You are in a battle on a daily bases – a battle of priorities. Every professional struggles to balance time to create new and marketable skills with their daily responsibilities. It seems that every minute is allocated already, so how do you add a new habit creating goal? One day at a time. But that isn’t where the struggle ends. The battle you wage is in the decision you make every time you put something else before your own growth and development.
Perfect example: It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) Keyboards and pens everywhere are smoking from the drive of writers to create a sustainable daily writing habit and get their ideas out into a first draft of 50,000 words in one month. You may be one of those writers struggling to fit time into an already overcommitted day.
I’ve participated in several NaNoWriMo events over the past and this year is no exception. It’s an opportunity to create or reinforce a habit I desire: daily writing. But there is something that often gets in the way of making writing a priority. Writing is not yet my day job (or so I believed.) Yes, I write as part of my business and as part of my content creation and learning programs. However, writing a book is not the most pressing item on my to-do list.
My days include balancing business development, working with clients as a coach, collaborating with other business owners on projects, donating my time and expertise to volunteer community organizations locally and around the world, continually staying on top of industry trends, learning new tools and techniques in my own field of coaching so that I may provide the best service to my clients, and of course my own personal health and wellness as well as my family and home activities. (Obviously these are not in priority order, but more on that later.)
I know I’m not alone. Have you listed all of the roles and responsibilities you’ve gathered in your current life? I’m sure you would be amazed. But of course if you are like me, you often put others’ needs ahead of yours. I’m not saying I’m selfless. I’m saying that on a daily basis when faced with competing priorities, often the one that is for someone else, especially a family member or a client, usually gets set as a higher priority than our own personal goals.
This is what happened with my writing. I had set aside time on my calendar for the entire month of November. I created an appointment every day for writing and was careful not to schedule anything that would conflict. But somehow, just 10 days into the writing month, I’ve not kept my promise to myself. Does this sound familiar to you? Have you given away your most precious resource – your time?
First obstacle: Recognizing that development IS your job.
Even in this article I’ve not yet accepted that writing IS my day job. It IS part of being a successful professional. When you select a development goal you are doing so to become a better person and professional. Even the health and wellness goal you select IS part of your day job. Why? Because a health professional is one that is more productive. It is our jobs as anywhereWORKERS to continually learn and grow as professionals so that we can provide the best product and service to our clients. It is our responsibility to contribute our best selves to the world.
Second obstacle: Permission to make yourself priority number one.
Now that we’ve identified that establishing that new habit is indeed part of your job, now we need to negotiate it’s priority. Negotiate with whom? Yourself! If you are like many professionals, you have been taught to put others needs before your own. And in many situations that is good advice. But sometimes, it isn’t.
To develop my writing and become better at it and deliver better quality products to my clients, I needed to give myself permission to make this activity a priority. If writing is truly a skill I want to develop and a habit I want to create, then it must be a top priority. That does not mean that other things do not get done, it means that when I am faced with two conflicting priorities, my writing has a higher priority (most of the time.) I do my writing when scheduled and do not allow any other commitments to take a higher priority. I don’t move my appointment for writing for anything short of a life threatening event. Accept that you are a priority – priority number one.
A common way to frame this attitude: the in-flight safety talk. You know the talk the flight attendants give at the start of each flight? They remind you that you must take care of your own oxygen needs first before you can help others. Logical. If you are passed out and don’t have the essentials that you need (oxygen) they you can’t help anyone else who is not able to help themselves. It’s not selfish, it’s logic.
Third obstacle: Clearly understanding the effort of the other commitments.
Sometimes when faced with two competing priorities, fear leads us to put our own development project aside. One of the fears is of not knowing what the new assignment will take to complete. We often put all other commitments aside even if we’ve made them priority #1 because of the unknown project. And so being clear what what a project or commitment will take to complete and how that fits into your already busy schedule is key to making permission and priority work.
Clarity means that you know what you are saying yes or no to before you make the decision. Clarity means knowing that the project will take 6 hours and that you have the time between now and the deadline to do both your priority 1 development goal AND this new commitment. Clarity means knowing both what you are capable of doing and what is important to do. Read more about estimating work here.
You can balance multiple priorities – just not all in the same moment. Be clear of your own capabilities, your own priorities and goals.
I realized that writing a book (and other skill development) is indeed part of my day job. I can write every day and create a new habit by giving myself permission to be my number one priority and by being clear about what effort all of my commitments take to fulfill. I am choosing to give myself oxygen before helping others.
What is your oxygen? What is the new habit you want to create to make you a stronger person? What is the skill you want to build to make you a better candidate for the job? What is the one thing you need to do differently each day to provide meaning to your existence (deep, I know)?