Decisions, decisions: Evaluate Priorities this April

The root of the word "priority" comes from an Old French root "priorite," meaning to come first in rank or precedence. Based on this etymology, "priority" was, by definition, singular. One would have a priority, but not many priorities.

It’s notable that the word "priority" in its plural form only came into use in the early 1900s, after the industrial revolution. But now, with entire industries built on the ability to “prioritise,” it’s almost laughable to think the phrase “top priorities” was an oxymoron.

Today, business leaders preach the effectiveness of ruthlessly focusing on one big thing, in keeping with the word’s origins. Others have developed entire strategies of prioritisation that weigh the relative value of a task against the risk, cost, or complexity of that task. A cursory search online yields even more advice and methodologies to help us prioritise, so we may increase our productivity.

For many, we immediately frame the discussion of “priorities” around this type of thinking, where the only goal is to maximise the value of our labour at all costs. All too often, we forget that physical and mental health, quality time with family, and other intangibles are valuable, if not essential, as well. This month, as we evaluate our priorities, let’s try to take the lens of dollar signs out of the picture, and take an honest look at whether the way we spend our time is in line with what we say we care about.

Revisiting and reconsidering our Key Questions

  • What are my top five priorities?
  • What five things take up most of my time?
  • Do these things align? If not, should they? How can they?
  • What should I start saying no to?

Some things to ponder from our team

A useful argument for making sure we give ourselves some balance between work and the rest of life of the Rocks, Pebbles and Sand in a Jar analogy. A version of the metaphor can be found here. In a nutshell, the “Big Rocks” in our lives are our priorities, which cannot fit into the Jar of Life if we fill it with pebbles and sand first. However, there seems to be plenty of room in the jar for pebbles and sand when we first fill it with the big rocks. What are your big rocks?

This Jar metaphor has proven controversial—some warn against filling up your jar to the brim. Others say that some days, maybe you need to focus on a few pebbles first in order to address the rocks with a clear mind. Where the original metaphor uses the Jar to represent your life, business execs (unsurpringly) also use the Jar to refer to your workday. An effective tool to help prioritise our work-related tasks, but you already know how we feel about this… 

A lot of the time, we feel like we’re busy all the time, but don’t feel any sense of accomplishment. This can make us feel like the blame is on us, we’re just not prioritising work effectively. If you’ve ever had this feeling, check this article out. It's probably just Capitalism’s fault.

Debbie Millman addresses the difficult next step after identifying our priorities: actually acting according to these priorities. A lot of the time when we feel “busy” but not “accomplished,” there may be some other fear at play. Being busy is not a condition that is out of our hands. Busy is a decision we’ve made, slowly, through the sum total of smaller decisions to ignore priorities.

Do you have any food for thought to share? We love hearing from you. Email or DM us on Instagram!

01.04.21