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Do you, like me, find yourself wishing you had more energy and more hours in the day to get things done?  There’s work I need and want to do, people I want to spend time with, and new things to explore and enjoy.

Should the urgent things on our to-do lists always win out over the important things we hope we’ll eventually get to do? If we always give way to the urgent, will we wake up one morning to realize that something (or someone) truly important has forever slipped away from us?  (Yeah, all that scares me too!)

There have been pivotal moments when I realized that something in my life really needed to change.  Some small thing seen, said, or done becomes a tipping point—an unpleasant or irritating situation, person, or thing is no longer tolerable and we decide right then and there that something is going to change.

Maybe it’s a relationship that’s all one-sided.  It could be the toaster that either burns or pops too early every time.  Or maybe it’s the boss who consistently asks for more without ever giving more pay.  We’ve all been there, right?  The process goes on for a while, but one day we suddenly realize that we’re no longer okay with how things are.

If we’re lucky, we can just toss the old toaster and go buy a new one that does work.  But sometimes multiple bad choices (even if they were bad choices for good reasons) led us to the situation we want to change.  What do we do then?

As tempting as it is to cover our ears and close our eyes while yelling, “La, la, la, la,” doing that isn’t very effective.

Do we think big, go all out, and reach for the stars?  That might get one or two things checked off our lists, but it will take all of our resources.  We’d still have important things on our lists with no time or energy dedicated to them.

My latest attempt at getting more of what I really want has been to distill and categorize.

“Distill and categorize?  Are you opening some sort of micro-brewery with off-label drinks?”

No.  You’ll have to find tasty beverages elsewhere.  I’m working to define myself and my priorities, so that I can get rid of all of the stuff that doesn’t really matter to me…distilling myself until just “the good stuff” remains.  We’re talking ideals here.  I realize I have several flaws, but in order to move away from those flaws, I have to know what I’m moving to or I might just slide into something else I still consider a flaw.

Once I’ve defined myself, then my to-do lists and goals can be categorized into:

  1. Urgent and Important
  2. Important but not urgent
  3. Urgent but not important (or not urgent or important)

In the same way that assigning people to an inner and outer circle allows me to shift priorities, assigning the items on my lists into categories makes it easier to see where my time should go.

Anything that falls into the third category can be removed from my to-do lists and goals. If it isn’t important (even if it is urgent), then why spend time on it?

The rest of my energy and time is spent on the first two categories.  Since both categories are important, even if there are lots of urgent items, I make sure to dedicate at least a portion of my day to both categories.  It might end up being 80/20 or even 95/5 some days, but if something matters enough to make my important list, then it matters enough to give at least a bit of attention to it each day.

I’ve only been using the ‘distill and categorize’ process since the first of the year (and it’s still a process I’m working through).  But so far, it has been very effective.  My productivity has improved, my health is improving, my relationships are benefiting, and I find myself being happier as I handle day to day details.

Are there days when I struggle?  Of course!  But having taken the time to define who I am and who I want to be, even those tough days can be dealt with.  It’s not always easy to ask myself how the person I want to be would handle a tough day, but when I do, the day often gets a whole lot easier.

Do you have any special techniques you use to help make sure you aren’t doing busy work when there is important work that needs to be done?


Other resources related to this article that you might enjoy:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – I read this book years ago, but just keep coming back to it.  There’s a lifetime of learning on those pages.

One More Thing Before Setting Your Long Term Goals – A great article a friend recently sent my way.  It helped me to further define what’s really important.


(Photo credit to: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1786)
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