Let’s talk about priorities

I know I need both alone time (spent outdoors) and social time to feel my best.  How about you?

I know I need both alone time (spent outdoors) and social time to feel my best. How about you?

Today I want to talk about what is getting in the way of the things you wish you had time for. Do any of these statements sound like you?

  • You envy your friend who finds time to workout almost every day but you’re too busy.
  • You miss going out with your girlfriends once in awhile but that laundry isn’t going to do itself.
  •  You’d like to eat healthier but you just don’t have the time to cook.
  • You’d like to start a meditation practice but you just aren’t disciplined enough.
  • You’d love to have a date night with your husband but you’re too tired at the end of the week

If some of these statements are true for you, you should take a moment to reevaluate your priorities. We all have things that we’d like to do more or less of and have a hard time making them happen.  The three biggest reasons for this are because:

  • it’s not really something we want that badly (despite feeling like we should want it)
  • we’re not ready for change
  • we don’t believe we deserve it

Are any of these ringing bells for you? If you’re like most busy women today, you fall into the 3rd category but don’t even realize it. We spend so much of our time taking care of the needs of others (husband, wife, kids, job, our home etc) that we often end up neglecting our own needs. That isn’t to say that these other things aren’t important (quite the contrary) but in order to give them the attention that they deserve we first have to make sure that we are getting what we need.  This means becoming #1 on your priority list.

Eek, did I say that?  Yes, I know it’s not popular to put ourselves first or to own up to the fact that we are number one.  It’s considered selfish.  We’ve been taught to put others first and for some reason we ignore ourselves entirely in the mix.  The only way you’re going to be any good to any of the people, activities or obligations in your life is if you take care of yourself first. Think about the flight attendant safety spiel we hear every time we get on an airplane:  “put your oxygen mask on first” before helping other passengers.  That’s no joke.  You can give more when you’re getting what you need.

So what do you need to perform your best?  Think about this.  For me, that means sleep, exercise and good nutrition have to come before anything else.  If I’m getting those three things most days, I’m going to have more energy (and less attitude) to do all the things that I need to (or want to).  Those are 3 of my priorities because when I let them go, I become a crabby lunatic who cries at commercials or gets flustered for seemingly no reason.  I also need a good balance of alone time and social time.  When my instinct is to say “no” to events, I know it’s time for a quiet day at the beach or a walk in the woods, alone!  Get to know yourself and your needs.

Here’s an exercise to try.
On a piece of paper, draw a line down the center so that the page is divided into two columns.  On the left hand side, list how you would spend your ideal day if you had no obligations or restrictions (would you sleep in late? get up early and go for a run? volunteer at your daughter’s school? go for a massage?).  Once you have that side well squared away, list how you actually spend any given day on the right hand side.  Include all the little things (like checking facebook 10 times throughout the day, watching TV after dinner, meal prep etc).  When you are done, compare the two and ask yourself the following questions.

  • Is there anything that you are doing during your actual day that you could do less of so that you could have a little time for something on your ideal day list?
  • Is there something you could delegate to someone else?
  • Could you get by with putting off laundry, errands etc for just another day or two?

Your first instinct will be to say “No, Andrea I can’t delegate or push things off. I’m too busy!” but I bet if we videotaped you every moment of every day for a week, we could find some lost time. As busy as we all are, we accidentally waste a lot of time.  Those minutes we spend searching for something to watch on Netflix or goofing off on the internet really add up.  How satisfying are those moments really? Not knocking watching movies or browsing the web (or anything else in your life) but how important are those other things vs. the things you really want?

If you are frustrated that you don’t have time to exercise each week but are spending an hour on facebook or watching TV each night, why not cut that FB or TV time down to 30 minutes and give yourself 30 minutes of exercise. Heck, you could do them at the same time.  I’ve been known to do tricep dips, squats and pushups while watching my trashy Bravo shows.  Or maybe it’s household chores that are taking up too much of your time.  Ask the kids to help.  There’s no reason they can’t pitch in (even the young ones can help a little).  You are not a mean parent for asking your kids to pick up after themselves. There will be a learning curve but it will ultimately benefit all of you.  And if there are no concessions you are willing to make then maybe it’s not about not deserving these things, maybe you just don’t really want it.  It’s ok if you just wish you wanted to exercise but really don’t have the desire.

