“My pancakes. I can’t believe they’re cold!”
“Hey, idiot, watch where you’re going. You cut me off.”
“If those kids don’t turn down the music, I’m going to let them have it!”
“I can’t believe I’m waiting at home again for the repairman.”
Do you get soooooooo sidetracked by minutiae that you don’t have the time or the energy to manage the priorities in your life? If so, you’re probably working too hard for the wrong reasons.
Are Your Priorities Hijacked by Trivia?
It’s very common today to let other people hijack your time with their priorities. The end result is that you work harder and harder each year only to find you’re running on a treadmill to nowhere, going miles out of your way to save a few pennies, arguing with someone over something very trivial, or chasing insignificant opportunities down a dead-end street. Unfortunately, the results are all the same…
You’re exhausted at the end of the day and wonder why you didn’t get anything done. You’re so sidetracked that you miss out on important moments that can’t be replayed. You’re running so hard that you don’t stop to consider whether you’re going in the right direction.
Think about it…How much of your day is filled with interruptions? Do you spend more time developing to-do lists or getting things done? Do you measure progress by checking off items or by providing real value? Are you satisfied with the balance that you’ve achieved between work life and home life? Are your New Year’s resolutions a wish list or an action plan? Do you spend most of your time doing things that you enjoy? Or spend most of your day reacting to circumstances? Ask yourself, “If I stopped performing half of my current activities, would it even matter?” Would you know which half to stop doing?
Folks, it’s time to get a life — and set some priorities.
Priorities or distractions
The best place to start is to identify what is really important TO YOU, and then start eliminating the distractions that threaten to take you off course. Here are some of the ways we all get sidetracked from completing our priorities:
Trivial pursuit. Some people have lost perspective. They get so caught up with trivial details that they lose focus on the big picture — the things that matter most. They’re too close to the trees to see the forest.
Going through the motions. Some folks keep themselves so busy they don’t have time to think — much less set priorities. Being busy and being productive are not synonymous.
First in, first out. Then there are the types of people who live their lives according to pseudo-priorities. If it’s the next item on the to-do list or the top item on the pile, it’ll get done. Otherwise, don’t count on it.
Firefighter. There are those who spend every waking hour putting out fires. Everything, every day, is a priority…actually, an emergency. (They confuse the act of running around with making progress.)
What if? Some people waste precious time worrying about what could go wrong rather than advancing important priorities. The truth is, fear of failure is almost always worse than failure itself.
The squeaky door. Some people let others determine their priorities. Those who scream the loudest receive the most attention. (Just because someone says it’s urgent doesn’t mean it’s important.)
Flying off the handle. Some folks let everyday irritations divert their attention from achieving important priorities –– as well as ruin their day. (If you don’t achieve your goal, that’ll be a real reason to get upset.)
Me, too. Other people let petty jealousy and keeping up with the Joneses drive their priorities. (If the guy next door has a toy, they want it, too.)
Life’s a routine. Some lost souls let inertia determine their priorities. People are creatures of habit. They think that since it has been done in the past, it probably warrants being done again — whether or not any rationale exists.
Living for the moment. Some people let their short-term needs establish their priorities. Long-term goals are placed on the back burner because their consequences won’t be felt for years. (Their day will come.)
On a mission. Some people are like a guided missile — hell-bent on achieving a goal — at the exclusion of everything else. They won’t deviate from their target even if there’s a high price to pay.
All the eggs in one basket. Others are so far down a path — and have so much invested in the outcome — that it’s too late to turn back. (Even if they’re sprinting down a dead-end street and about to hit the wall.)
Catch-up. Some unfortunates are in the hole so deep that their time is spent trying to dig themselves out. (Priorities aren’t a priority.)
Priorities: Time to Take Back Control
If you don’t establish priorities for yourself, you’re drifting. If you don’t draw a line in the sand and determine the things that you care about most, you’ll never dedicate the time, effort, and resources required to achieve success. Without priorities, decisions will be made haphazardly — without focus. Short-term actions will rule the day, and you’ll continue to let other people determine your priorities and control your life. Furthermore, when you fail to establish priorities, the tendency is to try to do it all. When everything’s a priority, you know what that means…a sure road to burnout, or desperation…take your pick.
Time is ticking away. How much of your day is spent reacting to situations, putting out fires, or complying with other people’s requests? Will you look back one day and say that you took control over your destiny or wonder where all the time went?
There will be times during your life when you’ll have to make difficult choices. The short- and long-term priorities that you choose, beforehand, will serve as guiding stars to point you in the right direction.
Nobody can (or should) define success and happiness for you…unless you let them. Taking (back) control of your personal path to happiness/satisfaction/achievement is not going to happen by itself. You need to act.
Ask yourself, “What three things can I do today to make sure that each and every moment matters?” And when you look back on your life, what three priorities will have defined your success and happiness? Live every day as if it were your last. One day it will be. Meanwhile, it’s Time to Sweat the BIG Stuff.
Living Life on the Edge
There’s No Dress Rehearsal in Life
How Heavy Is Your Baggage?
