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:
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.