Prioritising, Attention, Urgent, Time, Anxiety, Overwhelm, Exhaustion
Paula Brown | 22 October 2021
I’m finding lately that there is just not enough time to do all I want to get done, and it’s not just me. It’s like the veil has been lifted after a long sleep, and we are being driven subconsciously to get things done before the end of 2021. I, for one, know that this isn’t healthy, and that this panic or anxiety I’m feeling in my belly has deeper foundations than just a to-do list.
It feels a lot like FOMO. The fear of missing out on opportunities, some of which may be justified, but might have the wrong motivation – the wrong ‘why?’ behind them or the motivation is reasonable, but do I need it right now? Here are some examples:
Do we need to travel right now or even book our tickets right now, just because we’re off the red list?
Thinking of renovating? Now? Or can it wait?
Finishing or starting courses, a masters' or doctorate? We’ve experienced so much trauma in the past 18 months, can we be a little more flexible around this – it is important, but consider the timing?
Then there’s the same old stuff, the stuff that keeps getting us stuck, like:
Starting my own thing
Giving up what our bodies no longer want, like sugar, alcohol, wheat?
Giving up what our brains need less of – you know what this is.
Deep breath… Anyone feel a touch of anxiety at this list? What’s on your list?
Wanting to achieve or do things is okay, but if they’re causing overwhelm, exhaustion, or giving you reasons not to be there for loved ones or friends, then you know something’s got to give.
Let’s make a different list, in fact four of them. Top of this list should be peace of mind. It's only when we are able to calm and centre ourselves that we are able to look at things from an objective perspective, one that allows us to determine what’s important.
Possibly the most important thing in life is time. Time is a limited resource. Once it’s past, it’s gone, never to return. By identifying what’s important to us, what we value, only then are we able to be intentional with our time.
So how do we know what’s important?
Many of you will have encountered the Eisenhower matrix at some time in your lives. It was developed in 1953 by US president Eisenhower who, like most leaders, needed to make many big decisions every day of his life, decisions that would impact not only his family, but his country, and ultimately the world.
To help him prioritize these, he measured his tasks and decisions based on urgency and importance, through the following model:
Allow me to dive a little deeper into this wonderful tool, as it’s not as easy or simple as it may seem.
DO: Do it Now
If it’s urgent and important, then it must be done right away – like finishing a client project, meeting a deadline, responding to critical emails, taking your sick child to the doctor, plugging that hole. These are things that usually come up at short notice and will have a big impact if not attended to.
DELETE: Eliminate it
Let’s move on to the bottom right quadrant, a space that in my mind refers more to behaviours than tasks – these are neither urgent, nor important.
We all know these as behaviours - they satisfy or numb us emotionally. They distract us from the things we’re trying to avoid. (You may be having an AHA moment right now, or sensing discomfort in your body…)
There are times when these tasks or behaviours can be considered healthy. This is when they are used consciously to ‘switch gears’, from manic to still, however, mostly as a result of their addictive nature, these behaviours become habits, and result in valuable time being squandered. Examples, (need I even name them?) include TV watching, gaming, scrolling endlessly through social media, eating junk food, socializing too much (usually with alcohol). Even exercising. Too much of a good thing steals our time and our joy.
An interesting behaviour that we may not have thought to include in this quadrant is saying yes when we mean no. Many of us give a lot of our time to helping or rescuing others. Many times, this is a selfless gesture and meaningful in its execution. On other occasions, it may be used to distract oneself from important tasks. Turning our attention to others is often a behaviour to deflect from something that’s missing or being avoided in our own lives. This type of ‘giving service’ is counterproductive to both the receiver and the giver.
DELEGATE: Who can do it for you?
Then there’s the UNIMPORTANT things that ARE URGENT.
Urgency means someone has to do them. NOT NECESSARILY YOU. People spend a lot of time here, are always busy or claiming they are busy. These are the things that we need to DELEGATE as, usually, they are not a strength of ours nor expected of us.
Here’s a perfect example. Have you ever been asked to prepare a presentation and it takes you forever to complete? This may be because you’re good at the content, not the design and layout – you’re not a PowerPoint expert. Maybe consider asking someone who’s strength is in design, to finish it. The problem is we all see ourselves as multi-taskers, or in need of activating the other side of our brain every now and then – that is healthy. But not if it’s stealing your time.
Other examples could be repairing a hole in the ceiling or the wall – we all know someone who thought they’d save money if they did it themselves. Does it really?
Teaching your children maths when, if you’re anything like me, you’re doing more harm than good.
Arranging a wedding when there’s a good reason that wedding planners have thriving businesses.
Trying to solve problems that are not yours to solve ie. Responding to every email even if it’s not yours to solve.
The next time you find yourself jumping into this task or putting your hand up to organise the end of your company party, stop yourself. Pause, and bring awareness to your motivation. Ask yourself: How am I adding value here? What is this about?
DECIDE: Schedule time to do it
Now for my favourite, and what I believe to be the tasks that REQUIRE THE MOST ATTENTION. By their nature they do, as they are the tasks that we delay, the ones that bring on our worst case of procrastination. These are the ones that NEED A PLAN, not immediate action.
These tasks are meaningful ones, those that impact us deeply, and personally in many ways. They are usually what’s really important to us, but because we do not value ourselves, our own needs, or our own time, they get put on the burner. (Or added to a bucket list for one day when…)
Everyone has their own ‘important’ list and it varies from big things to little things, all of which require some form of decision, deadline and behaviour. Some examples for you could be:
Starting to exercise regularly
Setting up a regular morning routine
Visiting your elderly parents
Finishing your studies
Apply for a new passport
Decluttering your home
Having that pain in your lower back seen to
Planting your dream vegetable garden
The impact of NOT PLANNING for these, not putting deadlines (albeit flexible) in place results in consequences that usually show up WITHIN US rather than outside of us. Not attending to these matters often makes us feel undisciplined, unworthy, or helpless.
Ask yourself, what’s important and set a clear intention along with a timeline to get to those things that live in your daydreams onto paper – that’s a great start.
So now, when you look at your four quadrants- I hope you can see a story there. You may still need to sit with it to identify what’s important – and that’s okay.
You’ve taken the first step – you’ve seen where you’re losing time.
Where you can find more time?
What is urgent and important now? but mostly...
What’s REALLY important to you?
Know that what you give attention to grows. My wish for you is that you slowly begin to experience a calmer, richer and more fulfilled life as you unravel the mystery of What’s Important and start taking action towards carving space for the important things which you will ultimately measure your life against.
Author: Paula Brown
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