Spotlight On: What Are Your Priorities At This Stage Of Your Life?
Published June 13, 2014
by Rachael O'Halloran
Priority: something that is more important than other things, and that needs to be done or dealt with first
Priorities: the things that one cares about and thinks are important
How do you decide which comes first?
In order of importance, what is your Number One Priority?
Children are a priority
No one understands the shift in priorities about having a child in your life... until you have a child in your life.
-- Sandra Bullock
Priorities Often Get Changed Around
Did you find it hard to pick just one?
If you did, you are not alone, when you consider how busy our lives are and all that we have to juggle in order to keep up with the responsibilities and demands on our time.
On any given day, your Number One Priority really could be any of those things. And it could all change the very next day.
That's because every day, one or more of the responsibilities moves up the list to the top position and summons your attention for some part of the day. All others are put on a back burner for the time being.
In an ideal world, we could hope to deal with one priority at a time. But responsibilities being what they are, we often see multiple issues, all vying the top priority spot at the same time. Often one main priority awaits the outcome of two lesser priorities to solve the overall dilemma.
Prioritize This List:
- Your car has a flat tire, but you don't know how to change it.
- You are due at the babysitter's to pick up your children by five because the babysitter has to leave for her night job at six.
- You have to call the takeout store because your dinner takeout order was supposed to be picked up half an hour ago.
- You must call AAA to come change the flat tire and get an time estimate to know how long you'll have to wait.
- You need to notify the babysitter to tell her what happened, so she can call her mother to come stay with your children until you get there, and so she can leave for work on time.
Your children, of course, are your Number One Priority because of the time crunch of the babysitter's schedule to leave home for her night job. But you have another dilemma that requires more urgent attention.
Reordering the list will prioritize what has to be done first, second, third, etc to bring the problem to a solution with the least amount of repeat steps (backtracking).
Answer: 4, 5, 3.
Putting Number 4 in the Top Priority position gets the ball rolling to set events in motion toward a solution, because without AAA to your rescue, you can not proceed further without making multiple and perhaps repeat steps.
- AAA gave you an arrival time window of between 30 and 45 minutes. They estimated another 30 minutes to complete the tire change. This is key information to know, not only for you but for the other people who are now directly affected by your flat tire incident.
- If for some reason AAA had a two hour wait or no service person to come to you, then you would have had to make more phone calls to get alternative assistance AND your other phone calls would have changed the priorities of those who are dependent on your timely arrival.
- If you had decided to call the babysitter first without having a flat tire remedy plan in place, you would be making repeat calls to her to constantly update the situation. Performing Number 4 first eliminates multiple phone calls.
- Also, by performing Number 4 first, you have prioritized the primary problem that will lead to a solution. Armed with the all-important information of time estimates, which others will be relying on, you have reduced the need for making multiple phone calls. Making one phone call with complete information gives each person who is dependent on your timely arrival all the tools they need to prioritize their own responsibilities. So Number 4 is first.
While you are waiting for AAA, your next Priority will be to attend to Number 5, now that you are confident that AAA is on the way.
- Even though your children are your overall Top Priority, as stated above, making the babysitter your first phone call would not be a wise choice because you would be causing yourself extra steps in the long run by having to call her back multiple times with updated information regarding your repair situation, especially if AAA were not able to service your tire and you needed to call around for more assistance.
- By handling this call second, you are able to provide the babysitter with pertinent and complete information that AAA is helping you, their arrival and job completion estimate times. Now you can build a plan from this point.
- Having a plan in place first is beneficial for the babysitter to know from the outset because she is relying on your timely arrival so she can leave for work at six. Informing her of your plan allows her to prioritize her time so she can put her emergency child care plan in place to cover her responsibilities in order for her to be able to leave for work on time at six.
Your last Priority is Number 3, but not a hurry because they can have your takeout order ready at any time. It is a courtesy call.
- Numbers 1 and 2 were included as informational only, to decide the order of urgency vs importance.
