I’ve been experimenting with how I prioritise this month, one consequence of which has been that I haven’t blogged for a while. I’m excited to get back to it and share with you what I have been learning and mulling on. Today I wanted to share my adapted version of a tool I picked up from Danny Silk all about how to prioritise by using your calendar.
The tool – designed to help you put your priorities into action – is as simple as anything you could imagine, and yet it may be one that you don’t use. It’s often that way, isn’t it?
To start, sit down and ask yourself what your top three priorities in your life right now are. Write them down, in order. You’re only allowed three to start with. This is intimidating and caused me a little freak out moment as one of my “seems-crucial” things had to be relegated to number four place.
Then ask yourself how much time each of those priorities needs, sit down with your calendar, and literally block off the time for them in the coming two to three weeks. For example, if one of your top three priorities is your health, schedule in the time you need for sleep, the time you need to cook so you can give your body decent nutrition, and the time you need to exercise. If one of your top three priorities is your relationship with your bestie, schedule off the evenings to spend together (the exact times may get shifted around, of course).
Having done that, go back to the priorities list and list the next three, then go back to the calendar, and schedule off the time you need for those. You may realise you don’t have time for something you thought was important to you – this is a moment of clarity. Are you willing to consciously and intentionally sacrifice one of your higher priorities, either by spending less time on it or by not doing it at all? If not, you need to consciously and intentionally stop trying to do the lower priority.
You can keep going with this process, but most of us won’t get much further than our top 5-8 priorities before we run out of time.
The process needs to repeated each time you’re planning the next week or two. Then if someone says “can you do this thing?” you can look at your calendar and say “you know, I can, I’ve got two hours free” or you can shake your head and let them know that your time is all booked up.
By the way, make sure your time is never ALL booked up if you possibly can. We all need a bit of white space!
Why I Like This Tool
This tool does a great job of bringing the important things, instead of the demanding things, to the forefront. Using the tool challenges us to confront our own expectations of ourselves, our value for the things that we say matter, and the extent to which we are putting our intentions into action. It can also illuminate what has been getting sacrificed so far, and why. When I’ve used it, I’ve found that I’ve had a lot more clarity around my decision making, and that when I’ve said “no” to things that I’ve really wanted to do I’ve been able to stick to my convictions because the pain of letting an attractive opportunity go is ameliorated by knowing what I would be sacrificing if I said “yes.”
The tool helps you drive your life according to your own agenda and values. It is really surprising to me how much time I easily spend on “good” things that take me away from my key priorities simply because they “come up.” This tool has helped me to see more clearly what the cost of such decisions is, though I still haven’t completely learned how to deal with the countless demands that take time to even respond to (even when the answer is no)!
Why I Don’t Like This Tool
This is a very linear way of prioritising, and life is not very linear. Time is not actually an entity which can be budgeted like money – it operates very differently from that, and we are generally healthier, in my experience, when we learn to dance with time rather than learn to spend it.
Life ebbs and flows, the earth spins, day turns to night and we pass through seasons. During some of our seasons, our priorities are reversed from the values of our bigger life picture, and that can be OK. Maybe you need to go hunker down and focus on your project for a period, even though ultimately your friends are more important to you than your work. Maybe you need to invest in a broken relationship, and that means you need to step back a little from your usual style of parenting. Sometimes, you even need to invest in things you don’t value, for the greater good. One area of life can feed another too – they are not separated off from one another as this style of bounded scheduling implies. We are integrated beings. For example, one of the reasons I haven’t blogged this last month is because blogging doesn’t even make my second cut – it’s probably somewhere between priority 7 and 9 in my life right now (which if you were to see the list, you would realise is still pretty high). Simply not doing it doesn’t really work though. I’m made to be creative, and I find it hard to do anything well without a creative outlet.
We live in a society saturated with both opportunities and demands. The amount of data we are expected to process and respond to in a given day is overwhelming, and companies, friends, family, colleagues, entertainers and politicians compete daily for our attention. It’s easy in this kind of environment to get into the habit of simply responding to whatever “comes up,” but most of us know that despite all these confusing demands, there are particular commitments that we are meant to give ourselves to more fully. We often want to do these things well and also keep up with everything else, but sometimes we can’t. This tool, when used according to what the priorities are in this season, can be a really helpful way of getting your life back on to your agenda. It isn’t easy – for me, I don’t think turning down the amazing potential I’m exposed to daily will ever be easy – but it is simple.
Due credit to Danny Silk, a pastor and relationships counsellor, who used this tool on his podcast to counsel a couple struggling with their multiple commitments.
Featured image by Death to the Stock Photo.