Let’s face it: you, me and everyone else on the planet — we’re all gonna die with a big long list of things we didn’t do.
But don’t worry. It’s ok. And not only is it ok; it’s inevitable. (We can learn to live with it, but we can’t change it.)
So, what does that mean for us? It means that prioritization is KEY.
However, I’m not a big fan of standard prioritization structures like “high, med low” or “P1, P2, P3”.
These methods don’t help you figure out what you need to do now. They don’t help you distinguish between which P1 tasks to work on first.
But do you know what I am a big fan of?
When you prioritize without dates it’s very easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis.
You know, you have 15 high priority tasks, so instead of doing one, you stare at them trying to figure out which one to work on first, not really making a decision and then, well, nothing gets done.
But, when I’m working with clients, one of the hangups folks often get stuck on is what happens if they need to move a date.
They feel bad if they originally planned to do something on one day, and then they have to move it to another.
It feels like a failure to them.
But here’s the thing: this is just a necessary step on the path to Task Realism. Most of us are overly optimistic about what we can accomplish in any given timeframe. And it takes practice to move out of what I call “aspirational planning”, and into realistic planning.
- Aspirational planning feels good. Until you start doing and realize you can’t get it all done in the time allotted.
- Realistic planning can feel bad. Until you start doing and realize you’re actually going to finish what you intended to.
And then you get used to that sequence of feelings.
And it starts to feel good ALL THE TIME. Because it’s real. Because it’s a way to reduce cognitive dissonance.
Because when you plan realistically, there’s no longer a mismatch to contend with between the planning and the doing.
So, for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s just say you’ve actually gotten quite good at task realism.
And let’s also accept that you live in reality. (Because you do, so what’s the point of denying it!)
But sometimes, despite your best efforts to be realistic, things go awry.
Here’s what I want you to know, to feel, to believe in your bones:
- Deciding not to do something that’s on your list, or pushing a task to a different date, is not a failure. It’s correctly responding to new information. As long as it’s done on purpose.
If, 2 weeks ago, or 3 months ago, I had scheduled a task for myself for next Tuesday, and now I’m doing some planning and I decide that, “You know what?, I no longer care about that thing and I don’t feel like doing it is necessary”, then let me ask you “What’s sillier?”:
- Doing it anyway because weeks ago I thought it was necessary?
- Or taking it off the list and deciding not to do it?
Or, let’s say you made a plan for today, but an unexpected emergency comes up and you’re the only one who can deal with it.
- Does it make more sense to blindly follow the plan you made yesterday, when you didn’t yet know about this emergency?
- Or does it make more sense to shift your plan?
And if you (rightfully) shift your plan, should you feel bad about it?
No, absolutely not.
Shifting your plan was the right move.
Want a real life scenario?
Last year I was out of the country for a bit and a friend was house sitting for me. I had a gloriously planned workday ahead of me. It was one of my “no meeting Mondays” and I was planning to get A LOT done.
However, my friend who was house sitting called me because our boiler was leaking. And it turned out that it definitely needed to be replaced before it busted completely and flooded the downstairs.
So, what did it do? I reprioritized EVERYTHING that I had planned to do that day, and focused on getting a contractor scheduled to replace the boiler.
Was that the way I wanted that day to go? Nope.
Did I feel bad about not making good on my original plan? Also nope.
It would have been stupid for me to go through with the original plan in the face of this new, and pressing information.
There’s nothing wrong with changing your plan, with reprioritizing as priorities change. In fact, there’s everything right about it. And there’s absolutely nothing to feel bad about.
And now I’m going to make a strange turn, but hopefully you’ll see why soon.
You know Marie Kondo? The queen of tidiness. The woman who taught us to release all the physical things in our lives that don’t “spark joy”. She of “everything must have a place”.
Well, even Marie Kondo’s priorities can change.
Recently Marie was interviewed and she said “my home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time at this stage of my life.” So, now that she has 3 kids she’s decided that tidiness is no longer her top priority.
And this, I think, is a sentiment that ANY parent can relate to.
Keeping a tidy home when you have small kids is a Sisyphean effort like no other. Even for minimalists.
With kids, the “stuff” just seems to multiply. It comes from nowhere, and everywhere. It can’t be contained. You look around your house, the parent of babies and toddlers, and you see a sea of items of unknown origins. You didn’t buy this stuff. You were gifted it. It was handed down to you. You are grateful for it.
And yet, you live in a sea of joyful clutter.
You can, of course, be the kind of person that devotes lots of time and energy to keeping things tidy. But as soon as you tidy, those tiny tornados are wreaking havoc again.
Or, you can be like Marie Kondo. You can decide that how you want to spend your time now is not the same as how you wanted to spend your time before. In the face of changing information and changing circumstances her priorities changed.
And so can yours.
When I first read this interview with Marie Kondo, I felt it would be so easy for folks to call her a hypocrite.
But me? I felt nothing but awe. I found her vulnerability inspiring.
To change your mind, in the public eye, to take the thing you are known for and say openly that it just doesn’t work for you anymore. That takes guts and courage. And I, for one, thank her.
Marie’s priorities and circumstances changed. And so can yours.
And when her priorities changed, she changed her plan. And so can you,
For you, and for me, maybe it’s not such a dramatic turnaround. It doesn’t have to be.
The key here is intentionality. When you act with purpose and when you decide with intention, it doesn’t matter if the plan changes.
You didn’t fail because the plan changed. You adapted.
When I teach people to prioritize, it’s always with this in mind:
- I want you to know that, at the end of every day, the things you did were more important than the things you didn’t do. And that’s it.
Life is about hard choices.
You can let your kids spark joy in you, tidiness be damned. Or you can continue to swim against the messy current.
Neither is right. Neither is wrong. It’s up to you.