Prioritization: Wisdom from Successful Women

Some days chaos will find you wherever you go. Today is one of those hectic days where the phone rings, the emails pour in, and even though it is a shorter holiday week, all of the work of a full week needs to get done. Despite all of these responsibilities calling for my attention I am making a point to put my goals first. Often we get rushed into decisions and with so many competing agendas I can get distracted into making someone else’s goal list my own. It’s not my favorite reality but it does happen. To get back in my own lane I take the following steps.

Make a List – The first step I take is to create of list of the items I would like to accomplish in a day. I actually took this idea from Ariana Huffington. Ariana, if you’re reading, thank you for your wisdom, I appreciate you. At the end of the day Ms. Huffington takes half an hour or less to go through her list of items that she wants to accomplish the next day. This stems from having larger goals that we have first broken into smaller steps – check out this blog post on breaking your goals up into manageable steps here. Once that work is done you then have smaller bites, little steps that you can accomplish to attain your larger goals. 

Take Two Small Steps – This wisdom comes from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Garten believes in taking two steps every week towards accomplishing your goal. This works like a dream because two steps in a week is manageable and every inch forward is still moving ahead!

Now, that we’ve got two steps toward goal accomplishment and our goals broken down into digestible steps – how do we keep those priorities when it seems like everyone we talk to has an agenda and a plan for how we should spend our time? 

Pick your Ball – That’s when I call in Nora Ephron. She believes that to balance priorities we have balls that we are all juggling to keep in the air at all times. Now, some of those balls are glass and some of them are plastic, it’s up to you to determine their value. Family, friendships, etc. these are your glass balls that you don’t ever want to drop and break. But you can drop some balls some of the time and you have to, unless you have figured out time travel and shape-shifting. If you have yet to accomplish this, please consider that you cannot be in all places at all times and sometimes when you are one place it means you’re missing something that is fairly important somewhere else. You must discern which tasks, opportunities, moments, are made of glass and which ones are made of plastic – and doing that will give you the opportunity to be there for the events and people that are most important to you. 

The goal is to use your intuition and to discern what is most important to you. How do you do that? Well, I often find for big decisions that flipping a coin helps. Usually, while the coin is in mid-air, there’s one side I’m hoping for and that is my gut telling me what I truly want. 

Practice – Another way to be sure we don’t get distracted by competing desires is to practice listening to ourselves. The best way to practice discernment is to begin listening to the small voice inside of you. The key is to start small. Don’t ignore your voice for decades and then expect it to be strong and bold when it’s time to make a major decision. You have to listen to your inner voice all the time so that it knows that if it does speak up it will be heard.

That voice is easy to ignore when you’re around other people. Simply because everyone else’s voice is just so loud – they’re talking at you! Your inner voice will whisper and so it’s important to listen closely. A great way to begin is to take yourself out for ice cream. Don’t bring anyone else because then you’ll be tempted to “have what she’s having.” And don’t ask the server to pick for you because that’s cheating. 

As a former ice cream server I can tell you that people spend more time selecting a flavor than they do a new car. It’s because there’s so many options and unless you have an old standby from which you never waiver, there are a lot of tempting flavors to try. That’s the beauty of ice cream, even if you make the wrong choice, in the end you still have ice cream, which is always good and relatively inexpensive. If you get it wrong, come back another day. Try something else and find what you like. Once you have ice cream down experiment and listen to yourself on progressively larger and larger choices. This will help you train and practice for those bigger decisions, when you really want to hear your own voice above the din, when it matters and you need to listen to your own gut above all of the chaos and competing demands.

How do you stay in your own lane and make yourself your main priority? 

How to Incorporate Discernment into Your Daily Life

This week I have been rushing from one task to the next, attempting to manage, contribute, complete, and resolve every project, task, email, etc. I am jumping from one fire to the next, never stopping long enough to consider if, perhaps, the work that needs to done is not the rushing from task to task but rather that I need to pause and reflect on my priorities. Perhaps by considering what duties are most important I will find that the work I am doing is possibly not serving me. 

It’s what Brenee Brown calls, “hustling for worthiness.” I am eager to prove my value and hoping that by jumping through all of these hoops I will prove my worth. But that’s not how worth works. First, it doesn’t come from external sources. Second it is intrinsic, it is not given or bestowed, I have value (and so do you!) simply by virtue of being present and alive) and that’s it. The rest is choice – am I going to continue to choose to be reactionary, rushing from one task and to do item to the next? Or am I going to pause and use discernment to find my best way forward?

Discernment is the right answer, always. Discernment asks us to look inside for answers rather than outside. It is not allowing every wind to blow us off course. It is pausing and holding still, rather than chasing every passing thought or idea. Discernment is an inner knowing, a trust in our individual compasses to guide us. It is soul, it is heart, it is listening. Discernment is connecting deeply with ourselves to know our way forward.

For me personally discernment looks like meditation, schedule, good food, and rest. When I have those boxes checked then I am free to listen. I often practice discernment by writing. I write to know what I think and whenever I doubt that I have a path I re-read what I have written and am often surprised by the clarity, the obvious path that leads me forward and through difficult times, happy times, and large and small decisions. 

Discernment is when it makes no sense but you know it’s the right thing to do. It is trusting yourself and that tiny voice that is begging to be heard even when the world is shouting for you to go one way, discernment will illuminate the path is truly yours.

How does one discern? For me I get a feeling of excitement when I am pursuing something that feels good and right. When I am on my path it feels like a homecoming, a comfortable and well worn path, and it’s easy. Choosing myself and my own path feels right and good. If you have to push too hard that is not the path. When everything seems to magically fall into place, that’s when I’m in the right place doing the right thing. I am discerning and not forcing. 

Discerning is also listening before you begin, it is not charging ahead or rushing, it is rest and reflection, it is taking a deep breath and listening to what your heart beat is saying. Discernment is trust and faith, it is balance and breath, it is knowing, feeling, trusting. Following your own drummer, taking care of yourself first is calm, humble, and freeing. 

Discernment does take time to learn because in our culture we are so fixated on what the world and others think or believe about us that we sometimes listen to those shouts instead of the whispers of our inner knowing. I made discernment part of my annual goal a few years ago, to practice discernment when making large and small choices. By practicing I got better and through practice I learned how to trust myself first, rather than to the outside world. This practice has been uplifting and freeing. It has helped me to not only attain personal and professional goals, it has kept me in the right frame of mind, it has kept me present and focused. This practice has reminded me that what I think, believe, feel, know is important, necessary, and vital to my personal success. It is necessary to my growth and my journey. It is what keeps me honest and helps me keep the faith. Discerning what my next step is rather than checking boxes, or reading from a script, has helped me to get where I’m going and feel confident that the steps I am taking, my journey and my destination. 

How do you use discernment in your everyday life? Is there a method or tool you use to connect with yourself and listen? How do you know your path when you see it?