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What Matters Most? Aligning Our Time, Priorities and Actions

Over-doing can distract us from focusing on what matters most. . .

What is an over-doer?  One definition is . . . “someone who does something to excess”.  That’s me, when I am not careful.  Is over-doing also a problem for you?

I think the roots of over-doing may spring from many sources.  For me, over-doing connects with being the caretaker of an unruly mind.  Friends and family members who love me in spite of my mental unruliness graciously call me an iterative thinker.  As defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary, the word iterative means . . .

“doing something again and again, usually to improve it”

One thing leads to another. . .

In my case, being an iterative thinker means that any idea sparking my interest quickly develops into my next idea. My next idea leads to my next insight, which frequently leads to something else calling out to be created or done.  RIGHT NOW.  I developed a collection of small scraps of paper here, there and everywhere (by the computer, by the treadmill, in the car, in my pockets, on the fridge, on the mirrors, on the doors. . . )  Learning how to put my unruly mind on a leash and keep track of my iterative thoughts has been interesting.  And fun.  And then I noticed how. . .

Competing commitments collide. . .

Like you, probably, I also have many other responsibilities that I take seriously.  These are most often connected to people I care about, my work, helping out in the community, and staying healthy.  Also, perhaps like you, I tend to say yes when someone asks me for help.  Surely, they wouldn’t ask me for help if they didn’t need it, right???  In addition. . .

  • I was raised to believe that anything worth doing is worth doing right.  That means as perfectly as I can do it,  and . . .
  • I am a strong “Quick Start” in my conative style.  (Google to learn more about your own conative style — the typical way in which you get things done). This means that whatever I am considering doing, I almost always say to myself. . . “How hard can it be?  Of course I can do that!”  This is especially true for things I have not done before.  I am sure I have said this at least a thousand times.  Almost a thousand times, whatever I then put into motion turned out to be a much larger and more difficult project than I ever dreamed it could be.  And then. . .

Consequences follow. . .

Can you relate to any of this?   How many of the qualities I just described are also at least somewhat true for you?  I suppose it’s possible that all of us over-doing together contribute to keeping the world spinning, but there are some downsides I have discovered. . .

  • Over-doing invites under-doing on the part of others
  • Just because we are over-doing doesn’t mean we are necessarily doing in service of our biggest priorities (and we can get too busy to notice this for a while)
  • Over time, we tend to burn out, and on the way to burning out, we just get TIRED. And some of us (me included), when we are tired, end up feeling out of sorts and cranky.

I have thought a lot about this problem, especially in relationship to how often what matters most to me ends up not getting as much of my love, attention and energy as it deserves.  Along with my notes about ideas on things that spark my interest, I started writing about what drives my over-doing and the consequences that follow.  That led to coming up with ideas for how to better align my time and actions with my priorities.  This is still a work in progress, but if you are also an over-doer, perhaps some of my thinking on this will help you.

Change is a process, not an event. . .

Here are three steps that you can take to begin a process of aligning your time and your actions with what matters most to you.

Step One

Identify five things that are most important to you. Don’t over-think this.  I’m guessing that you already know your priorities.  Write these five things down, rank order them, and post your list in a place you will notice it every day.  I keep my list on the fridge door.  Here’s what I’ve got. . .

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. My health (physical, mental, spiritual)
  4. Paying work
  5. Being a good neighbor (in the area where I live, and within the larger community)

Step Two

Over the next week or month or whatever you are willing to commit to, do your best to keep track of how you are spending your time. This does not have to be a minute by minute accounting of where your time goes, but give it your best shot.  Don’t judge or criticize yourself for the way you are spending your time; just notice it and write it down.  It’s only data.

Step Three

  • At the end of the week, or month or whatever, look at the data on how you spent your time, and compare it to the list of the five things that are most important to you. What do you notice?
  • Does the way you spent your time align with what matters most to you? If yes, that is terrific!  If there is room for improvement, stick with not judging yourself critically.  Awareness is the first step to building internal motivation to make changes, and changing ourselves takes time.
  • Continue to write down how you are spending your time, and compare this data against the list of your five most important things. Over time, what patterns, if any, do you notice?
  • Finally, identify one or two small actions you are willing to commit to trying over the next week or month which would better support your priorities, and see how it goes.

I would love to hear from you about your experience with trying these three steps.  In the meantime, I’m off to the treadmill to pay attention to the third item on my own list of priorities. . . my health.

Take care and be well.

Ginger Ward-Green

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