How to Prioritize Your Life

How to Prioritize Your Life

When the boss, the customer, the kids, the spouse and even granny can reach you as fast and predictably as lightening follows a thunderclap, how does anyone ever get a break? Is there really such a thing as work-life balance anymore in this age of perpetual access?

Our world is no longer about balance as we once knew it. The original term, work-life balance implies equally weighted measures of work and life counterbalanced with one another. It also implies a boundary between work and personal life that doesn’t really exist today. Our work and life universes, once separated by an impermeable wall are now mashed together a little like mom’s potatoes and gravy.

This new complicated integration of work and life requires us to master different coping skills in order to maintain productivity, emotional composure and family coherence over longer periods of time. Perhaps, terms like “work-life balance” are becoming dated and we need a new concept. Some recent suggestions might be: Work-life rhythm, work- family flow, work-life fit, or work-life effectiveness.

However a new term evolves, the skills we need to cope in a highly connected society are vastly more sophisticated than those of 30 years ago. Most importantly, we need to learn how to manage our overall usage of our most valuable commodity—our time.

Here is one helpful way to think about prioritizing our work-life utilizing a time-tool, AKA coping skill, called the Eisenhower Quadrant. The EQ allows us to think about our many daily pressures in terms of both urgency and importance in our lives.

Quadrant I: Urgent and Important (top left)

This quadrant tells us that anything in it is of the highest priority in our work and in our personal lives. All things placed in this quadrant must be handled first, whether a work or family emergency. This includes any personal crises. We must be clear with others that these urgent things represent our highest priority and we will respond NOW. This quadrant reflects our immediate response to the things we value most.

Quadrant II: Important but not Urgent (top right)

These are items we value and may be currently addressing, but they are not acute in nature and will not necessarily require our immediate attention. We can take breaks from these important tasks as necessity dictates, but we will always return to this quadrant as a general working model in “normal” times. Family events are included in this quadrant—school events, social events, family outings.

Quadrant III: Urgent items, but Not Important (bottom left)

Delegate these items to others so that you can focus on the top Quadrants. A lot of time is consumed here that can be better used elsewhere.

Quadrant IV: Not Urgent and Not Important (bottom right)

Minimize these things and/or avoid them altogether. This is the “time wasted” category. Relaxation is Quadrant II, not IV.

While there is no one way to solve the complexity of a work-life rhythm, the Eisenhower Quadrant has been used for a number of years as the gold standard for prioritizing busy lives and it is now more vital than ever.  Try it out. Include your personal and professional life in each quadrant and notice what changes you can make to include the things you value most. The EQ is one of many helpful techniques that can be learned by seeking professional counseling or coaching in your life.

This post was written by Debra Singer Hanson, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Kansas City, KS. 

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