Don’t Spill the Milk

Have you ever had those days or weeks when the momentum of the day has you in a crazy frantic state?  There’s just so much going on that it becomes noisy, confusing, and stressful.  Too much to do.  Too little time in the day.

It’s kind of like taking a cup and filling it up with milk.  At some point, you can’t put any more in to the cup without it overflowing and spilling over on to the floor.  And as my 4-year-old says, “We don’t spill milk on the floor, Daddy” – usually after she’s already spilled it on the floor.

But that proverbial cup is our own capacity to deal with life and the milk is the demands of the day that come at us from all directions.  And when we can’t deal with anymore?  Our cup runs over and spills on to the floor.

The latter is messy.  And even my 4-year-old gets it.

So, what can we do to keep from spilling our milk?  One strategy is to lessen the amount of milk flowing in the first place.  Another would be to consume the milk in the cup faster, so that you can fill it with more.  A third would be to get a bigger cup  (perhaps something with a handle or a backpack attachment).

In this post, we’re going to tackle the milk flowing in because it’s a great starting point.  But how do you do that?  Slow or reduce the demands of life.

 The simplest answer is to create filters to ensure that the right amount of milk is flowing in to the cup.  We call these filters ‘priorities’.

Setting (and adhering) to personal priorities can often make the difference between dealing with outright pandemonium and at least a controlled chaos.

Case in point – over the last couple weeks, I’ve received several emails and questions asking why there haven’t been any new posts on the Leader’s Locker recently.

My answer is simple.  Priorities.

Just like you, my life gets crazy from time to time with demands coming from all directions.  So, I fall back on my personal priorities to help slow the flow so that the things I am focusing on are done well.

This blog is an awesome project, but it is not the most important thing in my life.  So when push comes to shove, my higher priorities take precedence and I reduce the amount of time I spend blogging.

Personally, I use my priorities as a guide to which activities I engage in and where I spend my time.  Example:  I am a huge stickler around attending my children’s special events.  I rarely ever let work or another project keep me from them. 

Why?  Because my kids are a greater priority than my career or other projects.  Obviously, there is a life balance to that because (in the big picture) I have to make a living somehow so that I can buy milk for the ones I love and hold most dear.

So how do I determine my priorities?

For me, understanding priorities really boils down to three things:

1.  Knowing yourself. 

Everyone has different motivators in life.  No one can set your priorities for you, so you need to set them for yourself.  This is a conscious task and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  After all – your priorities dictate your time and your time is valuable. 

Try rattling off your top 5 priorities right now.

Mine are easy – My faith, my wife, my kids, my career, my immediate family/close friends.  I can recite these in a blink of an eye, because I’ve put thought in to them and use them as regular fence posts during my week.

If you have never written down your priorities, find some quiet time and sit down with a blank sheet of paper and work it out.  Start with the top 5.  What is important to you?  Try to think beyond what is important today or tomorrow.  Think in the context of your life.  Think bigger picture.

Once those are written, then determine what is most important.   Work through scenarios in your mind to help you get to the right priority order for you.  Once you get the top 5, subsequent priorities become easier to define and order.  Once done, file your list away or save it on your hard drive to revisit later.

SIDE NOTE:  This is also a good exercise for couples.  It’s good when you’re on the same page about your life priorities!

2.  Establish Reminders. 

It’s important to find ways to remind yourself of your priorities.  This could be notes on your office wall, a note on the bathroom mirror, or something as simple as a picture on your mobile phone or computer desktop. 

One trick I learned from one of my SVPs about a decade ago was to take a business card sized paper and write your priorities on one side and your goals on the other. Laminate it and put it in your wallet.   If you ever find yourself struggling with what to do, take out the card for reference.

The picture here is my first personal card that I made about 9 years ago.  You can tell by the wear and tear that it has been put to good use.  The other side has my 5 and 10 year goals on it.

3. Revisit your priorities. 

Life is dynamic.  Things change often.  And we as individuals change and evolve over time.  Which means our priorities change too.  A given priority may rise or fall in importance, be new to your list, or may fall off your list altogether.

So, it is important to constantly re-evaluate your priorities to ensure you have the proper filters in place to help guide your path.  As you can see from my card above, some of my priorities have shifted over time.  When they do, make a new card.

I suggest purposefully revisiting your priorities at least once a year or at any major life change. 

If you did #1 above, then this is as simple as pulling that list of priorities back out of the file or up on your computer and evaluating if you are in the same place as you were before or not.

Setting personal priorities is critical to limiting the flow in to your life, which helps you deal with the momentum of the day.  The absolute key to success though was mentioned briefly above – adherence

Once your priorities are set, you have to use them to guide how you spend your time.  This means you will have to say ‘no’ to some things and stick to it. 

If not, you’ll always have more than you can handle and your cup will end up running over …and no one wants spilled milk.  Just ask my daughter.

Do you know your priorities?  How do you set them?

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2 Responses to Don’t Spill the Milk

  1. Kim T. says:

    Jason,
    you indicate to do this with your spouse, but I would also touch base with your boss. It is important to ensure your priorities are aligned with your direct supervisor and with your divisional goals. I can set my own priorities, but if they are out of alignment with the organization it is all for naught. Don’t be afraid to say… you have given me four things today (or in the last hour). Let’s rank these in the order of importance. Don’t guess….

    • Jason says:

      Great point Kim! Alignment with those key people in your life (boss, spouse, etc.) are critical if you want smooth sailing… Personally, I like when they all get ranked #1. 🙂 Thanks for adding to the conversation!

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