When You’re Forced to Prioritize

July 25, 2011

Someone special to me passed away this weekend. So I spent the last week in upstate New York with family, first hoping and then grieving.

It’s crazy how, during times like this, work — and by work, I mean both my day job and my side biz — falls so quickly on the ladder of priorities. Suddenly it’s glaringly obvious that family is more important than work. We all know this, of course, but sometimes it takes a sad event to remind us to act on it.

Yet even when work falls a few rungs, it still has to get done. I’m lucky my employer allows me to work remotely — and my Socialexis work is all virtual — so I was able to be with my family without taking a ton of time off.

Because I wanted to spend my afternoons at the hospital, I hustled each morning to complete what would normally be an entire day’s work in several hours. And here’s the upside to this post, my reason for writing it: Because of this time shortage, I became incredibly efficient. More efficient than I ever thought I could be. Crazy efficient. I pumped out my stories without getting distracted by the Internet, checked items off my to-do list, and then packed up my computer for the day.

It became strangely easy to forget about my overflowing inbox and focus on getting my work done. Usually I’m a fanatic about maintaining a mostly-empty inbox, tending to what Tim Ferris calls “manufactured emergencies,” or tasks you feel like have to get done that very second just because they arrive via email. Suddenly it was easy to look at my inbox and determine exactly what had to get done and what could wait.

Letting tasks wait also made me realize just how many favors I do for other people. Most of what’s left in my inbox are favors. A proposal I promised to critique, a website I vowed to help with, a class that wants me as a speaker. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of favors, because what goes around comes around. But seeing all of my favors in one big daunting heap in my inbox has made me realize I need to say no more often.

My strategy of doing what needs immediate doing and leaving the rest would not, of course, work as a long-term strategy. I feel overwhelmed about trying to catch up even as I write this post. But it has proven to me that I need to prioritize better. Ferris says being busy is a form of laziness, and I see now that he’s right. I need to be smarter about how I spend my time — even when I don’t have to.

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