When I started my job last summer, I became increasingly focused on planning out my future. When you are investing upwards of 10-12 hours a day at the office, you want to know that your time and energy are taking you where you want to go. Not only is “planner” built into my position title, but I have always been a planner in general. I like to know where I’m going, what I’m doing and who will be there.
Making plans has proved beneficial for me in the past, especially while at college, when classes ran on the same schedule every week and I was regularly in touch with the same groups of people. I knew what to expect from my days, so having a plan helped me fill my extra time in the best way possible. However, as I settle into my life outside of academia, I have started to see that the same rules don’t apply. Having plans has become more of a hinderance to my productivity than a help.
When plans are too detailed and timely, it can be very stressful trying to keep up with them. Your mood changes, people change their minds and the weather is never as nice as we expect it will be. If you have a set plan for your day, last minute changes to your agenda can leave you feeling very down, stressed and under-accomplished. Which in turn can reduce your productivity, and lead to increased planning in the future. I know first hand, it’s a bad cycle.
What I have started to do instead, is become increasingly grounded in my priorities. As someone who hadn’t put serious thought into my priorities before, it was difficult to determine what they actually were. I asked myself these four questions to get started.
- What do you spend the most time doing already and why?
- What do you do the most in your off time and why?
- What is the majority of your Instagram/Facebook/Youtube feed filled with and why?
- If you were on your deathbed, what would you want the most and why?
While my mind was all over the place at first, after a few weeks of journaling and observing my behaviors and thoughts, I came up with my answers. These were undoubtedly my priorities, whether I had realized it before or not. The most important part of my answers was the ‘why?’ Becoming very clear about your priorities and having concrete reasons as to why they are what they are, is crucial for living an honest and productive life. Yes, it may be scary to admit that you truly can’t plan out your day, year or life, but if you commit to operating based on your priorities, you can never really lose.
As you learn to say no to opportunities that don’t align with your priorities, you will naturally gravitate towards those that do. You will be able to make decisions more confidently and will be less thrown off when things come up unexpectedly. We can’t predict what will happen in life, but we can decide how to react when things do happen. If we are always mindful of our priorities, then we can best decide how to react to situations in order to live out our goals.