Throughout our lives, we set priorities.  We learn about studying instead of blowing it off to attend that concert that we’ve wanted to go to for what seems like forever (for me it was Jimmy Buffet).  We learn about passing on that extra special chocolate decadence cake to focus on the extra benefit we’ll receive in wellness and fitness.  We decide which bill needs to be paid and how much and when, knowing that one can wait while another must be paid now.  We look at the seemingly hundreds of things that need to be done at work and pick which one must be done first and then let the others slip just a bit.  And we ponder hard whether to go to that parent-teachers conference or spend that extra hour working on something else that may at that time seem just a little bit more important at that time.

We all make decisions based on our priorities every single day…in fact, every single minute of each day.  For example, at this very moment, I’ve prioritized blogging about priorities rather than reading the overly complicated explanation of all the ballot initiatives that the state of Colorado put out.  Earlier, I prioritized going to the bowling alley to watch my wife bowl over going to a Starbucks and focusing on those few extra emails that I could get through before the evening is done.  And later this evening, I’ll prioritize getting on the treadmill over sitting quietly and reading a book or preparing for tomorrow’s heavy workload.

But this evening is not typical for me.

In any given day, at any given time, I’ll think back on the previous hours of that day and realize that something I desperately wanted to do or things that definitely needed to be done just didn’t…because I prioritized something else ahead of them.  And with each passing year, I commit to getting better, trying new things, planning more aggressively, learning new skills, and in spite of it all, I still sit late in the day fully realizing that something extremely important did not get done. 

Honestly, I fail miserably at prioritizing.

One enemy of priorities is distractions…anything that at any particular moment becomes more fun, more intriguing, more stimulating, or more scintillating than the long list of critically important things that sit so patiently on that long list waiting to be accomplished.  The friend of distractions is fascination…an overwhelming interest in anything but what you’re supposed to be doing, and an intrigue with the possibility of what could be when there is no real commitment to what is.

Another enemy of priorities is compulsions…those things that just have to be done at certain times in certain ways even when so many other things need to be done first or need to be done differently.  The friend of compulsions is impulsiveness…an involuntary but habitual reaction based on emotion rather than logic and defying priorities rather than supporting them.

When the distractions and compulsions are high (just about all the time for me), here’s what I have to do to have any hope of adhering to the priorities:

     (1) identify the top priorities and post them somewhere prominent so guilt flows when they aren’t getting done

     (2) of the top 4 or 5, identify the easiest and get it done as quickly as possible to establish a momentary track record of getting important things accomplished

     (3) for the hardest of the top priorities, focus on the consequences of not getting them done and ensure that those consequences are known by others that can also encourage you and hold you accountable

     (4) reward yourself when any of the priorities are accomplished or even when some small steps towards achievement of the ultimate goals are made

I bet these sound like no brainers to many of you, but it’s amazing how much they help those of us who suffer from the twin enemies of distraction and compulsion. 

So here’s a toast to each of you who effectively prioritize your day to day activities!

I’m jealous!

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