I, like you, lead a complicated life and have a complicated job. My kids are bigger and their moral and life-skill guidance is getting more complex—paramours, cars, jobs. Who said they could grow up? The relationships and attitudes of those served through my project regularly leave me scratching my head, and my relative newness to our organization brings a cultural and operational learning curve. I really don’t mind all of this; in all honesty I relish it. Solving problems, creating efficiency, helping others be their best is what drives and motivates me.
I’ve invited complexity into my life for as long as I’ve had agency over my life. It’s not something that I necessarily seek on a conscious level, but certainly something I find and hold.
My first jobs as a nurse were in a burn ICU and a pediatric ICU because I loved both the clinical complexity and working with these families in crisis.
This pattern of my complexity-seeking behavior continued through my work life and my personal life and brought me to community health, foster children, policy work and relocations.
These patients have a lot of pressing priorities, as do foster children and moving legislation, and it all contributed to my ongoing education of how to prioritize. When I fail at something, I can often reflect to a moment when I didn’t prioritize, or I didn’t prioritize well.
In “Walden” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” These are important words for me, because like most other folks, I don’t want my time or energy to be wasted. I want to be of service to others in a way that makes their lives better, so I employ lots of techniques for helping with the constant work of reprioritizing all the tasks and events in my life. Do I use this moment to dive into the email tsunami or outline my report? Tea with this struggling team member or draft an expectation memo to the team?
I’ve used a modified version of the Ivy Lee method for many years, and it works very well. Lee’s 100-year-old method is very simple – at the end of each workday, write down the six most important things you plan to accomplish the following day in rank order. Begin the next day on the first task and stay on that task until complete. Rinse and repeat. My modifications are that I have a list of 14 and include family and personal tasks. I often move things to the next day if there are other stakeholders or multiple steps.
Complex jobs and lives are filled with distractions, energy drainers and a myriad of competing priorities. Managing those priorities is our constant trial, but I have learned that dedicated action to prioritizing leads to time and energy spent on the things in my life that matter the most and are worth the life exchanged for them.