For the majority of my life, until a few months ago actually, I made decisions wildly with no baseline or clearly defined rationale. There was no checks and balance system at all. I'd make a decision, and when things worked out it felt like a lucky fluke. And when things didn't work out, I felt like a complete failure. It was exhausting.
Earlier this year I was going through a particularly stressful time where I felt overwhelmed with commitments and pulled in a million directions. As someone who struggled with soul-crushing anxiety for many years, my default switch during this time was to freeze, then panic, panic, panic. But today hiding under the covers of life is no longer an option, not if I want to be okay.
So I sat down with pen and paper and wrote out every obligation I had: my work, my workouts, my travel schedule, my personal growth commitments, the relationship I was in at the time, my pet, EVERYTHING. If the list wasn't comprehensive, I was going to create loopholes.
Then I took a really, really honest look at the list and assessed what I truly did not have time for. For me, the things I don't have time for simply are not priorities or I would make time for them. The answers were obvious. I ended my relationship that week and asked a trusted friend to care for my pet for a month while I traveled for work and got my literal and figurative house in order.
What happened as a result of that exercise and those two changes set me on a new course, the one that has me sitting here today writing this in fact.
Since then, I have kept a visual reminder of my priorities by my front door. (First, I shared my list with a confidante who helped me realize that my list form was still pretty overwhelming and helped me break the list up into groups. That was a game changer.) I have one Post-It for each priority, grouped by category, and ranked in order of importance. It will look different for everyone, but mine kind of takes the shape of an apple--narrower at the top and bottom, rounded out in the middle.
Here are a few sample categories and priorities to consider when getting started:
1. Spiritual Priorities: Who do I want to be as a person? How am I showing gratitude in life? Things in this category could include prayer, meditation, reading literature that aligns with your belief system (or challenges your belief system), service work, etc.
2. Self-Care Priorities: What do I need to do to be of sound mind and body? Things in this category could include exercising, enjoying time with friends, seeing a therapist, journaling, etc.
3. Family Priorities: How am I present for my family? How am I showing and sharing my love? Things in this category could include looking at the week ahead for birthday or anniversary cards to mail, reading with your child, going on dates with your partner, etc.
4. Professional Priorities: What tangible, professional mark do I want to leave on the world and what am I doing to support that? Things in this category could include reading books about your industry (or the one you want to be in), getting a career coach, meeting with a mentor, etc.
We all have a lot on our plates. But for me, I didn't know what most of those things actually were until I sat down, put pen to paper (PEN TO PAPER, not hand to keyboard) and pulled them out of my head and onto the page in front of me.
Today I have a way of measuring all my decisions. Does this decision align with the priorities I have outlined for myself? If no, then my decision is made. If yes, then where does it rank amongst my existing priorities and how much time can I actually devote to it?
All priorities are not created equal and not all priorities are forever. The point is to map it out, create the initial baseline, then add and subtract as life opens itself up to you based on the educated decisions you're now making with a clear and purposeful mind (and list).
Giving myself the gift of writing down my priorities and honoring myself each day by making decisions based on those priorities has been a transformative experience for me. I am neither fluke nor failure--I trust that all my decisions, right or wrong, are perfect as they are.