Posts Tagged ‘Priorities’

worthwhileIf you’re like me, you do a lot of different things throughout the day. Some you do out of habit without thinking. Others you do because you must. Yet others you choose to do because you find great joy, comfort or satisfaction in them. Then there are some moments that happen unexpectedly because of what others do that affect you.

As I reflect on what tends to bring the greatest satisfaction to my days, it is usually the smaller, simpler moments – unplanned, unexpected and serendipitous – that are more meaningful. Most of our days, though, are focused on the big, time-consuming aspects of work or other ongoing, major responsibilities. If we aren’t careful, we may miss the smaller and potentially more significant moments.

For example, here are some moments that have made a few of my recent days meaningful and memorable:

  • My 2.5-year-old granddaughter feeding me a tiny piece of a French fry she dipped in ketchup;
  • Getting an email from a colleague saying that my blog post on reconciliation motivated him to take action to repair a relationship with a family member;
  • Hearing a funny story from my Dad on the phone;
  • Being told by a colleague in the midst of changing jobs that another recent blog post about taking chances helped her in the days surrounding that change.

As I look at the above list, none of the meaningful moments directly deal with the work I spend 10 hours a day performing. None are connected with anything I’m paid to do. Rather, they relate to relationships and/or making a positive difference in the lives of others. I didn’t plan any of them – they all happened at the initiative of someone else. I may have played some role in the chain of events that led to the moments, but the meaningful moments themselves were handed to me by others.

My fear is this – that I will be so consumed some days with the big blocks of time-consuming, planned activities that I either don’t allow time for the simple, meaningful moments like those above, or that in my rush of activity I will miss them.

A reminder to myself and anyone else who may need to hear it: make room and time in your life for what brings meaning to your days. Remember that success as the world defines it and true significance may be (and probably are) very different realities.

Know what makes your days worthwhile.

ClockWhat do you do to wind down? Maybe at the end of a long day or a long week or even a long project, you have something that helps you put that chapter behind, rest up and recharge for what comes next. So what helps you wind down when you need to do so?

Today, what helped me was to basically ignore my to-do list for most of the day. I’ve grown to somewhat resent my unending to-do list that sits on one shoulder and whispers in my ear constantly including evenings and weekends. So today I spent the majority of the day doing things I hadn’t planned that served as a good diversion and helped me feel like I was in control of my day rather than a list of tasks controlling me.

I did the following out-of-the-ordinary (for me) activities:

  • Browsed a Best Buy store looking over tablets in anticipation of getting one in the next few months;
  • Roamed a mall and serendipitously happened to be there at the same time as my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, so we ate lunch together (she gave me a tiny sliver of french fry which she dipped in ketchup and fed me, had me carry her through the mall, and gave me a nice hug before we parted – the day could have ended there and been just fine);
  • Did some online research about the tablets that interested me in the store to learn more and to help refine my possible choices;
  • Took a long afternoon nap with my dog in my man cave with lights out and the sounds of silence;
  • Took a longer than normal walk with my dog at a nearby park that was blissfully empty of many other people for a change;
  • Watched a little football;
  • Ate two good, healthy meals (one a day is normal for me).

I still did a few usual things like making my online social media rounds, email checks, a few minutes of work, playing Frisbee with the dog, making sure I got at least 10,000 steps in (actually more than 14,000 today) and duplicating some CDs to give away at church. But what I didn’t do was anything at all on my to-do list except for making the CDs which only took about 30 minutes.

This was a long, tiring week for me at work. It was more frustrating than usual in one aspect. I needed to wind down. Tomorrow may be another day of largely ignoring the to-do list.

As I look forward to setting goals for 2014, some different priorities will influence how I plan my days next year compared to what has driven me this year. I’ll write more about that at the end of the year, but I look forward to taking winding down to a new level for me not too many weeks from now. I’m excited about it.

So I’ll ask the question again: What do you do to wind down at the end of a day, a week, a project, assignment, or even a career?

Progress ReportThe year is fast coming to a close and it’s time again for a monthly status update on how I’m coming with my goals. I first published them here on January 1 – eleven goals divided into the categories of body, mind and spirit. I share updates here monthly as a public way to hold myself accountable. I color-code the goals with green indicating that I am on or ahead of schedule, orange if I am slightly behind schedule, or red if I am dangerously behind schedule.

By now I’m fairly confident how the goals are going to play out by the end of the year – not perfect, but mostly accomplished and I’m just fine with that, especially since they were fairly ambitious. I had hoped that taking another stay-at-home week of vacation in October would allow more catching up on the reading goals, but I ended up working half of my vacation, so not much was done that week toward the goals.

That said, here is where I stand with about seven weeks of 2013 remaining.

Goals related to body:

1. Keep my weight at or below 150 pounds. With my new weight goal as of a month ago being 145 instead of 150, I’m staying below the original goal with no problem. It’s been challenging getting to and staying below 145, but I’ve gotten there a few days in the past couple of weeks. Tracking calories consumed and expended via the Fitbit website is very helpful with this goal. The holidays are around the corner, though, so continued attention to daily efforts here are necessary.

2. Walk/jog/run a total of 10,000 steps per day three days per week – COMPLETE. In terms of total number of days for the year, this was completed in early August. Since wearing my Fitbit Flex in September, I haven’t had any days below 10,000 steps. Wearing it seems to encourage me to reach 10,000 as a minimum more easily than previous motivators.

3. Average at least six hours of sleep per night. With thanks again to my Fitbit, I now know I’m averaging a little over 6 hours per day. It isn’t enough, but it meets the goal I set. I’ll increase this goal for 2014.

Goals related to mind:

1. Read a book every other week. With only 12 books read in 2013, one of which was in October, this is one of the goals I won’t come close to reaching. I’m working on book #13 now. This goal was just too ambitious given other demands. I’ve learned from it and will set a more reasonable reading goal next year.

