV or PC screen. We are adrenaline junkies looking for our next computer game, sports or political fix. But these are not in the same league as being in a major earthquake or finding yourself face to fang with a possibly venomous reptile in your own home. There is a difference.
    • Move out of danger. It’s just that simple and just that hard. Simple, because while you pondering for a whole second or two the above point, your body went from 0 to 100 in about 3 milliseconds – it’s knows what real danger is and has a billion year old solution that works: fight if you must, run if you can. Hard, because fear can paralyze you if you let it.
    • Plan of Action Now. After you are out of immediate danger, then make a plan. A simple plan. Sometimes, the difference between living and dying is whether you can get your brain back online and come up with a simple plan (Be respectful calming. Drop wallet and run.) or not.

    There are a hundred factors that can influence whether you can JUMP or not when and if the time comes. This is where spending a few dollars and a few hours on training available to anyone and everyone can make the difference. Basic disaster, first aid and self defense training can make a huge difference. Relying on the kindness of the universe is not a good survival plan.

    As for the snake, it turned out to be neither the deadly cobra of my imagination or a venomous rattlesnake quite common this time of year in Sonoma County, California. It was a King snake that eats rats and rattlers, a good snake to have around I was told by my local animal control hotline, a snake some people have as pets that they walk in the public with wrapped around their shoulders and necks (shudder).

    After some protracted territorial negotiation carried out with a walking stick and a mop, Mr. Good Snake went back to eating bad snakes outside my garage and I went on with the rest of my afternoon. I think we both got a reminder we both needed. :)

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    Bob Walsh sells MasterList Professional, a Windows task management application and writes, codes,
    podcasts and blogs about different aspects of the digital lifestyle at ToDoOrElse, MyMicroISV and Clear Blogging. His second book, Clear Blogging, is now available at Amazon and elsewhere.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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