In the space of a few minutes, your priorities changed as each one was addressed. First the flat tire, then the child care, then the takeout order. In order for fulfillment of the child care and takeout order, the top priority of a plan to remedy the flat tire had to be taken care of first.
Circumstances and Obligations
The order of our priorities will be different for each one of us, depending on our life circumstances.
- Some may have a spouse and children
- Some may have no significant other and no children
- Some may have a significant other but no children
- Some may have children but no significant other
- Some may be caring for aging parents or their grandchildren
- Some may have fertility issues requiring sticking to a "special schedule!"
- Some may be gainfully employed at one or more jobs,
- Some may still be in school
- Some may be retired
- Some may be disabled
Social Life, Vacations
- You may have a wide circle of friends so that you enjoy a very active social life
- Some people sacrifice social activities so they can save up all year to go on one great annual vacation
- For any number of reasons, the only socialization with the outside world that someone on the other side of your computer screen has every day are the people they talk to online.
- Some may not have extra money left over after the monthly bills are paid
- Some spend on credit and worry about paying the bills later
- Some worry how they are going to pay the rent, mortgage, utilities or a car payment every month when nothing is left over from their paychecks.
- Some have so many loans to pay, they are worrying how each will be paid
- Some are homeless and are saving up for a place to live
Your circumstances (ex: financial, familial obligations, etc.), how you live your life, who is involved your life, how much time you can or want to devote to people, places and things - each of these goes into determining what your priorities will be and the order of their importance.
Time & Love
Are your priorities in order?
You should never make someone a priority who views you as an option.
-- Maya Angelou
Important vs Urgent
In order to be able to prioritize, one has to know not only what is important and what is urgent at the moment, but one must be able to determine the difference between important and urgent.
- It is important to know where the bathrooms are located in Walmart.
- It is urgent that I find the bathroom in Walmart because I have to go right now.
Sometimes taking your personal feelings and those of others into consideration won't win you any popularity contests because the prioritizing decision will need to be based on what is required for a solution in order to proceed.
- The man had a heart attack in the store when he was with his wife and his mother.
- When the ambulance came, the paramedic said only one of them could ride in the back of the ambulance with the man to go to the hospital.
- Prioritizing who rides along, and who doesn't, will ultimately hurt someone's feelings. Because urgency was a main factor, the man's wife chose to go and concern for her mother-in-law's personal feelings must be put aside. The main priority is getting the man to a hospital with the closest kin who can make decisions and sign paperwork for him.
Determining the difference between what is important and what is urgent will help prioritize a situation.
For each of us, depending on our circumstances, there can be very wide differences between the two.
Rate The Priority
Urgent vs. Important
- There is no clean-cut method to determine an urgent matter from an important matter because sometimes they are one and the same.
- Sometimes an urgent matter needs attention right this minute because it is on a deadline or timetable, while an important matter can wait a few.
Urgent vs. Non-Important
- Sometimes an urgent matter will take precedence so that all others become non-important, but it is only for the time you are dealing with the urgent matter.
Non-Urgent vs. Important
- Sometimes an important matter is just not urgent at all and sometimes a non-urgent matter has little importance to others awaiting your attention.
- If other important matters need your attention, prioritizing them will be the only way to be able to handle each one.
- If it doesn't need your attention and/or if a result is not expected within the next hour, it is non-urgent.
- List each in their order of importance, if a result is expected due to a timetable or when one outcome depends on one of the others to come to fruition.
Non-Urgent vs. Non-Important
- If it is neither urgent or important, it can be done during leisure time.
- Tasks performed at your leisure tend to be done more satisfactorily, so that the end result is more pleasing.
The Priority of Loved Ones
Probably the most debated topic is making time for immediate family and loved ones. We figure they will always be there, and we can see them anytime.
On the other hand, newly presented opportunities can be fleeting so we feel the need to take advantage of them as they come up. If there were ever an emergency, family members would be the Number One Priority. But in leisurely non-distressed times, family members tend to get moved down on the priority list.
1. The guys invite you to go shoot some pool at the taproom on Friday, but then you find out the whole weekend is the annual "Rack 'Em Up" pool tournament and you really want to play. So you call your girlfriend to cancel the plans you had to take her and her parents to dinner and tell her you'll do it next weekend.