But if you are truly willing to make yourself a priority, make no mistake about it, if there is something you really want to do or someone you really want to see, you can and will make it happen. I don’t care how busy you are.  Your friend with two kids who somehow manages to workout each day? Your sister who seems to always be out with friends?  Your co-worker who always brings in a healthy homemade lunch? They all have busy lives too. In order to get exercise, have an active social life, and eat healthy they may be putting something else on the back burner that you can’t see.  Odds are it’s not the important stuff like family or the job, but it’s the little piddly things we busy ourselves with.  Before you judge that someone else must not have that much to do because they’re able to do something you can’t, take a moment to check in with yourself. Are you jealous that they feel they deserve those things?  Put the torches down folks, I’m not saying that you ARE jealous, just asking you to quell that judging thought process for a sec if that is popping up for you.  As a side note, you have no idea what their life is like anyway (despite thinking you do) and our reactions to other’s lives are usually about us, not them anyhow.

Now that I’ve got you questioning what your needs are and what you deserve, I want to bring your attention back to other’s needs for a moment. For some of us, time with friends is very important for our wellbeing.  Or maybe it’s not that important to us but there are people we care very much about who want to spend time with us.

Think about what you are saying about yourself when you don’t make time for your needs (you don’t deserve it, you’re not valuable etc).  You also send a message to others when you don’t make time for their needs. Maybe you can’t hang out with your best friend on the spur of the moment like you used to, but if she calls you and wants to get together for dinner this week but you’re just too busy?  Don’t hang up the phone with her until you find a time you can get together. It doesn’t have to be on the time schedule she is asking for but you’re going to eat meals anyways, why not spend a few minutes together, even if it’s shorter than you’d like? Meet for breakfast the following week or try facetiming or skyping on your lunchbreak at work if you have to. It’s understandable if it takes a few weeks to find a spot of time that will work for both of you (especially if you don’t live in the same town) but if you really want to, you’ll make it happen.  If you really care about this person, you’ll find a way to put less important things on the back burner for a moment (laundry, facebook etc) and spend time with her. And if you don’t? Well, she’s probably not a priority for you and don’t worry, she’s hearing that message loud and clear.  Again, this doesn’t mean you have to drop everything when a friend reaches out, but don’t leave them in limbo.  Make sure they know they are on your priority list, even if it’s a tough one to juggle.

The takeaway to this long post?  

  1. You deserve the things that make you able to give/perform your best (sleep, massage, social time etc).
  2. Figure out what your priorities are and how you can get more of those needs fulfilled.
  3. Remember that you don’t know what someone else is giving up to get what they need.
  4. Be conscious of the messages you send. Make time for those who consider you a priority (if you consider them a priority) even if it takes some juggling.

I think that’s all for now!  Does any of this resonate with you?  Do my words infuriate you or make you feel empowered?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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8 thoughts on “Let’s talk about priorities

  1. kristynowbethechange

    Great exercise! Where we spend our time is a reflection of our priorities, but it’s not always the priorities we say are important. This is a good reminder to check in regularly and make time for the things that really matter – for us and the people in our lives.

    Reply
  2. Michael Knouse

    Andrea, this is such an important topic that you are hitting on. Making yourself #1 is often one of the hardest lessons many of us have to learn. I grew up getting the message that I should always put others needs ahead of my own. This was not healthy or realistic. Eventually I learned that only by taking care of my needs, was I able to fully help others. Now my daily routine includes eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise via running, playing or yoga, and getting the rest I need. I call this my foundation because everything else happens as a result of doing these things. Thank you for writing such a powerful article. Well done!

    Reply
  3. Bettybowenart.com

    Andrea, these lessons took me so long to learn, and I’m still learning. I grew up in a very community-volunteer-service-oriented family. My parents did very little just for themselves or just for fun. They enjoyed it all, thankfully. I fell in to the same lifestyle, but these past few years I have re-assessed, and stepped back in several ways. Guess what, there were plenty of others ready to step in to those boards and committees, and the world has continued to turn. I’m still contributing, but in ways that are, for me, healthier.

    Reply
    1. Andrea Quigley Maynard Post author

      Good for you Betty! It’s hard not to put pressure on ourselves to do things a certain way or how we’ve always done them – but there is some value in listening to ourselves deep down and deciding if we really want it. (apologies for taking so long to reply – I’ve been on vacation.)

      Reply

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