Prioritize What Matters

I’m a list-maker. I love to make lists for the usual things, like groceries (well, sometimes) or Christmas gifts, and I also write out lists for things I need to do during the day, goals I want to work towards, and pretty much everything else in my life. I do this partly because my memory sucks and I’ll forget anything not committed to paper, but also because crossing things off my agenda exhilarates me. It makes me feel accomplished, even if the task was menial. I’ve been known to add things to my docket for the sole purpose of scratching them off with my favorite pen. I can recall more than a few days as a stay-at-home-mom when, after accomplishing exactly nothing all day, I added “keep the kids alive” to my to-do list. CHECK!

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

My notes change from day to day depending on my mood. One day I’m super goal-oriented, mapping out the next five years of my humble writing career and researching SEO strategies for this blog (if you don’t know what SEO is, count yourself blessed because it’s the literal WORST). The next day I’m just trying to keep my head above water, clinging desperately to the hope that I’ll find time to unload the dishwasher and transfer the whites from the washer to the dryer before they turn mildewy.

Some days I feel like Gumby, that gelatinous green clay animated character. I get stretched in a thousand different directions, but unlike that dude, my flexibility is finite. I can only bend so far before I break. I have a sneaking suspicion you know just how this feels.

Get Your Priorities Straight

So about 10 years ago I wrote a new list – one that hasn’t changed since then, and I don’t think it ever will. It changed my perspective, and I think it can do the same for you. I made a list of my priorities – not just at work or at home – but in my life as a whole. I kept it very simple. Here’s what I wrote:
1. Health
2. Family & Friends
3. Work

I put health at the very top of my list because without it, nothing else matters. I can’t be of service to other people unless I’m whole. What it means to “put my health first” has changed throughout the seasons of my life. Before I had kids, putting my health first meant doing Crossfit style workouts, cooking from scratch, and sleeping in on the weekends. Two kids later, it means scraping together 30 minutes for a late night yoga session at home and quick breaks on the couch with a good book. And that’s the great thing about a list like this – it’s up to the creator to decide how each priority will manifest on any given day.

My family and (super close) friends are next on my hierarchy. It’s like that Lee Greenwood song you always hear on the 4th of July. If tomorrow all the things were gone / I’d worked for all my life / And I had to start again / With just my children and my wife / I’d thank my lucky stars. I tear up every. single. time. No amount of money, praise, or material things hold a candle to those I love. In fact, part of the reason my health tops my list of priorities is specifically because I’m a better wife, mom, and friend when I’ve first taken care of myself.

Last – and least – on my list is work. Aside from a short stint as a strictly stay-at-home-mom, I’ve had a job since I turned 16. I love the feeling of contributing to my family’s income and sharing my gifts with the world. But work comes last for me. If I’m healthy and my family is doing well, then I’m happy to focus on my work. But if I’m sick, or running ragged, or my kids are sick, or my friends need me… you bet I’m clocking out with no hesitation.

I’ve had plenty of opportunities to put my list into practice. For example, a couple of years ago, after a health scare and suffering from intense anxiety, I had to choose between my health and my career. I chose my health. I lost a lot during that time in my life but I could have lost much more had I not been clear on my priorities. I’ve missed meetings because my kids needed me. I’ve taken time away from my family to recharge myself. I choose naps over dishes when I need to, especially when those naps involve my sleepy, snuggly baby draped over my chest. I sniff his hair. It’s not weird, right?

What Are Your Priorities?

Your list, should you choose to make one, might look a lot different from mine, and that’s okay. The beauty of this practice is that you get to decide what comes first, second, and so on. And from here on out, whenever you’re faced with a tough choice in life, refer to your list. It will reveal the answer.

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