2. Your parents are stopping at your home in Virginia for a couple of hours on their way to your sister's house in Florida, but you have a chance to work some badly needed overtime that is rarely offered by your company. You decide to go to work, telling your parents it might be best if they just stayed on the interstate toward Florida.
3. Your son has a soccer game but you have a business meeting with a client who looks promising to sign a contract to give you a lot of their company's business.
In each case, the choice has been between spending time with a family member or putting time toward another activity which was viewed (at the moment) to be a higher priority.
In each case, some compromise could have kept the family a Top Priority by making some schedule adjustments. But in our "I can see my family anytime" world, many choose to put family second and other things first.
Organized vs Prioritized
Many of us have some degree of clutter in our lives - things that we either don't take care of in a timely fashion, or stuff we let pile up until we must take care of them. Sometimes things get dumped on us by others because we just let it happen, we can't say "no" or we feel no one else will do it, so we figure it may as well be me.
Not everyone will have each part of their lives organized by a schedule, a list, or in folders like a filing cabinet. If you have too many responsibilities, a list will help to put them in order.
You do not have to have your life neatly organized to be able to prioritize.
Being organized is not a pre-requisite to being able to prioritize things in your life. It helps, but it is not necessary.
Part of the ability to prioritize comes from being organized. But being organized means different things to different people.
- If you were to look at my desk, you might say "Oh, Rachael O'Halloran! How can you find anything on your desk? How will you know when your bills are due to be paid?" My organized desk may not look like your organized desk!
- Or you can stand in the middle of your overcrowded garage that looks like pure mayhem to your neighbor's eye, (but not to you) and immediately you can lay your hands on the rose pruner he wants to borrow.
Both these examples are a type of organized confusion - the area looks like hell, but you know what most of the stuff is and how to locate it.
Methods people use to prioritize
- They make lists - written, mental or cyber - and order them according to importance or priority.
- They make a schedule - written, mental or cyber - but are flexible to monkey wrenches than can screw it up.
- Those who are less organized put similar stuff in piles so they have some kind of an idea where things are. Because each pile is semi-organized by topic or placed in certain sections of the room, one will slowly come around to getting more organized. (ala organized confusion)
- Use each day's space on your calendar or on a desk blotter in order to keep track of when bills are due to be paid, date and times of special outings, appointments of importance and reminders of things to be done a day in advance of an event.
- Some hit the ground running and do quite well waking up in the morning with no set plan for the day (work or play, etc). Whatever problem steps up to command their time during the course of the day is what they give their undivided attention to, for as long as is needed.
- Some mentally jog their thoughts. Some people have all their ducks in a row (a plan) and they know before they close their eyes at night what will garner their attention sometime throughout the next day. They have put their priorities in some order (mentally) but they have not scheduled specific time for each one during their day.
Learn the difference between "want" and "need" because they are not the same.
It's all about priorities
Have you noticed that your priorities are not the same as your siblings, your children, or your parents?
We all give attention to the things in our lives that matter at the moment. But it also depends on if we are sharing that responsibility with someone else.
Example: Three adult siblings share in taking care of aging parents by driving them to doctor appointments, supermarket and church. To all of three siblings, their aging parents are their Number One Priority.
They may not all approach the responsibility with the same degree of importance or give their parents' appointments priority attention in relation to other demands in their own lives.
That's because when there's more than one sibling taking turns as caregivers, one of the three can cover their parents for their transportation needs. Because only one or possibly two siblings will be active with their parents at once, there will nearly always be a third who will be a passive caregiver.
Just because one or two siblings are not present when their parents needed them, it doesn't mean they hold their parents in less esteem or that they assign less importance to their duty to them.
It just means that sharing responsibilities with other people changes the priority level for all of them and frees each of them up to dedicate time to other priorities in their lives.
Lists, Schedules & Goals
If you are not a list-maker, become one, especially if you have found (*or have been told) that you are hard-pressed to make time for a certain someone or something.
