Have you ever felt as if your life was hurtling along at such speed that you barely had control over it? Or have you felt like a juggler with too many balls (or chainsaws) in the air? Or maybe you have just felt so stretched that you badly needed a rest? Don't worry I know the feeling all too well. Over the past few months I have been busier than a drug-sniffing dog at a music festival and my writing here as taken a backseat because of it.
But for months I kept trying to keep up. I kept trying to write more and whenever I didn't get to I felt bad about it. I started guilting myself about writing, even though I knew that I had more important things to focus on. It was then that I realised I needed to officially take a break.
Taking breaks is sometimes a necessary evil. You can be slugging away and making steady progress but sometimes you just need to step back and get some perspective. Or maybe you've got too many competing priorities and the only way you are going to get through them is to focus on them one at a time. And sometimes you just need to relax and the only way you can do that is by taking a break.
This is exactly what has happened to me for my blogging for the greater part of this year. I've had a lot of good ideas for what I can write about here but ultimately I had other priorities that took precedence. But the guilt that I imposed on myself for not achieving some imaginary quota of writing was not useful or healthy. I knew that I had other things to be focused on but I kept beating myself up about not writing. Why? Because I could not switch off. I could not let it go until I told myself that I was purposefully taking a break.
By making it official I made it OK that I was not writing. I released myself from the pressure (real or imagined) that I was putting on myself. I gave myself permission to leave my writing to the side and just make sure I got though the others things on my plate. It was liberating.
And it also freed me up to focus on my other priorities. I found that I gained a whole lot of time and energy that I had been otherwise wasting on my unnecessary stress over not writing. That's right, just by simply acknowledging that I was taking a break from a task that I was otherwise too busy to do anyway I managed to improve my productivity. Crazy hey?
But that is the hidden beauty of taking breaks. Sure a break will make you feel refreshed and can give you some new found enthusiasm but everyone knows about those benefits. What people don't know, or have forgotten, is the profound impact a well-timed break can have on your other priorities.
A purposeful break will boost your energy, increase your free time, improve your productivity, and ultimately enhance your performance on your other tasks and priorities.
Changing priorities - How to stay focused
Sometimes priorities change. You cannot define your priorities once and then think they will be correct forever. Life gets in the way so you need to be constantly reassessing and changing your priorities. Otherwise you spend a lot of time trying to do too much at once and not actually getting anywhere.
And, if you are like me, you guilt yourself about it.
The better way is to accept that priorities are fluid. They are not rigid. They ebb and flow just like life. If you accept this fact then you can save yourself a lot of heartache and self-flagellation.
Here is a simple 4 step process I use for staying on top of things:
- Write down what you want do in life - pick whatever time-frame you want. You can do it for tomorrow, next month, next year, or the next decade. Just keep in mind the longer you look ahead the more likely things will change before you get there.
- Prioritise it - put a rough priority on your todo list items. If you have a big list then don't prioritise everything, just pick a handful of things that you will focus on immediately and prioritise those.
- Record success - when you complete a task then do something symbolic to celebrate your success. This can be as little as just ticking the item off your todo list or as big as having a party to celebrate. The main point here is to reward yourself and encourage further productivity and successes.
- Regularly reassess - set a regular review period and sit down to look at your priorities. It can be as little as 5 minutes every week. The key is to review your entire list and reassess the priorities you assigned. Maybe things have changed since you wrote them.
That is how I try to live my life and I think it is a simple process that would make sense to most people. But from observation of others and my own experiences I believe the biggest failing point is the last one - failing to regularly reassess. It is easy to set goals, draw up big todo lists, and define priorities but without regular reassessment our priorities become outdated and confused. That's exactly what happened to me earlier this year and it was not a good place to be.
But it is a simple fix. I took some time to reassess my priorities and I solved my problem. It's simple but often the simple things work best.
Sharing my todo list
In the name of sharing I decided to create a page here to track my todo list (or my Epic todo list as I am now calling it after some inspiration - keep reading).
I have kept this list, or similar ones, for years and I feel that I have achieved some of my goals because of it. Just knowing what I want has helped guide my decisions in life.
I had considered making my list public knowledge for a while but just hadn't gotten around to it (I had other priorities you know!) but after I stumbled upon Steve Kamb's Epic Quest of Awesomeness (which has some disturbing similarities to my goals) I knew that I should put my list out there too.
So check out my epic todo list, leave a comment, and have a think about creating your own list of priorities. After all, it's your life so you should know what you are trying to do with it.
Good luck and stay positive!