Mid-semester hits graduate students hard. Midterms and papers are coming due, and it’s time to look ahead toward the final exams and projects in the not-so-distant future. Life can be even crazier for the dozens of our Communication & Leadership grad students working full-time in their careers, and balancing school and work with family and leadership in their communities. Yikes.
It’s about this time every semester that I find myself sitting down with my planner, some highlighters and my stack of syllabi to devise a plan of attack for meeting all my commitments. When it feels like you have a dozen balls in the air, it might be time to pull each one down, examine it, and decide where it really fits in your life.
Getting the Big Picture in Focus
Peter Walsh, an organization consultant, said “The secret to successful decluttering is this: You will never get organized if you don’t have a vision for the life you want… Ask, ‘Does this thing create that vision or get in the way of that vision?” Walsh may have been talking about organizing a home, but his philosophy holds true for organizing your time, too.
Prioritizing is about having an overall goal or vision for your life. Maybe that’s reaching a certain position at work. Maybe it’s running a marathon, being a parent who’s present, or cultivating stronger relationships with the people you most value.
It’s so easy to let ourselves be pulled in a hundred different directions – an hour here with friends, two hours there at the library, maybe a long workout session this weekend. But when we decide to choose intentionally how to spend our time, our lives move closer toward our vision.
Down to Business
Stephen Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” Covey speaks to the importance of building in time for what’s important, instead of organizing your time once your planner fills up. Making that switch – in our calendars and in our mindsets – from reactive to proactive can make a world of difference. It requires keeping the picture in mind, and cutting out what you can live without.
If you need another nudge to take plunge into prioritizing your life, just consider it a professional development exercise – for the ability to prioritize is something all leaders need. Leaders come into complex situations, and their role is often to simplify. Leaders cut through the clutter of daily confusion to identify clear goals or a single vision. For leaders, being able to simplify is a necessary skill.
Simplification may seem, well, overly simple, and sure – the process of prioritizing is not a panacea. But in the long run, you’re cutting out the distractions that keep you from achieving your goals. Start by honing in on the big vision for your life. Cut out the clutter in your personal calendar, and let the benefits spill over into your leadership roles and beyond.