Moments of a Lifetime
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laurie bixler says
very zen and totally great information. Keep up the good posts. My biggest issue is definitely the “what if” . But I try to remember the old cliches:
1. Life is Short, and 2. this is not a practice round
Looking forward to the next post. I may become a fan!
Sweating the big stuff often means acting on issues that we have been putting off for years. Tackling them head-on is probably one of the hardest, yet most rewarding thing we can do with our lives. Thanks for another inspirational reminder of what’s really important in life.
Linda Ellis says
For years, my brothers and I would chide my bachelor father about the contents in his refrigerator. We’d gone so far as to create an imaginary “line” at the halfway point on the top shelf. Following the definition of “displacement” I recall from Chemistry class, (a reaction in which an atom or molecule replaces another in a compound) the incoming fresh perishables would inevitably push the items with more seniority “behind the line” and towards the back. No one who visited often had the bravery to venture into this forbidden zone for sustenance, no matter how strong their hunger pangs.
THIS is how I view your post. The incoming, the “new” gets the attention and pushes all else “behind the line” where it is inevitably ignored and often, replaced!
GREAT POST! ~Linda Ellis
Jordan Kimmel says
You are reminding me how easy it is to get lost and/or out of balance. I think it is important to remember that life in fact is short, and what you do with it is often more in your control than many think.
Until someone gives me more hours in the day, your thoughts are helpful as I like to remind myself- as things are only as important as I want them to be…
Another excellent blog, helping to keep us focused on the important things in life. It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughtful blogs and to re-learn some basic principles – like prioritizing and adding value.
It also helps to keep things in balance by taking your emergencies leisurely where you can- many emergencies aren’t emergencies at all.
Frank Sonnenberg says
It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from your comments. If you don’t take the time to set priorities, it’s hard to give the “important things” everything you’ve got. The result is that you compromise the things that you care about most.
Dan-Leadership Freak says
Thanks for sharing your insights. I’ll add this quick idea. When another person wants you to address their “crisis” right now, ask if it can wait till ….. ” I find it almost always can and by the time they come around again, it’s no longer a crisis.
Best to you,
Great post. How many times have I been thrown off course because I didn’t prioritize or let someone else’s priorities become mine. Not an easy habit to break but I’m learning to stick with the course that I set.
I love how you broke this one out!
It’s a great reminder that ‘sweating the petty stuff’ is not just one categorical action, but so many times there are multiple evil behaviors that all lead to the same end result: You may be missing what is really important while thinking you are being really ‘productive’. As you note, you may also be mistaking ‘busy’ for ‘productive’…and they are not one and the same.
While making every moment matter is seemingly impossibly
(if you own a TV and/or a video game console) – making as many of them matter as you can is clearly a goal we can all appreciate having. How many of us are more or less having this goal like some have a dream instead of embracing, prioritizing and making continuous, measurable strides towards it?
Another great post worthy of sharing.
It was bothering me that I made a small typo in my comment posted to this just now. I re-read it after it posted and quickly caught “impossibly” where I meant to type “impossible”.
Then I laughed out loud because right there… I caught myself sweating the petty stuff!
Robin Pearson says
There are so many ways to get off course, and you covered them well in this post. I’ve followed one guiding thought for staying on course, though. My dad always told me, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” As a kid, I held onto the corollary: If it isn’t worth doing well, why bother? Typically, skipping the things that aren’t worthwhile is a terrific time-saver.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Pat / Marc / Robin Thanks for your comments.
Marc–It’s great to see that you’ve already put these words into action. (You’re too funny)
LaRae Quy says
Love this post, Frank. I often find that my reactioin to someone else’s crisis tends to either sustain the drama or dampen it…if I respond with “Let’s catch up later,” I usually find that by the time we do get together the emotions have simmered down a bit and it’s not quite such a crisis.
Will share with my community!
Frank Sonnenberg says
You’re right. Sometimes urgent requests aren’t that important — after we allow time to pass. We all know people who cry wolf and hijack our day. They sidetrack us from the big things in life. That’s why it’s important to maintain perspective when we can. That’s often easier said than done.
Thanks for visiting and for sharing the post with your colleagues.
Have an awesome day!
Jean Brunson says
You hit the nail on my head. Hard! In fact, I needed to get off Twitter and stop reading things that are not as important to me as getting this book proposal finished and sent. Thanks for the reminder.
Lisa Sicard says
Frank, I love this one. I remember hearing, “your emergency doesn’t have to become my emergency” back in the old days when I worked in a cubicle 🙂
We let everything around us control us instead of focusing on what we need and want to do. We have to flexible and be able to pivot when necessary.
Thanks for this great reminder Frank, an important one as we enter into a new year with new beginnings and habits.
Frank Sonnenberg says
Thanks Lisa. I’m glad you like it
It’s nice to be needed. But it’s important not to make everyone happy at the expense of your own needs.
The fact is, your priorities matter, too 🙂
Remember, if you don’t get something done, it’s not that you don’t have time; you just chose to spend it doing something else.
Thanks for taking the time to write.