The Priority List

There’s this idiom we use in English when we aren’t going to be able to accomplish something. We say we don’t have time.

If there is a literal time constraint, this may be true. I may not have time to run to the store before writing group starts for example.

But often we use the phrase to mean that there isn’t space in our lives. “I’d love to garden,” I might say, “but I don’t have time.”

This, of course, is not literally true. Some people garden. Everyone has the same number of hours in the day. Therefore the time exists. Gardening is just not a priority right now. (I actually gardened yesterday. But you get the point.)

That’s what an idiom is, of course: a phrase where the understood meaning is different from the literal meaning. But with this particular idiom, sometimes its easy to start believing it is literally true. Whatever it is we don’t have time for, we feel we are incapable of doing it, because more time is not something that any of us can acquire.

In the absence of deadlines and time constraints, we all have the time to do anything we want. But most of us don’t have the time to do everything we want, because there are just too many interesting or important things in the world to do.

Enter priorities. Whether we think about it or not, we all prioritize our lives. If I spend time doing one thing over another, I have prioritized it. I like my life better when I think about my priorities and make sure I’m spending my time accordingly.

In general, my uber-priority list looks like this:
1) Take care of my health. (Because I can’t do anything else if I don’t do that.)
2) Take care of my family.
3) Write.
4-6)Maintain our business. Maintain our house. Maintain my relationships with friends. (The order of these last three rotates.)

Notice that writing is not number one. My life would be horribly out of balance if I put writing before my health or my family. I do put it above everything else, though. This is why it gets done at all.

Last year I realized I needed to cut some things out of my life, because I had too many scheduled weekly events to juggle. I knew I had to cut back, but I didn’t know how much. So I made a list of all the specific events in order of priority, and started hacking at the bottom. I dropped a writing group. I dropped a roleplaying game. When that wasn’t enough I dropped another writing group.

I also dropped to part-time attendance at my bi-weekly social writers event. Fortunately, I did not have to axe that one completely. When I dropped to part-time, I finally found that the balance of scheduled time, work time, and down time felt right. And I stopped cutting.

It hurt. It hurt a lot. But I knew what my priorities were, so I did it. And my life became much happier for it, in the long run. (Who needed three writing groups anyway? I was doing that many because I loved the people in each. But keeping up with friends is not as high a priority as my health, my family, or my writing. So the groups went.)

I kept my list. It still has all the same things on it, some crossed out, some left alone. But if my life becomes calmer or crazier, I know what to cut next. I know what to add back in. I know what I want, and I can make my habits match it.

And that’s a powerful thing.