Everyone can recognise that familiar tug of war inside us; go out or stay in and catch up on work, make a fresh dinner for the kids or finish catching up on e mails; work late or go to the gym? These are common everyday dilemmas we all face but have you ever stopped to consider that this constant tug of war could be impacting your health?
Underneath these seemingly tedious choices there are darker forces at play. Our values - things which are important to us and we are willing to invest time, money and energy to achieve - drive our decision making behaviour. Good when they help us make clear choices, less helpful when we are choosing between things that are of similar importance. If you’ve ever been totally focused on one thing you’ll know how easy it is to make choices; studying for important exams or caring for your newborn baby, anything that gets in the way doesn’t stand a chance. When life gets a bit more messy though, and the choices are less impactful, our values can cause us anxiety and lead to exhaustion, stress and lack of sleep. These are critical to health and the constant playing out of competing priorities wears away at our energy and lowers our immune system.
The ability to make easy decisions about priorities and avoid the conflict is key to keeping more of your energy, making life easier and saving you a lot of time. So how can you stop competing priorities?
The way to do this is to firstly get very aware of the main competing priorities you have, you probably already know them. You need to recognise that they are both important to you, denying one will only cause you stress. Once you have awareness the following tips will help you flow through the day or week easier.
1. Consciously decide on the one thing that takes priority TODAY. Then sort all your choices through it. If today is all about ‘getting on top of work’, then your choice of activities should all lead to that. If today is all about health, then you will prioritise choices around food and exercises over other things. If it’s not practical to do it as a whole day you can break it down into half days or even hours. This helps your brain to make a clear choice on any given day and empowers you. It doesn’t mean you won’t do other things during the day but when the tug of war arises, the thing you’ve decided will win will win. Notice your choices and how it impacts you.
2. Go for rhythm in life rather than balance. If you are trying to balance everything off against everything else, you will never be satisfied - think of an old fashioned set of scales - they are never still and stable when in balance. Instead think about how you structure your week and plan with the competing priorities in mind. Create good routines you know you can stick to, with a bit of leeway here and there for emergencies. For example you could decide that you will exercise twice a week in the mornings before work and leave work on time three nights a week. The other two nights you can decide to stay late if you need to. This will prevent you feeling hog-tied by your own plans and give you scope to adjust until you find a life rhythm that works best for you.
Take our free What’s your Work Life Balance Type Quiz and get personalised recommendations.
This is hard for people who like to go with the flow, for them routine is worse than death. The purpose here though is to find rhythm rather than routine and avoid those competing priorities by deciding how to live your life and focus your attention - and what can be more empowering than that? Do it in small steps rather than trying to change everything at once, giving one change a chance to embed before moving onto the next thing. People report that after practising these simple tips, that they feel less stressed, make better decisions, sleep better and feel more fulfilled.
Karen and John’s book Time Mastery; Banish Time Management Forever is out now and gives you more strategies for getting more done and focusing on what’s really important to you. It’s available in paperback or e-book version from Amazon, Monkey Puzzle Training website and good bookshops.
Founder of Monkey Puzzle and an INLPTA NLP Master Trainer, Karen is also a UKCP registered Psychotherapist and author of the award winning book Real Leaders for the Real World. Her new book Time Mastery; Banish Time Management Forever is out now.