Real Talk · Uncategorized

How to prioritize when everything is important.

Let’s talk priorities. Because (obviously) they’re really important. But specifically, I want to talk about an #adulting skill that nobody ever really teaches you but that you’re expected to do: prioritize. Even more specifically, I want to talk about how to prioritize your never-ending to-do list of important things that must get done. How do you know where to start? This is a topic that I have really struggled with in the past and it effected both my personal life and my career until I was able to get it all in check. Not everything is a top priority.

I personally love making lists. They calm my brain and my nerves because there is something about putting everything down on paper just makes the world feel a little less intimidating; writing it all down also somehow makes me feel a little more capable, too. Something about putting words to all the things swimming around in my brain gives me confidence and motivation to accomplish them. You know?

So the question then becomes: how do I distinguish the differing importance between two important things?

But seriously though, I can usually identify what’s important but how do I know what’s most important? How do I put those things in order?

How to prioritize when everything feels important.

So many successful people talk about the importance of prioritizing and how it’s such a necessary skill in being able to get things done. But I’m over here, nodding my head, like yes yes yes. Okay totally. I agree, but the question is: HOW? How do I actually prioritize when literally everything feels (and seems) super important? I clearly can’t do it all at once. Even though I still struggle with this, I’ve learned a lot along the way. So here is exactly what I do when I need to figure out how to prioritize my overwhelming list of things to do, step-by-step.

Take a deep breath.

First things first, let’s chill out a second, okay? It’s all going to be okay. We’ll get through this, I promise. I know that is easier said than done but take that first deep breath, it is a starting point.

I know the feeling of having a list of 3,687 things that NEED to be done like yesterday (and they’re all important) so please, if you haven’t taken that deep breath yet do it NOW. I feel overwhelmed by my to-do list and ideas on the regular but stopping to remind myself that it’ll be OK always helps. Always. Talk to yourself if you need to. But don’t underestimate the power in taking a long, deep, intentional breath; it can do more for you (your brain and body!) than you realize.

I get that not feeling overwhelmed is easier said than done (I should know), but if you don’t take a second to get yourself out of there, you’ll likely end up paralyzed by your to-do list to the point where you won’t get anything done. Know what I mean? So just stop for a second, take a deep breath and remember it’ll all be OK. You’ve got this.

Brain dump: put all your thoughts on paper.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m feeling overwhelmed is to do a good ‘ole brain dump .You have heard me talk about this time and time again. Because I’m addicted and do them all the time.

If you don’t know what a brain dump is, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like – it’s taking pen to paper and getting all of your thoughts OUT of your brain. It’s a release and it’s also you facing facts. It’s taking everything you’re worrying about, questioning, feeling and needing to do, and putting it somewhere that you can actually look at them.

Get your journal (it’s better to write than type), cozy up on the couch and get ALL THE THINGS out of your brain and onto the page. In the next step I’ll tell you what to do with it but for now, just write write write. Don’t censor yourself or write down what you wish you were thinking. Just be honest with yourself, write down anything that pops up and don’t judge yourself for any of it.

If you’ve never tried one before, I promise you’ll be hooked after the first one (there’s something so therapeutic about getting everything out of your head). I break down how to do a brain dump in detail in this post .

Categorize the brain dump.

Once you’ve got everything out of your brain and onto paper, the next step is to categorize your tasks. This will help you figure out what needs to be done immediately, what needs to be scheduled, what can be delegated and what can be flat out deleted.

What you want to do is look over all the things you’ve written down and either use a different colored highlighter for each category or rewrite your list into the four groups so you can see things clearly. And deleting as much as you possibly can is ALWAYS a good productivity tip, so don’t be afraid to cross off things that won’t help move you closer to your goals (and sometimes you just have to be ruthless).

Prioritize the important.

This is the hardest part – figuring out what to do when you’ve got A LOT in the “not urgent but still important” category. As I was saying before, knowing how to distinguish different levels of importance can be challenging and no one’s really telling us how to prioritize it. What I share below is my process for figuring out what’s most important.

Th area that I tend to spend the most time in are the tasks that are not urgent but important. They’re the ones that help you achieve your most important goals and have to do with relationships, planning, and self-improvement. Basically, they’re all the things you want to be doing in your life but haven’t got around to yet (because they’ve never been urgent!).

Here are some examples of activities that fall into that section, dependent on your lifestyle:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Going for a morning walk
  • Working on your side hustle
  • Spending time with family and friends
  • Spending time alone/reflecting
  • Listening to a podcast
  • Reading
  • Planning
  • Getting your life organized

Assess value.

So the question remains – how to figure out which of these things to do first? Again, take a deep breath and then have a look over your list and start assessing the value of each task. Let’s be real – everything on your list isn’t going to get you the same result. There are some things on that list that will make a huuuge difference in your life and some that will only change it a little bit. For example, making sure you get enough sleep each night is going to have a much bigger impact on your life than listening to a podcast (even though I love podcasts ) because if you’re not looking after your health then everything else suffers.

Looking at the value of each task is super important (because what’s the point of doing stuff if it doesn’t get you to your goals??) so what I suggest is go through your list and give each item a 1 if it’s just a nice-to-have all the way up to a 10 if it would be completely life-changing (if you can’t tell yet, we’re basically just refining that first list you wrote again and again and again until it’s not overwhelming). And if you think everything on your list would be life-changing, remind yourself that it’s better to focus on a couple of things rather than attempting all of them at once. Try not to give two or more things the same rating if you can avoid it.

When you’re figuring out how to prioritize the important stuff, it’s also good to consider how long things will take, whether you have other people depending on you, deadlines etc. I recommend going back over your list again (ha!) and make sure that the items you scored as a 10 are the ones that are the most impactful AND make the most sense when you consider the time and effort involved as well as other people (but having said that… it’s important you’re not just living your life to please others).

Put tasks in order.

I don’t recommend working from your messy, color-coded brain dump; that’s NOT going to help with the overwhelming feelings. In order to prioritize the list, we’ve got to sort through it a bit, reorder some things, assign different weights to others, and so on. The key to figuring out how to prioritize your forever-long brain dump is to write a new, fresh list. Stay with me, friends.

Once you’ve got everything in order, write a new list of the things you’re going to do based on the ratings you gave each. Be sure to keep your list short and make sure each of the tasks you want to do is specific (this helps with planning).

If there are any unimportant tasks that landed onto your lists, cross them off ASAP. We can tend to those later. Challenge yourself to focus on just the important items.

Run over your list and make sure you feel good and confident (about the importance of) everything that’s on there. Easier said than done, but it’s best to do this before you’ve started any of the work, not after. Go through each item and be honest with the reason why it is on the list and ask yourself what makes it important and why. Make sure that none of the tasks you’re doing are coming from a place of fear or a desire to people-please.

Strive for progress over perfection.

To-do lists are a place where perfectionism can flare up (in a BIG way) and you might feel like you need to have everything perfectly prioritized before you can get started. Or that you need to do everything for it to be worth it.

But I know for sure that it’s better to be doing something imperfectly than to not being doing it at all. Strive for progress, not perfection. And remember that none of us have our lives perfectly organized – I wish!

Related: How to overcome the pressure to be perfect.

What about you?

How do you figure out what’s most important?

Let’s chat.

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Real Talk · Uncategorized

Can we talk about stress for just a minute?

Usually, once I decide on a topic I want to pursue, I spend days and even weeks pouring over the internet reading as much as I can or talking to friends and family on the subject, trying to learn everything I can about it. I find the best articles tackling the topic, I take notes, and then I start to formulate my own answer to the question in a way that resonates with me and that I hope will translate properly to you.

But I had this crazy thought late last night while I was out walking Winston:

What if I let you into the process?

Instead of coming to you AFTER I’ve written this full-on blog post outlining the “answer” that I’ve come up with, how about I bring you into the finding-out stage. Instead, I can start presenting certain issues or struggles I’m experiencing and we can talk about it together and how they’re affecting our lives. Then, maybe together, we can formulate (via the comments here and on Instagram) ways that we’ve been able to get past the struggle – or just what has proven helpful. But the important part is that we are TOGETHER in the struggles. Do you think this is weird or are you here for it?

So today I want to start by talking about stress because I’d like to write a value-add blog later on easy-to-apply coping strategies for dealing with it on a daily basis. I think it’s safe to say that we all deal with stress, right? But, stress looks very different for everyone. I’d be willing to bet that some of you might even be stressed out right now, right this minute and not even know it. I know that’s definitely been the case for me before. Last week I posted a little bit about it on Instagram and let you in on where my head is and I was honest when I said I was a mess – trying to do everything and nothing all at once!

Here’s what got me thinking about it

well, other than the fact that it’s a very common human struggle…

A few months ago, I was reading a random article about something I can’t actually remember (sorry, I have no idea which article this was or even where I found it) and they mentioned the physical manifestations of stress. For whatever reason, this was the only part of the article that stuck with me; and it has continued to occasionally pop up in my weird little brain since then. Basically, the article discussed the physical effects of stress – like how our bodies (literally) physically respond to it. And this was fascinating to me! I’d never thought about it before and there’s a lot to learn here.

So ever since then, I’ve been paying more attention to my body’s warning signs of stress. And just thinking about stress in general – like, what is it actually?

As I’m sure you probably know from your own experience, stress can be a good thing if used correctly and carefully. It can motivate us and kick us in the butt to get things done when we need it most. But too much of it (like most things in life) can be a bad thing. In a sense, being “stressed” is sort of like being in 911-emergency-mode. It’s our body’s way of responding to threatening or demanding situations in an effort to protect us.

What is actually happening when you’re stressed?

When you feel threatened, your body responds by releasing stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which throw you into emergency mode (aka fight-or-flight). Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, your muscles tighten, your breath quickens, and your senses become a little sharper. Coupled together, these physical changes increase your strength and stamina, improve your reaction time, and even enhance your focus. Your body responds this way in order to prepare you to either fight or flee the “dangerous” situation.

How do I know when I’m stressed?

For me, I can feel it in my shoulders first and foremost. But, I did a little looking around and here’s what I have come up with. Not only can it cause physical aches and pains, but It can also begin to impact just about every system in your body. It can totally suppress your immune system and upset your digestive and even reproductive systems. I also read that (wow this is intense) it can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, etc. Yikes!

Okay but I don’t really want this article to be one where I’m talking AT you.

Talk to me!!

Instead, I want to get the conversation going and see – what aspects of STRESS are we interested in? Here are a few things to get your brain moving but PLEASE add and discuss in comments below:

  • How do you know when you’re stressed?
  • In what ways does your life fall apart when you’re “stressed”?
  • How does stress impact your brain? Is this interesting or not so much?
  • Why do some people pretend it’s cool to be stressed and busy and scrambling around all the time?
  • How stressed is too stressed?
  • Can you chime in?

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Real Talk · Uncategorized

How to forgive (even when you really don’t want to)

I forgive you.

Few words in the English language are more powerful, and yet the idea of forgiving someone who has let us down, hurt us, or betrayed us, can sometimes feel almost impossible.

We might even pay lip service to the words, even as all those emotions and feelings of resentment and bitterness are still there, bubbling just below the surface.  Our mouth says we’re over it, but our heart tells a different story.

The reality is that emotions are powerful; they drive us and shape us into who we are. We make important life decisions based on our feelings—love, fear, happiness, hurt, anger—they all play a role in our core identity. Emotions truly rule our lives.

I don’t have children but I did grow up with much younger siblings and if you have kids, you’re aware of the spectrum of emotions they can feel over seemingly insignificant issues that arise. Every parents likely has had to deal with tears over a sandwich (mustard can be devastating), screaming fits over outfits and hairstyles, and impassioned lectures and debates over bedtimes and story choices. Kids have lots of emotions.

It makes sense as they’re trying to figure out this whole “human” thing. The strange part? When you realize that as adults we experience almost the same spectrum of emotions, over nearly the same somewhat insignificant issues (in the grand scheme of things).

Take, for example, when a friend or family member lets us down. Most of us have been left in tears at one point or another from someone who said something careless or didn’t come through like we thought they would. The devastation and emotion we feel is on par with an eight-year-old’s crushing disappointment at having their best friend choose someone else to have a play date with. And while as adults, we might not pout and storm around the house or pick on our siblings, we still feel all the hurt, sadness, resentment and bitterness. Those same emotions are valid and they occur whether we’re two, 22 or 86.

But when we experience negative emotions (especially anger and resentment) for too long or when we can’t get ourselves back to the joyful end of the spectrum, that’s when things start to go awry.  These very human emotions get in the way of our happiness.  And that is why it is so important to teach yourself how to forgive, even when you don’t really want to. Remember you are doing it for you and not always for the other person.

Sunflower Field

The positive effects of forgiveness.

The scary truth is that years of little resentments and frustrations can build up and start to have an effect on our overall health and happiness. They can destroy our relationships with our spouse, friends and loved ones. While forgiveness for the sake of others is certainly noble, the reality is that we need to learn to forgive to protect our own well-being. Even those not-so-little resentments can destroy us if we can’t let them go.

When we forgive, we feel lighter. We feel less frustration. Sometimes the other person might not even know we forgave them—or they might not even know we were harboring those negative feelings in the first place! It’s said that forgiveness is like unlocking a door to set someone else free, only to realize you were the prisoner all along. By letting go of the things we’re holding on to, we’re actually allowing ourselves to move forward freely and positively.

How to forgive.

There are many challenges to forgiveness, the least of which is the whole “forget” part. You might not be able to truly pretend something didn’t happen, nor is it even advisable or key to forgiving. We can’t actually wipe our memory clean and ever completely forget what happened or why we were upset, but we can stop choosing to replay the scenario over and over in our minds.

Repeatedly focusing on the same thought is called rumination. It’s the loop of tape playing over and over in your head while your spouse peacefully snores next to you, blissfully unaware their comment at dinner is still eating away at you. It’s the, “Ugh, I should have come back with something snappier or a cutting comment,” feeling after you have a confrontation. In laymen terms, it’s dwelling and it’s not healthy.

Write it out.

One way that I find helpful to forgive someone who has wronged me is to write down my feelings. Get out all those toxic feelings, hurts and resentments weighing you down. Now, don’t go writing everything down then mailing off a hate letter to them (which can be cathartic, but rarely makes things better).

Instead, write down your feelings and thoughts just to get them out of your head. End the letter with how you intend to let go of the feelings and why you’re forgiving the person. You don’t have to do anything with the letter afterwards. You may choose to share it with them if you think it’ll be helpful or you may use it as a fire starter, whatever you’d like. It’s just the act of getting everything out of your mind, formulating thoughts and sentences and then letting it go.

Get some distance.

Another key to forgiving someone is to distance yourself from the situation for a while. This is different than giving someone the cold shoulder or the silent treatment. Instead, it’s about giving yourself time to regroup rather than snapping and doing or saying something you’ll later regret.

Go for a walk and wait a few hours before angrily sending off an email or picking up the phone, just take a breather. Do some deep breathing and try to talk yourself through a little perspective. Will this matter in six months? Will it still be important a year from now? In five years will this still effect my life? If the action of the other person was simply annoying, hopefully a few minutes of reassessment will give you a chance to realize it’s not worth spending anymore time on.

This doesn’t mean you should be a pushover either and just pretend everything’s fine when it’s not. It simply means that time heals all wounds and occasionally the sting of certain actions can wear off quickly—before we react and make it worse.

Focus on the positive.

If you’re still having a difficult time with forgiveness, try focusing on the positive aspects of the person you want to forgive. A friend of mine recently shared this little exercise with me. She and her boyfriend are in a long distance relationship and every time she was feeling annoyed or angry with him, she would reference a little post-it note in her wallet where she’d written positive words she associated with him: loyal, kind, funny, and so on. Whenever she felt annoyed, she’d look at the note and remind herself of all of the things she really loved about him, making it much easier to overlook some of the negatives. You could also do the same with a photo or a charm or anything that makes you think and connect with that other person.

You can do the same thing with a friend, your children or a family member. Write down or think of all the things you really appreciate about the person you’re trying to forgive. It’s likely you’ll find the positive aspects of your relationship far outweigh the negative feelings, so the bridge just isn’t worth burning.

Ask for forgiveness.

If you’re still struggling with forgiveness toward someone, consider expressing it and asking them to help you. While it sounds a little crazy and backwards, the reality is that sometimes honesty really is the best policy.

Express your feelings by saying, “I’ve been feeling really upset because of what happened. I’ve been harboring these negative emotions toward you and I want to work it out. I want to ask your forgiveness and help so we can resolve this and make amends on both sides.”

When you show a sincere desire to move past the emotions and resolve the negativity with the other person, chances are they will also feel the same way. Sometimes you might find out they have something serious going on in their life and actually need your help and friendship but they weren’t able to ask for it.

Give yourself the gift of being able to let go of the things weighing you down and polluting your life, including resentment and bitterness. We’re all just humans trying to do our best and everyone is fighting a hard battle. Once we realize we’re on a level playing field, we can move toward resolution.

Forgiveness is hard, I won’t lie to you. Some have this idea that forgiveness shows a weakness but I don’t agree with that. I think having the guts to face a problem and find a resolution is one of the bravest things we can do. I have been through some stuff, and I am sure most of you have as well and people are often surprised by my calmness and ability to not let things fester but the secret is – I don’t do it for others, I do it for me.

If you do one thing for yourself this week, forgive. Forgive that one person or that one event that has been eating away at you. You don’t have to share it with anyone but find a way to forgive it and then put in back in the box and file it away somewhere.

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