Last time, we talked about how goal setting can be an important tool for achieving our medium to long term goals, and the link to keeping a smile on our face. We also explored some timescales for our goals, and what kinds of goals fit those timescales. In this post (the second of a trilogy on staying happy in the medium to long term) we dive into prioritising the goals we really care about in the face of competing demands.
The past couple of months have felt like a circus juggling act for me. I’ll throw up the responsibilities of navigating some complex calculations in my work in order to catch renovating my new home, painfully aware the rapidly falling new baby preparation. The juggling act runs in parallel with spinning a number of plates – keeping on top of the relationships with people I care about, general ‘life admin’, and trying at some point to carve out time to write. At this rate, I’ll be a professional circus performer in no time at all!
It is so easy to become overwhelmed in the face of all of these pressures. Not only can this have a clear impact on our wellbeing in the short term, but it can ultimately impede the progress of our goals as we burn out. I’m very lucky to have an incredible support network, each of whom has helped immensely in their own way. However, the real saviour of my wits has been the act of taking time to set focussed weekly/monthly goals and prioritising those that are most important to my loved ones and I.
Competing demands in our personal and professional lives will unavoidably crop up from time to time. In the short term, we can usually deal with this by pushing a little harder to get our targets over the line. But when faced with longer term commitments, we are faced with trade-offs and sacrifices of our time and energy. In these circumstances, we must consider what aligns most closely with our values. This is the importance of having a vision for our future – it is the island on the horizon as we steer through the storm of demands of our time.
Sarah Knight’s fantastically irreverent book ‘Get Your Sh*t Together’ deals with overcoming the problem of competing priorities very well by introducing the concept of a ‘f*** budget’. You ‘spend’ your budget by investing time and energy, be that emotional or physical, on dealing with whatever challenges you are faced with. Through this lens, it becomes quite clear when we are focussing on elements of our lives that don’t truly matter. Would you spend your precious money on things or experiences that aren’t useful or don’t bring you joy? Then why should you spend your time on activities that won’t lead you to a happy life?
Of course, it’s not always easy to decide what to prioritise. It can lead to hard choices and hard conversations. However, the vast majority of people in my life have understood my decision in the event I have had to prioritise elements of my own life over their demands, and respect honest communication. Having a clear view of your goals makes these judgements much easier, and concentrating on what we really value is a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping happy.
So, how do we choose your priorities? The foundation of this is to start with you. Forgetting (momentarily) about what other people want may sound selfish, but it provides us with clarity. The next step is to interrogate your core values. Ask the question: ‘What kind of life do I want to lead?’. This will almost certainly include purely personal goals, like career aspirations or perhaps fitness, but it will also include thoughts about where your loved ones fit into the picture of your life. These are your key priorities for you. Nothing over the longer term should steer you away from these priorities.
The next step is to include the important expectations others have on your time. This could mean trade-offs that need to be made to incorporate the desires of others in your life, but you should do as much as you can to keep these aligned to the direction of your core priorities as possible. I include in this category things like work that is not your ‘dream job’. If it’s not your heart’s desire but it needs to be done, it goes here.
Finally, there is all the other stuff. I love gaming, but I can hardly promote it to a core direction I want my life to go in. Yet, I have respect for the sanity saving power that little piece of escapism brings me. There are thousands of minor desires and demands we have to deal with on a day to day basis, and while it is good to have a healthy understanding of the power they have to get us through the days, weeks and months, we really shouldn’t let them distract us too much from our ultimate goals.
And there we have it! Having definied goals is important, and prioritising our goals in the face of competing demands is often necessary. I hope that this gives some food for thought and keeps a smile on your face!
Stay happy, and stay safe!