No. 121 | By Christine Carron
Prioritization is a key skill to master if you want more ease and flow on your writing adventure. It helps you steer clear of burnout, boosts your motivation, and allows you to take charge of your creative process on a deeper level. It strengthens your mindset by decreasing work stress and builds your confidence by helping you make progress on the work that is most valuable to you. That all means that prioritization has serious calming power.
Even so, many of us writers fail to prioritize effectively and are left with a more frustrating, more stressful, and less empowered writing adventure.
Why does that happen?
In my many years of helping creative folk prioritize more effectively—and in my own embrace-effective-prioritization journey—I’ve found a few common causes of prioritization avoidance. Three of those causes are: fear of prioritizing “wrong,” discomfort with boundaries, and hustle culture alignment.
A prioritization is a choice, clearly deciding where you will devote your time, focus, and energy. Once you prioritize and move forward, you may learn information that would seem to indicate that a different course of action might have been better.
Some folks decide such results mean that they “failed” to prioritize “correctly.” Of course, this assessment is neither accurate nor useful. It is by the grace of making a choice and moving forward with intention that we get new insight and information. If we’d stayed in inaction or scattered action because we were afraid to set the “wrong” priority, we would have just spun longer.
When this fear of prioritizing “wrong” takes root, we can get vaguer and vaguer about our priorities, hedge our bets, wait and see. Time marches on, however, and as it does, a blurry focus will drag on our mindset and our productivity in big ways and small.
The antidote: Always remember that progress is the goal, not perfect prioritization. If you’ve made progress thanks to a prioritization decision—even if it is only clarity to prioritize something else instead—then all is well. Clarity is golden. It is rocket fuel for writerly progress.
A prioritization is a boundary. You set a boundary with yourself first by making a inner commitment about where you will focus your time and energy—and where you will not. That means you will likely have to set boundaries with others, too. Even, gulp, say “no” to them, and possibly, double gulp, disappoint them.
But the risk of not setting priorities—and boundaries—is that we may end up with a writing adventure (and a life) that is on someone else’s terms instead of our own.
The antidote: Decide that part of your writerly work is learning how to set and maintain healthy boundaries. Indeed, make it a priority to become a healthy boundary maven. It won’t necessarily be the most comfortable learning journey you go on, but the calming upside to getting to the other side of it is massive.
Related Goodjelly post: Is Your Boundary Style Messing With Your Writing Progress?
Sometimes we avoid prioritizing effectively by trying to prioritize everything. And why wouldn’t we? We live in a hustle culture where we are supposed to go full tilt, hardcore, do, do, do . . . with a dollop of doing on top. A large portion of my time helping folks become more productive is teaching them to slow down—even as I am teaching them techniques to go faster.
It’s a bit of a paradox. But purposeful efficiency is healthy. Trying to hack efficiency to manage an inhuman workload or schedule is . . . not so healthy. Nor is it effective. A CNBC.com article* about getting more done by doing less references the results of a study by Stanford University economics professor John Pencavel:
“productivity per hour decline sharply when a person works more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours would be pointless. And, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in the 55 hours.”
At the far edge of Hustle Culture Alignment, we also find folks who have what I call a Doing Identity—alternatively called a Doing Addiction. I am one hundred percent comfortable highlighting this subgroup as I was totally in it at an earlier point in my life. If someone would have shared the above quote with me during that time, I would have just nodded my head and internally thought, “I’m the exception.”
What’s slightly heartbreaking is that folks with a Doing Identity may actually have a solid handle on prioritization in the sense of being able organize their work by strategic importance or some other criteria. I certainly did.
But there is no off switch. They can’t not do. So rest and rejuvenation get zero prioritization. Burnout is always lurking near. Of course, for Doing Identity folks, there may be secret—or overt—pride in how close burnout is . . .
It’s a vicious, seductive cycle. But let’s be clear: it is not a healthy mindset.
The antidote: This is a tricky one, as we get so much validation in our culture by grand feats of doing. One way to possibly catch yourself in this cycle is if you notice yourself defending you overwork, your intense schedule—or alternatively bragging (subtly or otherwise) about your extreme doing deeds.
My main advice is pour lots of grace and patience on yourself when you do come into full awareness of an overwork pattern. It can be a bit discombobulating when it does, when you see the toll it has taken on your life. Grace ad patience are a good and generous first steps on the road to release hustle culture mentality.
Related Goodjelly posts: The Goodjelly Moves series, paying particular attention to the Grace and Patience Moves:
Do you recognize yourself in any of these avoidance patterns? If not, awesome. Hopefully that means you don’t have any major avoidance around setting clear priorities and claiming the resulting calm. Wahoo!
If you do recognize yourself in any of the patterns, that is actually awesome, too. You may have found the root cause of what keeps you from claiming the calming power of prioritization. Explore how the pattern or patterns manifest within you. Get curious. Trust the intuitive nudges that arise that will lead you to more effective prioritization chops. Those nudges absolutely will come.
The writing adventure is a journey, sometime more of an internal journey than an external one, which can be confounding. But a block is a block, no matter the source, and sorting out what blocks you from claiming the calming power of prioritization is a wonderful block to tackle. You’ve got this!
* Sehgal, Kabir and Chopra, Deepak, “Stanford professor: Working this many hours a week is basically pointless. Here’s how to get more done—by doing less”, CNBC.com