Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wisdom on Wednesdays: Prioritization

First: Bryan Russell over at The Alchemy of Writing is participating in the Terry Fox Run, an annual event to honor an extraordinary Canadian while raising money for cancer research.  Go here to learn how you can help.

And now on to the subject of today's post: prioritization.  I posted a couple of weeks ago on making a schedule, and how well it works for me (really well when I stick to it, not at all when I don't).  One person commented that her life had been thrown off-balance by various new concerns, and that she had way too much on her plate.

Can I share a personal story here?

I used to be one of those "Save the World" types of people.  I was always the provider of a sturdy shoulder to cry on and sympathetic ears for listening and a font of knowledge for anyone who cared to ask and I was on a bajillion committees and I generally looked after everybody in my life as well as I could, on top of getting top grades and having lots of interests and causes and things.  I was on the debate team and the eco club and in the musicals and I was class secretary and a candy striper and I babysat and tutored andandandandand.

None of it was fake or done out of a sense of obligation or to get something out of it; it was just who I was.  I wanted to help.  I liked to help, and I still do.  But by the time I got to college, all this helping while maintaining top grades and three part-time jobs (hey, I went to a small liberal arts college; those places are EXPEN$IVE) and taking mostly arts- and literature-based courses (read: lots of work) was getting to me.  The pressure just built and built and built, and I cracked.  In a breaking-down-in-tears over my oatmeal, everyone staring at me, my advisor telling me to take a few days off from classes kind of way.

And in that moment, when I was sitting across the table from my wonderful advisor with tears spilling into my oatmeal (Wendy, I am still grateful for having you in my life), she said exactly the words I needed to hear: "You can't save the world, you know.  And you don't have to."

And that was it.  I cut back on my extracurriculars, I decided what was most important to me, and I focused on doing the things that would get me there.

And this is what I want to share with you.  You don't have to do everything. You don't have to knit your kids' clothes from scratch and make gourmet meals and have a house worthy of Martha Stewart and have perfect kids and follow the blog of every agent and every author and every editor in the English speaking world and be in 10 critique groups.

Take an hour, or an afternoon, or even a week or a month, and really think about what things in your life are the most important to you right now.  Is it having kids who know that they are loved?  Growing your internet presence?  Finishing two novels this year?  Finishing one novel this year?  Having a neat and tidy house?  Rank things in order of how important they are to you.  Prioritize them.  And then focus on the most important things.

As for me, I still struggle with this sometimes.  Should I really be blogging right now, or should I have spent that time on one of my WIPs?  I've decided to let this week be a week of flux, where I let the heavy writing go a bit (but I'm still revising things I've already written, and outlining my current projects) while my kids settle in at school and my family settles into a new routine.  Next Monday marks the beginning of a new schedule.

My house is a mess, but my WIPs get nearer to completion every day and my kids know that they are loved. For me, those are the most important things.

How about you?


  1. Great advice, and something for me to keep in mind in this back-to-school week. Thanks!

  2. You're welcome, Beth! Back-to-school is always a transition time - it helped me a lot to write this post! LOL! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Fantastic advice Ishta. I guess it's a matter of working out what we want to achieve in the world (through family, our writing, our friends, etc) and making those areas our priorities. We'll always have to find time for things lower down on the list, but if we identify the main things that are important to us, we'll know straight away what to keep coming back to... :)

  4. Yup, Rach, that's exactly how I see it. I see so many things that I think it might be nice to do, but when I try to cram them all in, it's not nice anymore. Having my priorities straight really helps me focus on enjoying what I choose to do, and helps me get more done.