When everything is a priority, nothing is.

Here is a column I published last week. I have been giving a number of talks on burnout and stress recently.

It seems that in our modern world of management by objectives, the number of people on the verge of a breakdown is rising dramatically. The source of overwork can come from others (superiors, public demands, etc) or from the individual him or herself (some people expect too much of themselves).

In order to manage better our time and other limited resources we use time management principles such as the setting of priorities. Although the setting of priorities can help us achieve more, some people don’t know when enough is enough. That’s why I wrote the following. It suggests that we can recognize when our limit is reached by examining the importance of things being neglected rather than the importance of new things we want to achieve.

Unimportant priorities
(Source: Journal Métro: Priorités sans importance. June 17, 2008)

Time, our lives are often all about how we prioritize this limited resource, isn’t it?

Once, when I was complaining about a lack of time, a colleague offered some sage advice; set priorities, choose what’s more important and concentrate your efforts on that.
He was right, the setting of priorities is a basic tenet in time management strategies. Set them, choose the right ones, and you can go far in life. Like a lot of advice, this is a good idea…to a point.

How does one go about choosing priorities when it seems that everything is a priority, or when important tasks don’t get done because we are too busy devoting our time to other important priorities? One can easily use time more efficiently but at some point there is little room left over for more.

The dilemma: More with less, or less with less
The setting of priorities is the best way to manage limits and allows us to do more with less. Except sometimes we get so lost in setting new goals that, even with well-organized priorities, things start to fall apart and important areas get neglected. Perhaps that’s when it may be time to expect less of oneself and to set fewer goals.

So which is it? Some people need to get more organized and must learn to do more with less, while others are already pretty organized and need to learn to do less with less. Which one are you?

My closet is full
Let’s suppose you are someone who spends too much on clothes because you like to look good or are a sucker for a bargain. How do you decide if enough is enough? Let’s imagine that your closet is so full that nothing more can be added. In order to make room you decide to order your clothes from favourite to least favourite item. You decide that for every new item you buy, you will throw out or give away your least favourite item. Sounds like a great plan. But what happens if you are start throwing out stuff you really like? Isn’t that a sign that you are buying too much? In other words, stop looking at how nice the new clothes are. Look instead at how nice the discarded clothes are.

The same goes for time and work. Take on all you want and set priorities. Do the important stuff in the time you have first. If the things that get neglected are really important ones too, that’s a pretty clear signal that you have taken on too much. In other words, the best way to know when you have to limit your goals is not to look at what you are getting done, but at what you are neglecting!

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Posted in Human nature, Stress.

Posted on 27 Jun 2008

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