You have to set priorities in order to get things done


May 29, 1994|By Jeff Davidson | Jeff Davidson,Special to The Sun

My sister Nancy is a behavioral psychologist who works with clients to determine how they spend their days. "It's a clue to whatever type of dysfunctioning they may be experiencing." Tell me how you spend your time, and I'll tell you what your troubles are.

A wheel stuck in the mud, spinning fast, certainly represents rapid motion. Yet the car is not moving. Are your days filled with activity but not the experiences and accomplishments you really want for yourself?

Busy or not, everyone has 168 hours a week, and one way or another, everyone fills them. Consider this: During a work life of 48 years (from age 22 to 70), an activity that you engage in for an average of 30 minutes each day consumes one complete year of your life.

This perspective on how little bits of time add up to significant chunks can spur you to eliminate activities that don't support your goals.

The happiest people I know identify what matters to them and then allocate their efforts accordingly. If employed by others and assigned what to do, they are fortunate to be able to list their assignments among their own priorities.

Many other people endure years of being overwhelmed or unhappy, but still won't stop long enough to decide what merits attention and action and what does not. Or they cling to outdated attitudes that dictate staying on top of everything.

Making choices about how you would like to allocate your resources is crucial.

Most people face the same few time issues: career advancement vs. a happy home life; income goals vs. income needs; and social-, peer- or employment-induced priorities vs. individual wants or needs.

The things most meaningful to you in life are, by definition, your priorities. But some of the most meaningful priorities might fall under the heading "Larger Issues in Life" (being more tolerant, maintaining a solid marriage), so they get misplaced among the myriad mundane but necessary things we must do.

It is wise to have only a few priorities. If you have too many, you're not likely to respect each of them. At some point, too many priorities become paradoxical.

To establish priorities, I suggest the following:

* List everything that's important to you or that you wish to accomplish.

* Go back and assess your list a little later. Get beady-eyed and eliminate the second-tier items. Yes, it would be good to spend more time with your reading club, expanding your mind, but it would be more fulfilling to spend more time with your aging parents.

* Combine any items that are similar in nature to help pare down your list of priorities.

* Rewrite, redefine, or restructure choices. If an item or idea doesn't hold up in the editing process, feel free to delete it.

* Put the list away for another day, then review it again.

* Delete, combine, or rethink remaining items. If something seems less important at this time, drop it. You can't afford more priorities than you can support.

* Complete your list -- for now. Priorities may change radically as years pass. But they will always be based on deeply felt needs or desires, usually representing challenging but ultimately rewarding choices.

For maximum benefit, I suggest writing priorities on small business-size cards. Keep one in your wallet, one in your appointment book and one in your car. Read your priorities list often -- it isn't overkill to review it every day. Constant review will reinforce your goals and help you make wise choices about what you do with your time -- choices that can lead to attaining your goals.

Jeff Davidson is a professional speaker based in Chapel Hill, N.C. He is the author of 18 books, including "Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-up Society (MasterMedia). He can be reached at (800) 735-1994.


Do you feel harried, overwhelmed? Call Time Saver. Our panel of time-management experts and people who have just plain been there might be able to help. In future columns, we'll offer some solutions to your professional, home or leisure time-management problems. Please leave your name, city of residence and daytime phone number when you call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6220 after you hear the greeting.

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