A new year is upon us, and with it, we each hold a natural desire to make the next 12 months meaningful. To take forward our 2020 learnings, to change gear, to see things differently or to do better — not just for ourselves, but also for our friends/families, colleagues and communities too.
While it’s still too early to tell what 2021 will bring, we each know that we have fresh space, hope and the opportunity to carve out the year ahead. To make good choices, to assert direction and apply our time and energy in a positive impactful way…albeit with continued uncertainty.
John Maxwell said it well, when he stated that “We choose our life by how we spend our time. To change your life, you need to change your priorities.” The reality of this, hit me between the eyes last year! Of course, 2020 was hard on everyone. But it is through tough life experiences that we can gain perspective and wisdom. We can learn to focus on what truly matters in our lives — our health, families, work/purpose and the choices that shape our future.
In this article, I’ll let you in on a little secret that radically changed my life for the better.
More than a New Year resolution
By now, you’ve probably set your New Year’s resolutions. Well, I’m here to tell you, that you don’t need them. In fact, trade them in for something better — instead of pushing for an all-or-nothing resolution, go for a “Guiding Word”.
Words hold so much power — more than we care to think. These past five years, I’ve made it my goal to forgo unrealistic or unsustainable NY’s resolutions and replace them with one powerful guiding word. Last year, my word was “clarity”. In previous years, I’ve used “perspective”, “learning” and “joy” and each of them helped set the right tone for my year, hold focus on what mattered to me, and to ask more of the right questions. For 2021, I have chosen the word “prioritise”.
My guiding word: Prioritise
I know the notion of prioritising is nothing new. But the fact is, it really matters and most of us don’t do enough of it, don’t do it properly or don’t follow through on it.
In 2020, the only way I managed to survive 11 months of homeschooling, kept my business going and maintained my health was through tough prioritising. 2020 brought a reality check that required me to clarify what was needed, identify what was possible and then determine what must be prioritised and also de-prioritised. It drove me to communicate, rework my daily/weekly schedule, set up boundaries, decline or stop projects, stay focused and committed, and to be really honest with myself and others.
There are thousands of books that teach us the value of prioritising and time management, but so many people still struggle with it. Why?
The art of prioritisation
Setting priorities can be emotionally and practically hard. Most of us want to reserve the right to have our cake and eat it too. We don’t realise that saying YES to one thing inevitably means we’re saying NO to something else, we often choose a short term fix over longer term rewards, and there is always the fear of missing out. Perhaps we subconsciously spread ourselves thin because we’re too scared to double down and do fewer things better. I think in a world where we’re told we can have it all, we have lost the art of prioritising! We have lost the art of finding deeper meaning from fewer higher-value things.
For me, keeping every plate spinning and every option open, and doing everything for everyone, was no longer an option. 2020 forced me to prioritise how I should spend my limited time and energy, and boy was that good for me — cathartic even!
Answer these hard questions to make meaningful decisions
So, how do you prioritise, and workout what are the right priorities for you? You start by sitting down and asking yourself key questions, like “What is most important to me right now?”, “What must I do (non-negotiable)?”, “How much time do I really have”, “If I was forced to choose, what could be cut and/or delegated?”, “What is not a current priority that can be paused until later?”, “What roles or activities/tasks that I’m currently doing don’t add value?”, “What does success look like for me over the next 1 and 3 months?”, “What is not success for me?”, “Does this all fit, is it all possible, have I allowed enough buffer time?”, “What personal/professional expectations do I need to change and who do I need to communicate with?”, “What additional factors must I address to ensure I can focus on and commit to my priorities?”
Take the time to really think hard when you are pondering these questions. Sift through the noise, consider your values, write things down and seek counsel from your partner, trusted friend, manager and/or mentor. Push yourself to be ruthless in making your choices. A ridiculously high percentage of people say they are over-committed and under-satisfied in life, so take this opportunity to change your narrative for the better. Use this process to ensure that your life, is set up to be the life you want to live.
Follow through to succeed
The key to success is implementing your decisions. Once you have your priorities, rework your diary and make it fit. Then use your priorities list and schedule as tools to communicate with others. Let them know what your focus will be, what they can expect and perhaps any support you might require. Be clear on your boundaries and then don’t break them. You need to turn your priorities into action and keep reviewing your progress.
Don’t get side-tracked by the easy small stuff or ignore those tricky but vital parts. Have those difficult conversations, work hard to outgrow and replace unhelpful habits and get innovative to setup new processes or routines. Take pride in doing less things well and allow yourself time to grieve temporarily for those things you were right to let go of.
Live YOUR best life
There is no such thing as perfect, so try not to second guess or doubt yourself. In life, very little is final, so be sure to revisit your priorities every 6 weeks to test, tweak and reaffirm them. Then feel good about closing the gap between your expectations for how you’d like to live your life and your reality.
Of course there are many right choices and pathways forward. What’s important is that you fully commit, and if things aren’t going well then you review your decisions and particularly how well you implemented them. Don’t give up and keep persevering, I promise it will be worth it.
Remember, we are not robots and must invest in ourselves along the way. I ignored self-care (eg: exercise, hobbies, personal recovery/relaxation time) for way too long and only made it a mandatory priority when my productivity and wellbeing really suffered. So, be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to take control and live YOUR best possible life.
What do you want for 2021? How will you craft out and experience 2021? Is there a guiding word that feels right to you?
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