What matters most?

Why are we so overwhelmed?  Why so busy, why always rushing, distracted?  Why do we never seem to have time for what we most want to do?  And can we do anything about it?

Recently, I’ve noticed that when I am at my most stressed, my mind is usually saying something like: “there isn’t enough time, I’ve only got [half an hour] and I still need to…”.  It’s generally coupled with an endless churning over of my to do list – all the things I’ve “got to get done” before [school pick-up, my next client, etc].

I then start trying to do two or more things at once, triggering a downward spiral of mistakes, forgetting things, self-recrimination, snippiness, more stress – and so it goes on.

In this state, I just try ever harder to get everything done – and generally start thinking of even more things I “have” to do.  It never occurs to me that I could just do less.

And yet the best thing I could do in that situation is to just stop.  Stop, take stock, work out really has to be done and what could wait, or even be dropped.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?  If you have too much to do, then do less.

Not just in the moment, but all the time.

Impossible?  No, just a question of priorities.

Here’s how.

1.Work out what has to be done.

By this, I mean really has to be done.  The bare minimum you need to do for health, hygiene, protection and whatever brings in the money for those things.  Cleaning your teeth, eating, cleaning the house now and then, doing the laundry, doing your paid work.  Whatever you simply can’t not do – yet.

This list should be pretty short.  Beware of confusing “must do’s” with “want to do’s” or, worse, “should do’s”.

Now work out when and how these things are going to get done and give them a timeslot, or, at least, a time of day when you will take care of them.

2. Work out what else matters.

This one is harder.   Now work out: 1) what matters most to you; 2) what matters most to those who matter to you (perhaps your family or your most important friends).  Both are important.

Here are some questions you could ask yourself, to give yourself some clues.  How would you spend 100% of your time if you could?  What would you save from your burning home?  When are you at your happiest?  What makes you feel most fulfilled? What do you need to do to nourish yourself so you can be at your best?

When you are at the end of your life, what will you be glad you made time to do?  What will seem like a waste of time?

Remember, this is what is important for you and those whose wellbeing you care about.  Don’t get confused with any other person’s agenda.  If you’re not sure of the difference, take a look at this.

Now find time for these things.  Be realistic.

If there isn’t enough time in your schedule for what you must do and what is important, with time left over for emergencies and unplanned fun, something has to give.

Something has to drop off your list, for now.  Or maybe you need to spend less time on something, or find someone else to do it.  Or perhaps find a more efficient way to do it.

That’s it.  There is no number 3.  Anything else is not your concern right now.

When new things come your way, your list will remind you whether they are things you want to take on or not.  And your schedule will tell you whether you have time for them, or can make the time.

There is always time for what’s important….as long as you know what important is.