Making lists are not for the forgetful anymore. Lists prioritize our needs and responsibilities. Sometimes seeing things written down on paper (or on a computer screen) helps to determine their order of importance, especially if one result relies on the outcome of another, which may be too far down on your list and need to be rearranged in more logical steps.
Make a schedule and stick to it - at least as close as you can. Once friends and family see that you are keeping to a schedule, not only will you see less intrusions on your time, but you will be able to free up time for those you want to spend time with or for activities you never used to have time to do.
Set goals for yourself. If you go through your life performing functions that just need to be done without any realistic goal in mind, your life will remain relatively the same as far as status, excitement and substance. Setting goals helps motivate you to do well in other areas so that a particular goal can (and will be) achieved sooner. It will exceed expectations and will be accomplished with more ease than less organized methods.
Prioritizing The Demands In Your Life
Time with Parents
Your Faith (Church, Bible study time, etc.)
Paying credit cards and other bills
Hobby #1 (ex: TV time, computer, golf, sports)
Hobby #2 (reading, writing, phone chats, bookkeeping)
Hobby #3 (time with or entertaining friends, outings)
Getting priorities straight
Good things happen when you get your priorities straight.
-- Scott Caan
Sometimes all it takes is one monkey wrench in life to screw up our priorities. It could be anything.
- A parent who had a sudden stroke where you now have to decide whether to take them into your home or arrange admission to a nursing home
- a child who breaks both legs and requires extra help in the home while you work.
- a husband who has suddenly lost his job
- a wife who becomes ill with a serious disease leaving small children to be cared for by many others
- a car that breaks down and can't be repaired
Any of these things are called unforeseen circumstances. If more than one thing happens at the same time, one must prioritize in order to be able to arrive at solutions and to keep a handle on possible chaos.
Choose your priorities
Nobody's life is ever all balanced. It's a conscious decision to choose your priorities every day.
-- Elisabeth Hasselbeck
We have to face it that no matter what we do or how we handle certain things in our lives, there will always be critics.
One would hope there'd also be some pats on the back too, but negativity seems to rear its head first, especially when someone is not in agreement.
It is at these times when one must exercise their rights to make executive decisions - i.e. whatever would be the right thing FOR YOU, not them.
Even if it turns out to not be the right thing for you, it is your life and you have to live with the consequences of your decisions.
I like to use the excuse: "I made an executive decision, so live with it!"
Because I have to, so should they. If they don't want to, they can hit the road.
Sometimes things in life happen that allow us to understand our priorities very clearly. Ultimately you can see those as gifts.
-- Mariska Hargitay
Because we are all different, no one can tell us which of the listed items should be our Number One Priority.
Likewise, you should never tell anyone else what or how they should be prioritizing in their lives.
Your Number One Priority will not be the same as the Number One Priority of your best friend who is exactly the same age as you. This is because we are all at different stages in our lives. we handle crisis differently, and we prioritize differently according to the needs of the others who depend on us.
Regarding the poll question at the top of this article - If I asked you the same poll question ten years ago or even ten years from now, would your answer be the same?
More than likely, it would not.
That's because we all have other issues in our lives where we prioritize them according to their importance at that point in time.
- Urgency over importance. Focus on what is urgent and then decide its importance. Weigh the two to assign priority levels to arrive at a conclusion involving the least amount of steps (legwork).
- Keep your eye on getting to your end result or goal.
- Don't let anyone shame you into doing something you don't want to do or don't have the time or resources to do.
- Do only what you are able to do and either carry it over for another day if possible, or delegate the rest out to others.
- Socialize whenever possible and other parts of your life will fall into place
- Don't be afraid to make a mistake. You've made them in the past and no doubt you will make more in the future. Learn a lesson from it and move on.
- When scheduling, allow wiggle room so you don't over-extend yourself.
- Allow yourself some alone time; this can rejuvenate you as well as, if not better than, any power nap.
The last minute priority
© Rachael O'Halloran - June 13, 2014
Edited to trim down word count - 2/20/2015
© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran