The Key To A Life Well-Lived? Understanding Priority, Urgency, and Difficulty

You’re 98 years old on your death bed. How was it?

For many (including myself), at the end of our road, there exists a subtle fear of not living how we intended to. So we make bucket lists and set goals. Most of us have done these things, but it is actually following through that becomes challenging.

For example, I haven’t posted in…a while. That is something well outside of my intention. I don’t want to stop this blog anytime soon. It is important to me. It is a priority to me.

How then, have I been slacking off so much?

There have been some valid excuses many invalid excuses, but it comes down to my lack of understanding priority, difficulty, and urgency…and how they relate to each another.

According To My Lifestyle…

  1. When I’m off work, I want to watch TV mostly and exercise occasionally.
  2. I am not interested in intentionally seeking out friends or ever getting a girlfriend.
  3. My most exciting life event is a video game (it is Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, but still…)
  4. I don’t seem to care much about blogging or pursing my dreams.

That sucks. It’s so…wrong.

These priorities are raw and real. They aren’t the kind of answers you’d give in a job interview. But they are important to identify because the best way to improve is to start from where you actually are instead of a “photoshopped” self-image.

How I Intend To Change Things

There are two ways to change that I know of – action leading to a change of thought or thought leading to a change of action. In order for it to stick, actions and thoughts must be in sync, or else the weaker will prevail.

For the longest time, I had to constantly remotivate myself to work out. I was taking action, but my mind was rarely on board. I had to trick my mind into seeing it as something fun by creating elaborate point systems and rewards. My workout performance would earn me points that I could “spend” on things I actually enjoyed. Eventually my mind caught up to see the necessity and pleasure of exercise and now it is a part of my lifestyle.

For this one, I want to start with my mindset. Right now it is very narrow and self-focused. If I can zoom out to see the bigger picture and understand the “big three”, I like my chances of success.

The Big Three – Priority, Urgency, and Difficulty

Every thing you want to do in life has these three attributes. They make life complicated. 🙂

Priority – This is the biggest one (of the big three). Priority is what you wish you would have focused on when you’re on your deathbed. What makes it tricky is that priorities constantly fluctuate based on the other two attributes (and sometimes the fluctuation is unwarranted!).

Urgency – Urgency is challenging to incorporate into your priority list. There are urgent things – such as a TV show coming on at 8 PM -that are not important at all. But when it’s 7:55 PM and you’re wondering what to do next, watching that TV show seems like a no-brainer. Since TV is a relaxation activity, you would have to need relaxation for it to deserve the top of your current priority list.

There are other costs to consider – opportunity cost is big (you could be writing a future best-selling novel instead!), TV offers little to no long-term fulfillment, and studies show that TV is not very good for your brain. Many people live their lives giving all their attention to what’s urgent. This is akin to plugging up leaks when maybe you should just turn the water off and find a cancer cure instead.

Difficulty – This one is a red herring. It shouldn’t factor in to priority, but it often does. It is the disease known as taking the path of least resistance (fine for electric currents, bad for humans). My highest priorities right now are (unsurprisingly) the most difficult. Since we only live one day at a time, long-term ultra-important priorities are mixed in with laundry. It is easier to eat lunch and watch TV than train for a triathlon.

The Gameplan

We want to take care of our immediate needs while working towards our dreams and have a great time doing it. Here is what I suggest.

Focus.

While you could make a giant list of all your life plans, I wouldn’t recommend it for a daily reference. In reality, it works best to focus on fewer projects (probably 1-3). Focus is the proven tool for succeeding in anything. Michael Phelps focused intensely on swimming and won 8 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Tiger Woods played golf since age 3 and became a legend. Michael Jordan too.

If there is one thing that you’d like to do more than any other, devote yourself to it. Make it an urgent priority. This is the best way to be successful at it. What stops me from doing this is usually fear.

What if we don’t choose correctly? This blog has taught me something about the fallacy of that way of thinking.

When I started this blog, I wanted to make a living off of it. I poured myself into it for months. Through my experience, I found that it is very difficult to make money from a blog. The book that I worked hard on to make entertaining, useful, and polished is free and not too many people have read it (those who did enjoyed it).  How would I sell one? There are several answers to that (the main one being exposure and marketing), but I won’t go into detail.

I find the time between posts has increased (I’m working full-time now) and that I make more in one day at work than my several months of blogging. That makes it difficult to merrily continue on the “blogging for income” path. But I’ve found that even if I don’t make any money doing this, I have cherished the experience and love doing it anyways. This is why it doesn’t hurt to go down the wrong path – because there are no wrong paths when you pursue your passions.

As for blogging, I’ll keep doing it. It’s good. I’m not sure I can muster up the effort to try to make it into a money-generating blog quickly, but I might slowly begin to work on a book to sell (I have some ideas). If the book sells zero copies, that would be ok…because I want to write another book anyways.

In the meantime, I am going to be thinking about a bigger project. I have a lot of crazy ideas that I need to narrow down into fewer, actionable ideas. This post was very journal-like, but I hope you found it useful. Oh, I’m not going to include pictures in every post anymore. I have to pay for them and find they are often a reason for not blogging (“Oh great, now I have to find a relevant picture add in”). I’d rather blog without pictures than not blog at all!

Until next time,

Stephen

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