How to Assess Your Real Priorities
I am often awed by our failure to look at the big picture. My husband has a favorite saying, “People are pole vaulting over mouse turds while the elephants are running through the area.” I have always laughed at this saying but recognize the metaphor as being practical.
In fact, life throws so much at us that we are often unsure of what we need to attend to first. We just go go go like stressed out little hamsters without truly checking in with our own priorities. How do we isolate our priorities versus the priorities of others, and so on and so forth? Do I really need to “get this done” or is it just a mouse turd?
Dwight D. Eisenhower provided us with a way to look at events in our life. He once said:
“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
Here is the visual representation of how I’ve seen this idea depicted:
Life by Quadrants
If we organize our life into these quadrants we can make decision about how to spend our time productively. It also allows us to assess our real priorities.
Quadrant 1 – These are the emergencies that must be attended to – life and limb sort of issues that both crucial and time sensitive. They have to be managed immediately
Quadrant 2 – These are the things that really matter to us but that we have time to reflect on because we want to get them right. They are the things that deserve our full focus.
Quadrant 3 – These are the pole vault over mouse turds areas. We, or others, like bosses, family members and friends, convince us of the urgency of these items, but really they are unimportant and they just represent “noise.”
Quadrant 4 – These are the total time wasters that are neither important nor urgent and derail us from other areas of life where we should be focusing our attention.
If you can effectively learn to manage everything in Quadrant 3, you will be happier, healthier, and more likely to succeed at everything you touch.
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How to Set Real Priorities
When it comes to real priorities, we all know that the To Do list in life goes on and on. And as your anxiety rises, you tend to add more phantom things onto this list.
All of a sudden losing 10 pounds for a wedding can trump you into stress overload, when, really, who cares anyway? Is that really the most important thing in life to you at this very moment?
In order to set your priorities, ask yourself a few questions:
- What’s the worst that can happen if this doesn’t get done?
- Who is this important to? Me, or someone else?
- Would the person I’m making this a priority for do the same for me?
When you start to assess the root cause of your stress (too many priorities, too little time) you can quickly recognize that the pressure you’re putting on yourself might not be your own. It may be simply the expectations and ideas of others pushing in on you.
What should be your Quadrant 1, 2, 3 and 4 can easily get shifted if someone else tells you what they need from you instead of you listening to your own ideas. Likewise, while a boss may require you to polevault a mouse turd, what happens if a friend or family member is asking you to do so? Should you still do it?
Instead, before you put the pole in hand, think about the above questions. Take a minute to assess your real priorities, and what the consequences are of those choices. Then, act in the way that you think is best, not with the urgency of someone else.
Dr. Ines K. Roe has been helping women in transition rediscover themselves for over 20 years. If you’ve been feeling unfulfilled, are frustrated with your sense of accomplishment in midlife, or simply need guidance on your path to holistic well being, join her ecourses.
Love the graphic! This is a helpful tool for setting priorities. I keep putting housework in the not urgent, not important and then we have no food or clean clothes or dishes.
Setting priorities and learning how to better manage our time is the key to unlocking a life of more joy and time to BREATHE. Wonderful post, Ines.
That Eisenhower quote? It’s Da Bomb! Who knew he was so erudite?
I think I have a great deal of “noise” in my life. I’m thinking I should invest in a good set of ear plugs!
Very inspirational post 🙂
Great reminders here and your husbands “old saying” is classic! I have seen the 4 quadrants before, or something very close to it, in my past work. Great post!
Pole vaulting over mouse turds!! LOVE it. I’m going to start quoting your husband.
Love this take on setting priorities. Too often this question — “Would the person I’m making this a priority for do the same for me? — is answered with a resounding NO. I need to weed out those “priorities.” Thank you for the permission to do so. 😀
I had a crazy week last week and it forced me to ask myself what is really important and needs to be done and what can I put off until later. It was a huge relief to just let go of a few things that really weren’t that important.
I just love the questions you listed to help set priorities! So perfectly practical!
Oh to live in quadrant 2…. Working on this one everyday!
I like to be reminded about that quote because it’s so true and so easy to forget. The graphic is great, and I’m going to ask myself those questions whenever I’m feeling stressed about doing something.
For me, my needs come second to my children. I am sure that will shift as they get older, but right now, they are number 1!
Priorities is a tough one in life because there is always something else you could be doing.
Yes. We all could use a little help in prioritizing the things in our lives. We get so busy and have so many demands put on us we forget to do the things that are most important in our own lives. Great graphic and reminder on how to determine what we really need to be doing.
At work, everything is a priority…. I like your graphic, it helps us to visualize the priorities correctly. Thanks!
I love the 4 quadrants, I’ve been using them for years in my business and coaching practice. I see so many business stuck in quadrant 3 spinning their wheels and they wonder why everything seems to become a quadrant 1 activity. In business rarely should we be working quadrant 1, we should be fully engaged in quadrant 2 to avoid quadrant 1 crisis mode.
So where would I place time on FB, Pinterest, Twitter, etc? On the surface it might seem in last quadrant as frivolous, but not to me. It is as important, thou not a crises to engage with people Ive met on line and to further my business. Im usually good at prioritizing. I could write 1 line comments as some people do on others blogs, but that would not feel authentic, engaging or connecting. Community matters to me. Ill handle the time.
I think you bring up the most important point that we have to decide for ourselves what we consider to be important and urgent or both. You are saying that the social connection is important to you and thus is one of the way that you assess your priorities. I am totally with you on that.
Really enjoyed this post Ines, especially as I am an elephant lover. Literally. 🙂 It is so easy in life to get thrown by the things coming at us from “out there” and as I’ve learned, we must check in with ourselves to see what is actually “ours” and happening in us. Some people overreact to things and make them urgent and some people do not see urgency when there might be. As someone who has a very active nervous system and can tend to see everything as of utmost importance, I have learned to step back and be objective and to follow many of the suggestions you have offered in your post. I LOVE the three questions, especially “What’s the worst that can happen?” If people started with that, it really helps to ease the stress we often assign to situations by projecting what might be, vs. what is. Thanks for the great read!
Great points! What is the worst that can happen if I don;t get to something that day. I have to figure out priorities sometimes
Thanks for sharing this very important post on how to assess the real priorities of a person.
I love the pole vaulting over mouse turds! And yes, that’s probably what I do a lot of the time! The problem is, I fall off the pole and land in the turds!!
I can’t tell ya how hard I laughed at the mouse turds/elephants statement. Truly hysterical, all the more so because of it’s truth and accuracy!
Something I’ve noticed about myself and other women…we seem to let others “set” our priorities for us. This article helps us reverse that trend and I bet we’ll all be a lot less frazzled!
Working with those 4 quadrants is a good idea when determining what is important to work on. I know I struggle with other people’s priorities influencing me rather than really evaluating what is important. It is something I need to focus on doing better.
This is great stuff because I think it is hard for women in midlife to shift gears and begin to think of self more. We have to give so much to others (our children) when they are young that it becomes a habit to just put our own needs on the back burner!
These are such great tips. It is so easy to let our mind make the priorities, but taking the time to map them out can really show where we are spending our time – wisely or not! Your questions to ask yourself to help prioritize are awesome!