Read This Now!

From Geek & Poke, by Oliver Widder (CC BY-SA 3.0)

I’m bad at prioritizing.

It took me many years to figure this out. I didn’t even realize there was a trick to prioritizing until a year or two ago, which just goes to show how bad I am at it. I just figured, make a list, mental or otherwise, of the things I need to do, and then number them in order of importance. Then I could never figure out why I kept finding myself in trouble for not accomplishing something or other.

A couple years or so ago I finally realized there were other variables besides importance. There’s urgency, for one: how soon is something due? That might make it necessary complete one task ahead of another that is technically more important. And then there’s how likely it is that someone will check on it. Can a task that nobody checks on be more important than one that will have oversight? I think so. Depending on how you look at it, I’m either pretty scrupulous or pretty obsessive/compulsive. And so some things are just more important for me to do, even if I know nobody else will ever know about it. I’ll know.

But even recognizing that there are other variables doesn’t make me better at juggling them. I mean there are obvious cases, sure, but how do I balance something very important with something less important but more urgent?

A couple of years ago, I came up with a successful but unhealthy solution: when in doubt, I’ll just work harder. Every time I got called to the table for something I failed to accomplish, I resolved that that particular issue wouldn’t trip me up again. When I can’t decide which of two tasks is more important, I stay up later, I sacrifice my own goals or recreation, and I get ’em both done. It has led to me being less likely to get called out for failing to accomplish something, but it’s also lead to me giving up a lot–arguably more than I should have to.

I think a big problem of mine is that I can’t stand to fail. I’d rather burn myself totally out than knowingly allow myself to accomplish less than my best. But, paradoxically, that pressure may make me more likely to fail, because I spread myself to thin and dampen my enthusiasm.

Anyway, this isn’t really going anywhere. It’s just random musing. A lot of times I feel like I should only blog about something if I can tie it up in a neat bow, and maybe find a cool public domain picture to boot, and often that pressure keeps me from blogging at all.

Maybe you’ve got some insight into how to resolve conflicting priorities? Is it easier for you than it is for me?

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2 Responses to Read This Now!

  1. Liz says:

    Joe,
    I hear you. For me, the challenge is perfectionist thinking. I appear very low key, but in truth I am very anal, and so picky about my work that I am never happy with it, so therefore never complete it. On top of that, when called to the carpet in any way, I have to stay up late or get up early to compensate. I have a terrible time making one thing a priority over another, and I am, in general, constantly in my own way.

  2. Joe Iriarte says:

    You hit the nail on the head–it’s about perfectionism, and about the fact that no matter how perfect I try to be, sooner or later I’ll get called on the carpet for something, because as long as your job is to wield authority, you will always make somebody unhappy. I want so badly to be a great teacher, though, that whenever anybody is left unsatisfied, I feel like I could have avoided it if I’d just tried a little harder.

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