Much has been written about the need to prioritize, from Getting Things Done to the 4-Day Work Week. And yet, much of what has been written comes from a place of maximizing to the point of exhaustion: How much can I really get out of the 24 hours in my day? There’s an emphasis on the myth of multitasking, as if doing more gets us further along in our goals.
The economics of diminishing returns applies in this arena, though. That law states that the more we focus on, the less we are actually produce in terms of results. Half the trick, then, is to choose to focus on the things that are most important.
The other side of it, though, is a decluttering of our lives. How much of our lives is actually filled with objects and activities that do not contribute to our overall quality of life? Chances are that a good portion of our time and energy is unconsciously tied up in things that don’t really matter in our lives.
What are the things that make our lives full? How much time and energy are we investing in those things? Where do we need to let go and make room?
Prioritizing is a continual process of clearing and making room for that which matters most for us.
I was recently talking with the teens I mentor at the Children’s Creativity Museum. They were expressing concern about how they were going to stay focused on studies, friendships, family, etc., with all of the different things they expected to compete for their time and attention in college. I reassured them that getting clear about priorities was something they would always confront.
Some leadership experts, like Bill George, speak about a values compass, being clear about the intangible yet important beliefs that shape how we look at the world. For example, if one is committed to Compassion, how are you helping to relieve the suffering of another?
This was a bit too abstract for my teens. So I shared with them the “Priorities Triangle.” The triangle is considered a “power symbol,” because it is based on the number 3. A tripod is solid when its legs are spread out as a triangle. I asked my teens to consider the following question:
What are your top 3 priorities in life?
What would you say are the non-negotiables of your life? What are the things that you, for sure, would not ever let drop? Family? Best friends? God? Volunteerism?
By assessing how we invest our time and energy against these top 3 priorities, we get a better sense of whether or not we are making choices that prioritize what matters most to us.