We all know what it means to prioritise. A priority is a thing regarded as more important than others. It is also the thing I struggle with the most. I’m efficient, organised and get a lot done in a day, but I am terrible at prioritising those things I really want to be doing.
As I write this it is Saturday afternoon. In all honesty I made myself sit down and write this post, because learning to prioritise what I want to be doing (not what I think needs to be done) is something I need to start figuring out how to do.
Because the truth is, there is always something that needs doing. I have a basket full of laundry that still needs to be folded, baking from this morning that still needs to be put away, and a house that still needs it’s weekly clean. The sun is shining and the dogs would love to go for another walk. And as I look through windows that need to be washed, all I can see is a garden that needs to be weeded.
In the back of my mind I know all of these things can wait. And I know they will get done, because they always do. But my default is to prioritise these daily chores over things I would rather be doing. Things like writing, studying towards my Certificate in Animal Nutrition and exercising. If you asked me I would tell you that those three things are my priority right now. But if you looked at how I spend the minutes in my week, you would know they weren't.
So, the question is why? What stops me from prioritising them? I think the answer lies in Gretchen Reuben’s ‘The Four Tendencies’.
The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. Gretchen’s work lead her to discover that people fit into one of four tendencies. We all have one strong tendency above the others. We are either Upholders, Questioners, Obligers or Rebels. It came as no surprise to me to learn that I am an Obliger.
Obligers meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner ones. This means I tend to be more motivated by external accountability (perceived or otherwise). It’s why I wake up in the morning with a mind spinning with what I ‘have to get done’. If there’s a deadline at work I’m all over it, but also why I can’t get myself to the gym three times a week. People are counting on me to be on top of things at work. The only person counting on me getting to the gym is me.
There’s also a reason I added ‘perceived or otherwise’ to the sentence above. And that’s because, in all honesty, most of the things I feel obliged to do I’m perceiving as being important to others. Rather than them actually being important.
I prioritise taking the dogs for ‘another' walk because I think that’s what they want. But right now I have three dogs sleeping happily in the sun, and a bulldog snoring beside me. They aren’t sitting outside the backdoor with leads hanging out of their mouth, begging to be walked. And again if I’m honest with myself, my fiancé couldn’t care less if the washing stays in the basket until tomorrow, and the house always looks clean to him. Plus, if there are no home-made muffins in the cake tin he will just find something else to eat. All these small things I prioritise are simply because I ‘perceive’ them to be important. Not because they are. If I spend three hours studying instead of cleaning, my dogs aren’t going to hate me and my fiancé isn’t going to leave me!
Which I guess brings me to the question of how can I form habits that allow me to prioritise the things I want to be doing instead. How do I get myself to the gym three times a week? How do I make sure I set time aside to study? How do make sure I consistently write? And most importantly, how can I learn to prioritise these things without feeling guilty?
Right at this moment I don’t know for sure. But I have a few ideas spinning around in my head. So I’m going to experiment with these over the next month, and I will share the outcome of what I learn and how I am getting on with you in my next blog post (because ‘external accountability’!).
And now that I have prioritised writing this afternoon and feel happy for doing so, I am going to go fold the washing, put the baking away and give my dogs a walk while the sun is still shining. It’s a good reminder to me that everything gets done in the end.
If you have taken Gretchen Ruben’s The Four Tendencies test (if you haven’t and you’d like to you can find it here) I’d love to know what tendency you are, and how you find this affects your daily habits. Because I think we all feel less alone when we share our honest selves with each other, and what we are learning along the way.
So, let me know in the comments below. And I will be back next month to talk more about habits!