To lead fulfilling lives, we need to spend the majority of our time and resources on the things that are important to us.
That seems obvious, doesn’t it? Don’t we already spend our time on what’s most important? If you’re like me, the answer is probably NO. The reason is, we often mistake the urgent for the important, and they aren’t the same at all.
The urgent is the stuff that constantly leaps to the front of the line, flaming dramatically and shouting for attention. The urgent is often high-emotion and time sensitive. It throws us into fight-or-flight mode and gets our adrenaline pumping. Anything that feels this exciting MUST be important, right?
Wrong. Usually, the urgent isn’t important at all.
Why, then, does the urgent get all the attention? I think it’s because we’ve never taken the time to identify what’s important to us. If we don’t know what truly matters, we’re like April’s pink petals, blowing wherever the strongest gust carries us.
I have many interests, passions and causes. In the past, I tried to ‘do it all’, and wound up feeling stressed. Worse yet, I wasn’t as effective as I could have been if I’d concentrated on just a few things.
So, every year, I spend an hour on an exercise that helps me to focus on what’s important. I encourage you to try it. It’s truly changed my life.
Take out a piece of paper. Write down everything that excites you, everything that interests you, everything you value. Don’t edit yourself here. Write it ALL down. My list includes everything from spiritual pilgrimage to sex; it lists baseball, gardening, loved ones, good wine and much, much more. Again, let me emphasize. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t think. Just write it all down.
Now comes the hard part. Look at the first two items on the list. If you had to choose JUST ONE of them, which would you choose? Nope, you can’t cheat and choose them both. You have to choose just one.
Did you choose? Great. Compare that item with the third one on the list. Again, which would you choose? Continue through the whole list, until you have the one thing that is most important to you.
CRUCIAL ADVICE: Be honest. Don’t choose what you ‘think’ you should choose. You’re not a bad mom if your husband is more important, and you’re not a bad wife if writing is more important. This isn’t about judgment. It’s about honesty.
Repeat the exercise until you have chosen your seven most important items. Now, write a sentence or two describing your intentions concerning those most important things. State what you hope for as though it already is.
For example, in 2015, my items were:
- Spirituality & Scholastics
- Making a Difference in the World
Here are the affirmations I made for that year:
Were all of these statements ‘real’ right at that moment? No. But they were all true, because they were the truths for my life as I intended it to be.
I read that list daily, so I would remember what was important. If I found myself feeling torn between different things, I asked: Which of these is on my focus list? and I chose accordingly. If something urgent tried to wiggle in, I pointed my finger and sent it to the back of the line, because the focus list came first.
I do a new focus list every year (see my blog) and I can say, this WORKS. My life is so much more me now. And all it takes is an hour annually to thoughtfully ask, “What is important?”
I read once that our life’s purpose is where our greatest talents and passions meet the world’s greatest needs. It’s not selfishness to spend our time focusing on the things that are important to us. It’s what we’re meant to do.