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It’s Not a Matter Of Priority, It’s a Matter of Attention

It’s Not a Matter Of Priority, It’s a Matter of Attention
    Priority

    I work in a large company where we “prioritize” everything. In fact, we are so good at priortizing that we have multiple priorities at any given time. And even after that we have long meetings to discuss what priorities are the most important. It feels like we are trying to meet the demands of everyone else and not our projects.

    Coming from the “cult-like” GTD background I have been shaped to believe that there is no such things as priorities, that something is important or it isn’t and that we can intuitively figure it out without a 1, 2, 3 – A, B, C type of prioritization code. Yet, the masses of people in the corporate world hang onto prioritization for dear life and with it do work that may not be important to them at all.

    The definition and the attitude

    I’m somewhat simple when it comes to figuring things out. That’s why I like definitions. It’s hard to talk about something without knowing what that thing means. So, priorities are:

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    “Precedence, especially established by order of importance or urgency.”

    So, a priority is a list of stuff in order of what is most important. But important to who? And how do we know what is more important than something else.

    My wife and I discuss (argue) about what is more important to me during the week. Is it programming? Writing? How about washing the dishes? What is my highest priority? Also, during work meetings we talk about how we will “balance and manage our priorities” and how we need to “prioritize” our work.

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    Like I said before, I have ingrained and strong opinions about prioritization and the lack of it. I truly believe that something should either have your attention or it shouldn’t. I don’t think that we really need to put stars and colors next to our tasks to show how important they are. We need to find our attention and stick to it.

    Why not applying your attention to what really matters is dangerous

    I really do like what Mr. Merlin Mann speaks about in his time and attention talks. He believes (and pontificates) that all we have is time and attention and that priorities may not really work. What it comes down to is understanding what is important in your life and then devoting attention and focus to it; not to worry about what has a bigger star next to it and what order it falls into.

    Your A, B, C – 1, 2, 3 system may help you sort the important things in your list of tasks, but I know that just taking a quick read through what is on your plate will easily show you where your time and attention needs to be drawn to. And that is the key. We need to concentrate on what is important to us: not what some external force deems as important.

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    Applying attention to what you and outside entities have agreed on as a priority (this can be work, family, or even friends), and not to what you feel is more important is a sure fire way to not pay attention to what your calling is. In fact, this difference between what is important to you and what is important to other entities is grounds to grow some awesome resentments, produce little, and grow bring about procrastination.

    Identify and attend to

    So, instead of listing out what you think is important try to step back and identify the top 5 to 7 things that are important to you. Then throw out the rest. Seriously, if you have more than 7 “Areas of Responsibility” on your plate you are probably spreading yourself too thin. I know that I would be.

    So to be a good sport, here are my top areas of attention:

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    • Husband
    • Friend
    • Personal and spiritual Health
    • Employee of Erie Insurance
    • Editor at Lifehack
    • Software development and writing

    Anything outside of that is just cruft or fun. I know it’s hard to swallow, especially if you were or are a “yes man” like I once was, but the fact is that you can only devote your attention to so much, and that has to be devoted to what you deem important. If you can cut out all the excess stuff that is in your life, you know, the stuff that you are failing at “prioritizing”, then you can get some real work done and even become a better person while doing it.

    Instead of prioritizing all of your work try identifying was is totally important to you apply your attention to that.

    More by this author

    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on May 7, 2021

    Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

    Productivity Boost: How to start your day at 5:00 AM

    I have been an early-riser for over a year now. Monday through Friday I wake up at 5:00 AM without hitting the snooze button even once. I never take naps and rarely feel tired throughout the day. The following is my advice on how to start your day (everyday) at 5:00 AM.The idea of waking up early and starting the day at or before the sunrise is the desire of many people. Many highly successful people attribute their success, at least in part, to rising early. Early-risers have more productive mornings, get more done, and report less stress on average than “late-risers.” However, for the unaccustomed, the task of waking up at 5:00 AM can seem extremely daunting. This article will present five tips about how to physically wake up at 5:00 AM and how to get yourself mentally ready to have a productive day.

    Many people simply “can’t” get up early because they are stuck in a routine. Whether this is getting to bed unnecessarily late, snoozing repetitively, or waiting until the absolute last possible moment before getting out of bed, “sleeping in” can easily consume your entire morning. The following tips will let you break the “sleeping in” routine.

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    Relocate your alarm clock.

    Having an alarm clock too close to your bed is the number one reason people simply cannot get up in the morning. If your alarm clock is within arms reach of your bed, or if you can turn your alarm clock off without getting out of bed, you are creating an unnecessarily difficult situation for yourself. Before I became an early-riser, there were many times that I would turn off my alarm without even waking up enough to remember turning it off. I recommend moving your alarm clock far enough away from your bed that you have to get completely out of bed to turn it off. I keep my alarm clock in the bathroom. This may not be possible for all living arrangements, however, I use my cellphone as an alarm clock and putting it in the bathroom makes perfect sense. In order to turn off my alarm I have to get completely out of bed, and since going to the restroom and taking a shower are the first two things I do everyday, keeping the alarm clock in the bathroom streamlines the start of my morning.

    Scrap the snooze.

    The snooze feature on all modern alarm clocks serves absolutely no constructive purpose. Don’t even try the “it helps me slowly wake up” lie. I recommend buying an alarm that does not have a snooze button. If you can’t find an alarm without a snooze button, never read the instructions so you will never know how long your snooze button lasts. Not knowing whether it waits 10 minutes or 60 minutes should be enough of a deterrent to get you to stop using it.

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    Change up your buzzer

    If you use the same buzzer day in and day out, you begin to develop a tolerance to the sound. The alarm clock will slowly become less effective at waking you up over time. Most newer alarm clocks will let you set a different buzzer tone for the different days of the week. If you change your buzzer frequently, you will have an easier time waking up.

    Make a puzzle

    If you absolutely cannot wake up without repetitive snoozing, try making a puzzle for yourself. It doesn’t take rocket science to understand that the longer your alarm is going off, the more awake you will become. Try making your alarm very difficult to turn off by putting it under the sink, putting it under the bed, or better yet, by forcing yourself to complete a puzzle to turn it off. Try putting your alarm into a combination-locked box and make yourself put in the combination in order to turn off the alarm — it’s annoying, but extremely effective!

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    Get into a routine

    Getting up at 5:00 AM is much easier if you are doing it Monday through Friday rather than sporadically during the week. I recommend setting an alarm once that repeats everyday. Also, going to bed at about the same time every night is an important factor to having a productive morning. Learn how much sleep you need to get in order to not feel exhausted the following day. Some people can get by on 4-6 hours while most need 7-8.

    Have a reason

    Make sure you have a specific reason to get up in the morning. Getting up at 5:00 AM just for the heck of it is a lot more difficult than if you are getting up early to plan your day, pay bills, go for a jog, get an early start on work, etc. I recommend finding something you want to do for yourself in the morning. It will be a lot easier to get up if you are guaranteed to do something fun for yourself — compare this to going on vacation. You probably have no problem waking up very early on vacation or during holidays. My goal every morning is to bring that excitement to the day by doing something fun for myself.

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    As I previously mentioned, I have been using these tips for a very long time. Joining the world of early-risers has been a great decision. I feel less stressed, I get more done, and I feel happier than I did when I was a late-riser. If you follow these tips you can become an early-riser, too. Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention? What works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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