Priorities

by Patrick “Trick” Jarrett.

What happens when a swimmer stops prioritizing forward motion? He ends up treading water.

I have memories of sitting at the dining room table with my mom on my left, my dad on the right, and my younger sister sitting across from me. As a family we would assemble the monthly issues of “The Get Organized! News.” TGON, as we called it, was a monthly newsletter my mom wrote and published out of our home. Usually it was eight pages; two 17x11 sheets folded and nested within each other.

Like a well oiled machine we would assemble hundreds of newsletters, label them, and rubber band them for mailing.

Despite my mom writing a newsletter about organization, I was slow to pick up on it. Organization that is. She did her best to impress upon me the need to make my bed, pick up after myself, put things away when I was done and actually put my laundry actually inside the hamper as opposed to around it. As a kid, I just couldn’t understand why these things were important.

One thing my mom did teach me though, with some help from the author Steven Covey, was to recognize priorities. Covey uses an analogy about having a jar, and all these things you need to fit in the jar. They’re different sizes and shapes, from golf ball sized down to sand, so it is no easy feat. He explains that what you need to do is start with the big things and then once they’re in there do the small stuff like pebbles and sand.

This is, of course, his metaphor for time and how we spend it. And for much of my childhood I took it as just that, but I think the critical second part of this lesson is that while it’s about managing your time it’s also really about setting your priorities.

The above triangle was a commonly quoted aphorism at Georgia Tech (and other colleges I’m sure.) In humor it speaks truth, in reality it speaks about priorities. As it ended up, I prioritized social life and the Internet, much to my academic chagrin. In retrospect I don’t think I consciously deprioritized school, and in fact I believed I was still doing enough even in the face of hard evidence to the contrary (namely grades).

I remember my parents calling me one day while I was at school and my mom tentatively asking, “Honey, we’ve been reading your blog and… well… you never talk about studying or doing homework on there.” I waved their concerns away, saying that I was studying but it didn’t exactly make for riveting blog reading. Which was true, but also the truth was: they were right. My priorities had been steadily shifting away from school.

I clearly remember staying in the computer lab all night to work on a project and after getting stumped, staying up the whole night anyways screwing around on the web rather than working or seeking help. It makes me sick to think about what I wasted because I didn’t set my priorities for school.

Tech Tower by hectorir

Over the past year with my weight loss I attribute the majority of my success to making myself aware of and paying close attention to my priorities. Exercising was bumped to a top priority overriding things like TV, Internet, and social lunches at work.

Eating right became a high enough priority that I began passing on candy, having epic battles of self-control when presented with buffets of poor choices.

To me, priorities are the overlooked part of the goals & resolutions equation. Gurus and self-help experts talk endlessly about the importance of setting goals and striving for them, but they seem to gloss over the part where success for goals comes from making the goal a priority and becoming conscious of how it ranks in your life. You have to decide how they are prioritized amongst your life, and then consciously act on this change.

Changing habits is hard. I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself, change in hand, standing in front of a vending machine. Or found myself rummaging in the kitchen, not because I was hungry, but because I was bored. These were (and still are) actions so deeply ingrained in my mind that it still takes a conscious decision not to do some of these. And I come to these decisions because… I’ve set my priorities!

Over the past month I’ve been treading water and I’m fed up. I held onto most of my good eating habits but I’ve been snacking more, and even indulging in an occasional soda.

So, now I’ve come to terms with my lack of progress and found the stirrings which will drive me forward again. Namely, my 30th birthday is fast approaching. And I badly want to be in the best shape of my life for that birthday.

This week I am prioritizing ‘working out and moving forward’ to be the top of my list.

Where do your priorities lie?