I’m reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It’s a phenomenal read advocating a disciplined approach to creating space in order to be at one’s best, foster creativity and develop meaningful relationships. McKeown suggests that we need to develop the skill of saying no in order to create room in our environments that allows us to truly live out the things that are most important to us.
McKeown writes, “The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years. Only in the 1900s did we pluralize the term and start talking about priorities. Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple ‘first’ things…This gave the impression of many things being the priority but actually meant nothing was.”
When you talk about priority do you use the singular or plural of the term?
I’ve been quite fragmented in my approach to prioritization. I’ve tried to move many things forward at once only to move none of them very far at all. I’ve not been willing to commit to one “very first or prior thing” for fear of picking the wrong thing. Or, for fear of not living up to the expectations of others. So, I’m working through figuring that out.
How do you prioritize?
McKeown suggests getting specific with your priority. Sorry, but things like change the world, honor God, be a better spouse, transform my industry, be the best at…,etc. are too broad and just plain cliche. Think about your priority as your measuring stick. How do you know you’re progressing? How to you manage your time and effort to move your priority forward?
For example. I want to work to be a better husband (too broad). Which means I need to improve the way I engage when I’m home (a bit better). Which means I need to build a distraction free environment (better still). Which means I need to ask more follow up questions when my wife tells me about her day, I need to keep the TV turned off unless we’ve decided ahead of time to watch something and I need to put my phone away for the evening so we have uninterrupted time together (tangible and measurable).
Another example: I want to be more creative (too broad). Which means I want to see alternative perspectives to the world around me (a bit better). Which means I need to expose my mind to people, places, thoughts and experiences that challenge my perspective (better still). Which means I need to read a book a week authored by a creative thinker, learn a new craft (build a new dining room table), try a new international cuisine each month and plan a summer trip somewhere I don’t know the language (tangible and measurable).
How do you identify your priority and move it into something tangible and actionable?
It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day;…so simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. – Henry David Thoreau