2. Blog every other day (at least). I took a break a couple of weeks in October from attempting a blog post every other day, resulting in only 10 posts for the month. Therefore, I’m nine posts behind where I should be for the year. I’ll make that up by December.

3. Continue to follow My 3 Words: Ground, Stretch, Reflect. All is well here. If you don’t know what this refers to, read this post.

4. Double the blog’s readership from 10,000 views in 2012 to 20,000 – COMPLETE. This goal was passed in early October. Everything after that is gravy thanks to you, dear readers! We’re approaching 22,000 views year-to-date.

5. Continue to write hand-written letters to my sons. I’m on target here with the next letters to be delivered around Christmas.

Goals related to spirit:

1. Finish reading the ESV Study Bible and read half of The Apologetics Study Bible. Having completed the ESV in September, I’m in Exodus in The Apologetics Study Bible. I won’t complete half of it by year end, but I’m fine with that.

2. Review 100 Bible memory verses weekly. I’m on track with this.

3. Come to some resolution regarding an unsettled situation where I worship – COMPLETE.

I’m looking forward to setting my goals for 2014. My lessons learned for this year combined with new thoughts about possibilities for next year have me excited about some things that I’ll share around January 1.

Ten months into 2013, that’s where I stand on my goals – not perfect, but still satisfying. What about you? How are you doing on your goals for the year?

SchedulePerhaps the biggest lesson I am learning this year is one that I’ve known for a long time, yet must continually re-learn. While it has been good and helpful for me to spell out my many goals for the year related to body, mind and spirit, and to post monthly progress updates here, I have increasingly felt as the year has progressed that I simply have too many of them. I did not allow myself time to relax or to do many unplanned things for fun either by myself or with others. I’ve been busy and I’ve accomplished most of what I set out to do. I suspect all but my two reading goals will be met by the end of the year.

But being busy doesn’t prove that any of that time is meaningfully spent. Filling all of one’s waking hours with activity is no guarantee of significance, either in the short term or long term. So, in a nutshell, here is the lesson I have had to learn again for the umpteenth time:

Do not equate busyness with significance.

This applies in any area of life…

In work, are you doing a lot of things that keep you busy and seem to keep the boss happy? If so, that’s good in a way, unless you have a sense that your time could be better spent doing something with greater significance and long-term impact. Different people can find satisfaction in about any kind of work, so what others consider significant may vary from what you consider it to be. Do what you think is significant.

In education, we can spend so much time studying, pursuing degrees, and learning more for that next certification or license. A real danger is that we eventually look back and wonder where the time went and if it was all worth it, especially when so many graduates don’t even end up actually working in fields that they spent years and tens of thousands of dollars preparing to do. Is such an education a smart path, or could a more significant path be chosen?

In home and family life, busyness can easily be the enemy of relationships. With everyone in the household having their own busy schedule, little time is left for each other. That can’t be what is best for the relationships and for modeling healthy families to the next generation.

In volunteer involvement with other organizations, it is possible to get so busy that we do harm to ourselves in our perceived effort to serve others. I see it all the time in the church when calendars are filled with activities and people feel like they must participate in as many as possible to be a good church member or faithful Christian. Trust me when I say that being super busy inside the walls of the church may be the worst thing for Christians, keeping us from being salt and light outside the church walls in a needy, dark world. Certainly many avenues of volunteer service are significant in improving the lives of others, but it can also be an unhealthy drain on the one giving all the time as well as a potential distraction keeping you from doing something more significant.

Whether the busyness that fills our lives comes from work, school, extracurricular activities, or even volunteerism, we must evaluate the significance of how we spend our time and not just assume we are making a positive, significant difference in our world just because we’re busy. A genuine analysis on that basis might lead some of us to radically change our involvement in activities and organizations. It might cause us to alter our schedule so that we do what is most important instead of what we or others deem to be the most urgent. It might help us actually move from mere busyness to true significance.

And somewhere in that schedule change there must be some down time for rest, relaxation and personal renewal. Without it, you will wear down and burn out unnecessarily. How will you continue to be significant at all if you allow that to happen?

Jeff mini-marathon A 4-26-2008

Me running the KY Derby Festival half-marathon, 2008

Last week I saw a clip on America’s Funniest Videos that showed a little girl walking along looking behind her at something. The Dad was saying “Watch where you’re going” but, of course, the girl didn’t look ahead and consequently toppled to the ground when she fell over a toy. She got back up and proceeded to do the very same thing again – walking forward while looking backward as the Dad again said “Watch where you’re going!” Sure enough, she fell down when she tripped over the next toy.

Kids are prone to doing that. We’ve all observed it. The problem is that we as adults are also a little too prone to looking behind us in life so much that we miss the target of where we should be heading.

Here are some ways we trip ourselves up by failing to run the race before us:

  • We spend too much time worrying about things in the past that cannot be changed.
  • We fail to set goals for the future.
  • We allow others to determine what races consume our time.
  • We look behind us too often to see if others are gaining on us, more concerned about beating them than just doing our best.
  • We run off course because we tend to devote our energy to whatever direction we’re facing, whether or not it’s the right direction.
  • We lose focus on what is most important by allowing constant detours and distractions to interrupt forward progress.
  • We try to maintain a status quo or even live in the past, thereby assuring ourselves of never really finishing any race, preferring maintenance to progress.

It’s right and good to know where we have been, to know our past and to learn from it. But it is woefully inadequate as a human being with a wealth of potential to fail to enter, compete, and complete ambitious life races that can bring meaning to our lives and to the lives of others.

I encourage you to make sure that there is a clear race before you, to keep your focus on that path, and to run the race before you – not the one behind you.