Back in September I decided I was going to write a poem every other day. It was a part of my fall bucket list. I’d added it to the list because:
- I wanted to get more comfortable with my writing.
- I like the creative part of myself and I didn’t want to lose it in the hustle and bustle of daily living, where my love of writing could easily fall to the wayside and slip away unnoticed.
The first four weeks of my goal went perfectly. Kind of.
I was writing poems a lot more, to be sure. I wasn’t quite able to fit it in every other day, but if I had to skip a few days I made up for it in the days that followed by writing extra. I was feeling good about reaching my goal.
But one day, I realized I hadn’t written in a whole week. “Oh well,” I thought to myself. “I’ll pick up the slack and write a ton next week.”
Next week came. I didn’t write once.
And then the next week went by and not a word had been jotted down in my poetry journal.
I was so discouraged. Why wasn’t I writing more? I had set a goal, hadn’t I? What was keeping me from accomplishing it?
Then I realized something: writing poetry wasn’t my only goal at that time. I was also training for a half marathon.
And studying to become fluent in Spanish.
And trying to cook more, sleep more, and maintain this blog more.
Plus, I had plenty of relationships I was trying to nourish, like the ones I was growing with my boyfriend, best friends, and roommates. I was trying to do more for them too.
Overall, there was just a lot of more going on.
And there wasn’t a whole lot of Amanda to do go around. All I had was me, just one lil girl in one lil body. I could only stretch so much.
I realized that while writing more poetry was a goal of mine, it wasn’t a priority. I had lots of other goals that had taken the top slots in my list of things I spent my time on. Writing poetry hadn’t made the cut.
So I put writing poetry on the shelf for a little bit until I was done training for my half marathon. Then I could give it a little more space in my life.
Perhaps you’ve been feeling similarly about something. You might have a goal that you’re just not able to commit to accomplishing, and you’re frustrated.
Maybe you’re trying to go to the gym three times a week but you’ve only been able to make it out the door once.
Maybe you’re interested in applying for a new job, but getting resumes and cover letters out there hasn’t really happened as much as you’d hoped it would.
Maybe you’re wanting to read all those books on your shelf you’ve been eager to dig into for years now, or you’re attempting to cook more, or you’re looking to plan your first (or second, or third) trip abroad. But something isn’t clicking.
There’s a little strategy I use every so often to help me figure out what I can and cannot realistically accomplish at any given time. Today I’d like to share it with you!
1. Make a list of the top 10 priorities in your life.
We’re not just talking goals here. Goals are different. Goals are the things you hope to spend your time on. Priorities are the things you can realistically spend your time on.
Here are some tips for making a good priority list:
- Take your relationships into account. Do you want to maintain your relationship with your family? Your best friend? Your significant other? Each relationship should get it’s own number. A single number on the list can’t be “maintain and feed each of my relationships.” That’s cheating! Besides, studies confirm that humans are only capable of having 5 people in their lives at any given time. I’ve also heard that you can only realistically be a solid support for 5 people, because each relationship will demand time you have in limited quantities.
- Remember to include your health, both mental and physical. On my priorities list, I devote one line to physical health and one to mental health. My physical health includes getting enough sleep and eating good food, while my mental health includes spending ample time alone to recharge. (Training for a half marathon, which could be shelved under maintaining physical health, has it’s own line.)
- Consider your job and educational obligations. If you have a job you’d like to keep or a school you’d like to graduate from, you should probably add it to your list, even if you’re not the biggest fan of what you’re doing right now. It’s a priority if it takes up time and it’s important to you.
- Don’t allow yourself to go over 10. You may want to add in a goal of yours that seems utterly crucial right now, like learning to code. But if it doesn’t fit in your 10 priorities, and if you can’t cross out anything else to accommodate it, then it can’t go on the list. You just don’t have time. End of story.
2. Write out an estimate of what you do every week and the time each activity takes.
You may find that as you write out your basic schedule estimate, there’s a lot of time that goes unaccounted for. Consider if you’re spending that time on social media, leisure, or other things you forgot to add into your priorities list.
You also may realize that you forgot some things in your priorities list based on what you wrote in your weekly schedule.
For example, I forgot that I was taking a Spanish class until I wrote out my schedule and I had to go back and add it to my list of priorities. (This meant I had to cross out something else since I already had 10.)
3. Check for misalignments between your priorities list and what you’re spending your time doing.
Are you spending three hours a week on Facebook and only one writing your book when Facebook isn’t on your priority list? There’s a red flag.
Noticing the disparities between your priorities list and your schedule will help you make the changes you need to make in order to be living your best life.
4. Decide on what has to go to make room for the things you want to accomplish.
For me, I realized I needed to cut down on the time I was spending on writing in order to work on building my Spanish skills and train for my half marathon. Deciding that writing was going to go on the back burner for a while until it was a good fit for my life made me feel more free. When I know exactly what I have time for and what I don’t, I’m able to devote myself more fully to those things that are important to me during any given week. My performance goes up, my guilt goes down, and I feel pretty darn good.
Some people decide that they want to write out another weekly schedule, this time indicating what they’d ideally spend their time doing each day of the week. This helps them visualize when they’ll realistically be accomplishing each thing on their priorities list.
I write out an “ideal weekly schedule” a lot and it helps me actualize my goals and cut out goals that simply won’t fit.
Setting my priorities apart from my goals is the best way I set realistic expectations of myself. I’m still learning how to do this, but these days I’m feeling a lot better about how I use each and every second of my very precious life.
How do you set your priorities? Do you have a strategy you use? What’s on your priorities list?