Do you ever wonder if you're putting first things first? If you're making time for the most important things?
I second-guess my priorities from time to time (usually when I find myself wanting to stay in with a bowl of popcorn and the latest episode of Grey's Anatomy instead of going to some social function).
Let's start by identifying what your priorities are.
How do you spend most of your time?
What do you spend most of your money on?
What takes up most of your energy?
Now that you've taken a bit of a priority inventory, let me ask you one more question:
How do you want to be investing your time, money, and energy?
You get to choose, friend. But if you don't choose for yourself, other people are going to try to do it for you. Bosses and coworkers are going to ask you to take on extra projects that they see as important, friends are going to invite you to do all kinds of things they think you'd enjoy, family members are going to ask you all kinds of favors and expect you to go to every activity and get-together, old friends are going to ask you to go to coffee to reconnect, strangers on social media are going to try to get you to buy their products and services, and our culture as a whole is going to try to get you to buy into the lie that you aren't enough, that you need the next bright and shiny thing to make you happy.
If you identify your own priorities for this season, this stage of life, then you wield the power. You then get to make decisions based on what's most important for you and your family, instead of giving the decision-making power to someone else.
IDENTIFYING RED FLAGS
If your priorities get out of line, it will be evident in your life in one way or another (or perhaps multiple if the first signs weren't too obvious). I know that when I've misplaced my priorities, I start to see little changes that will add up to some significant issues if I'm not careful.
If you're trying to keep all of your plates spinning for too long without taking any time for rest, you'll wear yourself out.
We weren't made to be running, running, running without any breaks to rest and recover. If we live our lives at an unsustainable pace, we're going to burn out.
If you're overtired and exhausted, it might be a sign that you've been trying to do too many things, going a mile wide and an inch deep, not accomplishing much of anything but still managing to wear yourself out in the process.
If you've overcommitted or been trying to juggle too many things, shoulder too many burdens, or solve too many problems, you're probably feeling some significant stress.
When we let stress get too overwhelming, it can be incapacitating. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from causing ulcers to preventing sleep to actually increasing our risk for weight gain and illnesses.
When we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, we're not in a position to do anyone any good. We are not solely responsible for holding everything together, and when we mistakenly think we are, we need to begin reevaluating our priorities and our goals.
ANGER & FRUSTRATION
I know that when I'm stressed, tired, and overworked, my patience grows thin. I become far more irritable and short-tempered.
I'm learning to see these as a warning sign that things aren't right in my world.
If I'm lashing out in anger and frustration, especially about relatively small or insignificant things, then I need to change something within myself.
In order to gain greater peace, patience, and kindness, I need to reorient my thinking and remember what's really important-- people, grace, love, kindness, joy. I need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and get some greater perspective.
HUSTLE & HURRY
When we try to do too many things all at once, we automatically feel like we don't have enough time or energy to do them-- we fall into a scarcity mindset.
And because we believe these resources (our time and energy) are scarce, we hustle and hurry from one thing to another. We have full schedules, and instead of cutting things out to create room for rest, we dip out of one thing early or arrive at one thing late, constantly rushing, getting impatient in traffic because we're always in a hurry.
If we have no buffer between activities, if we're always busy, always moving at a running pace, perhaps we have to take a moment to slow down and see where our priorities could use some work.
Stress, fatigue, and constantly running around from one thing to another can actually run our bodies down to the point where we get sick. Colds, flu, aches and pains, and more can be caused or exacerbated by our lifestyle, especially when it comes to our stress and a lack of sleep and proper self-care.
If we haven't been prioritizing rest, self-care, fun, and time with friends and family, we just might be putting ourselves on a path toward making ourselves sick. And that's never a good place to be.
When I'm stressed and stretched too thin, I start coming up with poor excuses. I say, "I don't have time to rest," "I'll catch up with them next month," or "I can handle getting only six hours of sleep; I'll be fine."
I know those things aren't true, and I know deep down that if I keep living my life that way, I'll hit a place where I have nothing left to give, a place where I crash and burn because I've been running too hard and too fast for too long.
The last and most obvious way to notice when I've misplaced my priorities is when other people comment on it. It often starts out flippant or joking, but can progress to genuine concern when I've gone too far.
If we start hearing people preface their statements with things like, "I know you're really busy, but..." we might want to take a step back and examine how busy we are, and how we convey our priorities to those around us. If our people think we're too busy for them, we're doing something wrong.
IDENTIFYING OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
The beauty of establishing your own priorities is that you always have the freedom to change them!
If your priorities have gotten a little out of alignment like mine are known to do, you can choose to alter them. You can set new goals. You can create new plans.
Don't beat yourself up about it; just decide to change and move forward.
So what do you want your priorities to be? How do you want to be spending most of your time, energy, and money? What do you want your life to be characterized by?
It's easy to forget what our priorities are when we're faced with mountains of to-dos. Something that helps me is shortening my priorities into something more memorable than a list.
I like to create mantras, overarching statements that I can repeat over and over, things that remind me of the bigger picture, of the way I want to show up in the world.
For instance, my tagline for my business (which really is an outflow of my worldview and goals for myself) is to "encourage you to live joyfully, simply, and intentionally."
Do you see what I did there? I chose words-- joyful, simple, intentional-- to represent how I want my business to show up, to present itself, to come across to others. Those are the very things I'm prioritizing. And having that simple tagline allows me to say "yes" and "no" more easily because I can see more clearly which choices align with my values-- my priorities, my mantra-- and which don't.
If you want to take it a step further (and I suggest you do!), you can create a manifesto. You can start with your mantra and expand upon it.
I created a manifesto several years ago and updated it more recently to reflect my current stage of life.
I find manifestos helpful for a few reasons:
- they're identity-driven-- more of a "this is who I am" statement than a set of strict rules
- they're deeply personal-- they're not given to you by someone else trying to control you; you get to create your own!
- they allow you to dictate how you want to show up in every area of life-- while mantras are great, they're not as specific or detailed as manifestos
- they ground you-- they keep you anchored in your beliefs, ideals, and priorities, providing you with something to come back to when things get crazy
PUTTING IT INTO ACTION
Now that you've gotten the opportunity to identify any existing red flags that indicate your priorities might have gotten a little mixed up and gotten the chance to adjust them, it's time to put them into action! Come up with a mantra and/or manifesto for yourself so you can continually come back to your priorities and stay focused on what really matters. And don't forget to check back for more tips and tricks to help you live the joyful, simple, intentional life you're aiming for.