Priorities

What is our time worth and what are our priorities with our time? Author Colin Wright encourages us to think about how we are using time and where we are focusing our time in his book, Come Back Frayed. The book is about Wright’s time living in the Philippines, and is very much an exploration of how he strives to live his life, the differences he has experienced across cultures through his travels, and the differences he has experienced in his reactions within various cultures. Wright strives for flexibility and greater freedom in his life, and his awareness helps him to be particularly perceptive of times when we are not in alignment with what we claim is important. In his book he discusses how our actions are what bring our priorities into the real world and he writes, “We show with our actions what our priorities are. Time unclaimed, time traded for something else, is one’s priorities in practice.”

 

I read Wright’s book a while back, and I had forgotten about this quote. When I look back on it now, I feel that I am forced to look into my own life and actions to determine if I am putting the right things in the right place. Am I choosing to take part in activities that I claim are important to me? Am I spending my time in a way that aligns with what I tell people is the most important? Are there activities that are sapping time from my day without me realizing that they are not aligned with the growth and future I desire?

 

The self reflection encouraged by Wright reminds me of a podcast I recently listened to. Design Matters host Debbie Millman interviewed Tim Ferris for her podcast, and Ferris said, “Any time I take off in a plane, I ask myself, ‘Would I be happy with what I’ve been doing for the last 24 hours?’” By reflecting on his last 24 hours and building in a set time for reflection Ferris is evaluating his life to see if his actions have aligned with what he finds important. Thinking about our last 24 hours and whether or not we are proud of that time is a great way to consider whether or not our priorities are focused where they need to be.

 

Wright’s quote also reminds me of a metaphor I have been using and recently re-evaluating regarding time. On 5/27/15 I first wrote about time and priorities in the sense of packing a suitcase. Julie Sheranosher on an episode of the Beyond the To-Do List podcast shared the idea that we have limited time in our lives, as we have limited space when packing a suitcase, and need to select the most crucial things to pack first. Making sure our priorities are set properly requires reflection on what is important in our lives, and consideration of how we can fit those things in our suitcase of life. We must decide what we bring with us and what we leave out when the suitcase is full. Recently, I have been hoping to update this model by thinking of our time and actions as a certain area illuminated by light. What we can focus on and put into action is in the illuminated area, and what is beyond our focus and attention is left in the shadows. Our focus and our actions reveal what our priorities are, while our self talk and stories to others outline what we think our priorities are. Only through awareness and reflection of our actions and decisions can we evaluate whether our talk and actions are aligned.

Forget Balance

Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote a message to James Harmon for his book, Take My Advice, and in her book she hits on many topics including goal setting, putting others first, and time management.  The following quote really dives into the idea of time management, “Forget balance, Think choices.  You must order your priorities, and only do what you can do well.” I really align with this quote because I have recently begun thinking of time and time management in new ways. I grew up imagining the idea of balance and being able to do an equal amount of things that I enjoyed, found important, or helped me sustain myself.  Recently however, I have come to see that balance is just a myth and that there are better ways to think about time management.
The first new way of looking at time management for me was imaging a tilt rather than a balance.  In this way, we are always not quite balanced, but we are tilting one way or another.  We lean towards things we are putting more time into as opposed to staying balanced with all of our time and activities nicely weighed out on a scale.  When I first read this quote that was the idea I had in mind, but that idea is still a balance. What is worse is that the idea of tilting is just an unstable balance.  We may be tilting one way or another, but then we are trying to add extra weight on a system that is already unstable.  In my opinion it would be better to strive for a good balance rather than a good tilt.
The most recent idea of time management that I have been exposed to, and now that I return to this quote I see it as an idea that Dr. Schlesinger would agree with, came to me from Beyond the To Do List Podcast.  Sheranosher compared time management to packing a suitcase, and she did so by having everyone imagine a trip to Alaska.  The best way to pack a suitcase she explains, is to lay out all of the things you want to take, and then to pack the most important things first.  When you do this, you see everything that you have and make sure that you don’t leave behind anything crucial.  First you tackle the most important items that you will need (your jacket, a pair of snow boots, gloves) and then you see where those extra items will fit (swim trunks & flip flops).  If your most important items have taken up all of your space, then you simply leave out the swim trunks and move on.  Her comparison to time management is brilliant. If you examine everything you need and want to do, then you have an easier time identifying what is important and what is not. You can take the items that you know you need to get done in your day, and pack those in your mental suitcase first, then you will see where (if at all) the extra things can fit.
Dr. Schlessinger in her quote was telling us to handle time the same way as Sheranosher, just without having to plan a trip to Alaska.  She encourages us to examine our choices and be honest about which choices are priorities, and which choices are superfluous.  In addition, she says to focus on those choices that we can execute fully and completely. If we can not do a choice well, then it does not make sense for it to be a priority.  If we want to take that electric blanket, but do not know how to fold it into our suitcase in an efficient way, it may take up too much space and force out our more important gloves.