Prioritizing You: How to Be There for Others and Still Do What Matters to You

The life of a juggler

We spend most of our waking hours taking care of our basic needs and obligations. We feel pulled in many directions—work, family, meetings, finances and bills, and then there are the things we really want to do.

If we’re aware enough, we can set time aside and prioritize what matters to us—not an easy task in and of itself under normal circumstances. But as life would have it, every now and then our routine is interrupted and we’re forced to deal with difficult situations.

Urgency by nature takes over and commands our full time and attention. After handling the urgent interruption, we need time to heal, and slowly restore normalcy. In this extended period of recuperation, do we continue to function in urgent survival mode?

This is the question I’ve been working with for a few weeks.

When dealing with an urgent setback, we need to let go of other stuff and just be there. But after the few critical days of dealing with the aftermath, how do we continue to be there and still have time to do what matters—to us?

In the first few days of a recent family incident, I didn’t do anything, other than be there for my family. Then I noticed a pattern: I dropped all the things that are important to me, and not surprisingly, there were many other things that filled my time and consumed my energy. And I didn’t feel good—I was missing my time to do my thing.

The conflict between what we feel we have to do and what we want to do can be quite painful. I felt torn between two sides: wanting to be there for family and wanting to do my thing. How do we get to do both?

The answer is by consciously revisiting our choices and carving out short periods of time that can be used to do something that matters to us.

This is what I’ve been working with that I hope can be helpful to you.

How to find time for what matters to you?

I went through the following sequence after periods of struggle.

1. Look into what has been dropped.

In my example, I dropped meditation, exercise, and practicing the piano.

All of these things are important to me, but not to anyone else around me. I can easily stop doing them and no one would notice or hold me accountable.

The things we tend to drop first are the things that matter to us and no one else.

2. Pick the two most important things that you want to do, no matter what.

We can’t do everything we want while still dealing with ongoing non-routine interruptions. But we can squeeze in a couple of things.

I chose meditation and piano practice.

3. Determine the minimum time and effort required for the chosen tasks.

My personal recommendation is to allocate no more than 30 minutes for the two items. You can also choose to do one thing for 30 minutes, instead of two.

In my situation, I decided on 20 minutes of meditation. And then to practice the piano for 10 minutes, instead of the usual 20 minutes that I had dropped for weeks.

4. Start the day with the most important thing(s) to you.

You can carve out the needed time by cutting out some other stuff you start your day with, or simplifying other routine tasks. Prepare at night for your day (for example clothes, lunch and snacks packing). You can take shorter showers, or wake up a bit earlier. You can also simplify your daily routines (cleaning and tidying up, or doing the laundry) and use this time to reduce morning stress.

When you wake up, do your two tasks, or at least one of them.

5. Take advantage of pockets of idle time.

When dealing with unusual situations, you’ll find yourself idle for short periods of time. But these little gaps add up over days and weeks.

Use this idle time to do things that are important to you. If you have five minutes, you can walk back and forth to get your body moving. Or you can read, meditate on your breath, or write.

Also you can use the idle time to do some of the chores so you can have more morning time (make a bed, vacuum a room and so on).

I’ve been pacing back and forth in a room while waiting and have been able to move for up to 30 minutes using short breaks. It may not be the best form of exercise. But it’s better than nothing.

A little progress is better than no progress.

6. Pause and reflect.

Take a few minutes at the end of the day to catch your breath and make some sense out of your day. Did you get to do what matters to you? If not, what can you do differently?

7. Keep going.

Do your best to do something that’s important to you every day, even if it’s for a few minutes. You need this time to maintain your sanity and well-being.

It’s fairly easy to ignore our other than basic survival needs—especially since no one else is going to prioritize them for us. We’re the only ones who can do that for ourselves.

If we want to be there for others, we need to do things that feed our soul and replenish our energy. Remember that:

Your time has to include you.

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