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How To Prioritise What You Actually Want. The important stuff is never urgent...

One of the topics that comes up most in my work as a coach is clients asking how to better prioritise the people, projects, hobbies et al that actually matter to them. After all, our time and energy is limited – we can only do so much in this one short life, so the eternal question for us all, is how do we ensure it’s the right stuff?

In 2009 Bronnie Ware, an unknown palliative care nurse, published a blog post, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, in which she shared the clarity of vision that her patients revealed towards the end of their lives. The post went viral and was then turned into a book. The reason for its popularity? It neatly summed up what we all know but need reminding of so often: that most of what we spend our lives worrying about or prioritising, doesn’t matter in the end.

The terminally ill don’t tend to spend their time thinking about the small stuff. They’re not worrying about having spent too much time with their family and friends, being happy and creative and healthy and enjoying their life.

Their regrets, Ware revealed, were simultaneously both huge and small. They wish they’d worked less, let themselves be happier, had the courage to be themselves, stayed in touch with friends, and expressed their feelings more. They didn’t regret not having replied to that email.

In today’s world everything can feel urgent, whether it’s an email that needs replying to or a meeting that has to be in person. Yet, ultimately, urgency is subjective – just because I believe something is urgent doesn’t mean it actually is for you. My urgent is not your urgent, and vice versa.

While this concept gets sticky when it comes to certain workplace hierarchies (please don’t go telling your boss that their urgent is not your urgent!)  it’s worth storing in the back of your mind, so that whenever possible, you can set boundaries on other people’s requests and demands.

The other thing about “urgent” is that it often gets in the way of what’s actually important. It doesn’t leave us much time for what we actually want to prioritise, because we’re too busy prioritising the other things. The things that won’t matter in the end, the things we might regret…

It is, of course, a complete fantasy to think we can live a life prioritising only the stuff that will matter at the end – most of us would probably stop paying our bills and generally run our lives into the ground. But, it’s worth coming up for air now and again to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is there a project you really care about?

  • Is there a person you really wish you saw more of?

  • Is there a thought you really wish you had less of?

Let this be your reminder to make sure you’re making time for the things in your life that while not urgent, are truly important.

Lily Silverton contributing editor to Mumble, is a coach, writer and founder of The Priorities Method.


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