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Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a terrible multi-tasker, and I hate the word “busy”. I get overwhelmed and stressed very easily, and I work hard to continually reevaluate where my time and energy goes.
I firmly believe that I can’t do and be all the things, even though society would lead me to believe that it’s a worthy and achievable goal.
Setting priorities in life is the key to balancing motherhood.
There are a few good analogies for living a balanced life, but I like to think of it as a giant plate, probably because #foodislife.
Turkey and Deviled Eggs
I guess life is kind of like Thanksgiving: a buffet of food waiting to be devoured. All of my favorites are there, as well as some new desserts and sides that are definitely piquing my interest. So I strategize because I know it won’t all fit on my plate.
Though turkey is often the star of Thanksgiving, it’s not my fave, so skipping it leaves me room for the delicious corn casserole. I also add stuffed mushrooms, green bean casserole, and stuffing to my plate, and I have just enough room to fit little portions of new or smaller items (tons and tons of deviled eggs) in the spaces between the main foods.
And now I’m craving stuffing…
Anyway, you get the idea, right? The bigger priorities come first so that the extras can fit in later.
If you don’t strategize and just grab an equal portion of all the food, your plate will overflow and something delicious will fall to the floor. And seriously, if I see ANY of my slaved-over stuffed mushrooms on the floor…
So How Do I Avoid This?
That’s the million-dollar question, right? How do we fit all of life on the plate and keep from becoming completely overwhelmed and exhausted all the time?
No, seriously, I’m asking you.
Okay, all joking aside, there is no easy quick-fix for this issue. Moms will always be overworked, over-tired, and over-run by screaming kids that NEVER SLEEP.
But, if we get our priorities right, it’s a lot easier to keep the plate balanced.
You Are the Only Person Who Should Decide Your Priorities
Other people will always want things from you, and other people will always view their own priorities as the most important.
This means that when Susan down the street prioritizes travel and asks you to watch her dog for a week every other month, that’s her priority, not yours. But if you don’t know what your priorities are, you might agree to dog-sitting when you don’t have the time to spare.
When you know your priorities, you have the power to decide what you value and what you don’t. This means you can leave the stuff you don’t like off your plate, freeing up some valuable real estate.
But What If I Don’t Know My Priorities in Life?
I personally recommend skipping the turkey and going for the pie, haha…
There are a few questions you can ask yourself to get started in figuring out your priorities:
- What’s NOT a priority to me?
- At the end of my life, what will I regret doing or not doing?
- What am I most grateful for in life?
- What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind?
- What are my goals in life and hopes for the future?
If you’re still struggling to figure out your priorities, here’s a list of common priorities:
- Faith or Spirituality
- Health and Wellness
- Recreation or Sports
- Personal Growth or Education
- Safety and Security
- Purpose or Fulfillment
- Travel or Adventure
Priorities tend to be “big picture” items, so things like marriage, kids, pets, exercise, and making money fit into each of these categories, but if for some reason your goals don’t line up with the list above, feel free to add your own priorities to the list!
Now you need to determine your Top Five Priorities in Life.
For me, this part is actually the easiest; I don’t care about sports or travel, but God and my family are my top #1 and #2. If you’re struggling to pick your Top Five, work backward and use the process of elimination to decide what is and isn’t essential.
And just because something doesn’t fit in your Top Five doesn’t mean you don’t value it. You just have to make sure you know what matters the most.
I Figured Out My Priorities – Now What?
Once you have your Top Five, it’s time to make a list of tangible ways to ensure your priorities retain their top spots.
For each of your top priorities, write a short explanation of what that priority means to you. For you, “sports” could mean pursuing excellence in your favorite activity, or it could mean encouraging and supporting your kids in their athletic ambitions. “Health” could be about achieving a specific goal, like being able to run a marathon, or it could mean making therapy and self-care a regular part of your daily life.
Once you have your definitions, list three to five things under each priority that will keep it “healthy”. These should be relatively simple things that you can add to your regular routine. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call these things “priority goals”.
Here are some examples of what your priority goals could be:
- Faith or Spirituality: Praying daily, reading the Bible, attending church, giving regularly, listening to Christian music, leading a devotional, etc…
- Relationships: Committing to regular playdates, forcing yourself to go somewhere new to make friends, letting go of an unhealthy relationship, setting boundaries…
- Family: Planning regular date nights, going on a family vacation, starting a weekly game night, expanding your family, fostering deeper relationships, etc…
- Health and Wellness: Exercising four times a week, modeling body positivity for your kids, trying vegetables in new ways to find things you like, reducing refined sugar, etc…
- Recreation or Sports: Getting outdoors regularly, biking with friends, playing volleyball on a local team, sweating through a Zumba class, etc…
- Personal Growth or Education: Reading, taking online courses, learning a craft, taking dance lessons, cooking new recipes, etc…
- Safety and Security: Working a side hustle to pay off debt, learning survival skills, doing your own home repairs, learning Karate, finding mentors for advice, etc…
- Purpose or Fulfillment: Blogging, speaking, teaching, joining your city council, writing a book, volunteer work, starting a business, etc…
- Travel or Adventure: Saving for a trip, going sight-seeing, reading books about other countries, taking your kids to new places, camping outside, etc…
- Career: Finding ways to enjoy the commute, improving your skills and value, changing jobs, working toward a raise, separating work and home hours, etc…
You can make the goals as specific as you want, but the more specific you make them, the easier they will be to add to your life. If you write down “exercise” under your health priority, add more details, like how you’ll exercise, when, and how often.
The idea is to make your priorities into an actionable list so that you can physically put them on your calendar.
Because really, if these things are actually your priorities in life, they should come first, right?
If you really want to take this a step further, put everything on your list into one week on your calendar. Make your priorities happen as early in the day as possible.
Examples: get up early each morning (could be under Health or Personal Development), spend five minutes reading the Bible (Faith), then exercise for 30 minutes (Health), shower, and spend ten minutes responding to emails (Career) before meeting a friend for coffee (Relationships). At the end of the week, evaluate how well you used your time, and if your goals seem realistic.
And yes, turning priorities into habits is definitely harder than it sounds! But when you honor your priorities, you feel more in control and focused, and it becomes much easier to keep your eye on the prize.
What If This Sounds Too Hard?
Maybe this all sounds super overwhelming. Maybe you’re a young mom in the thick of it, just trying to survive. I totally get that. I have been there, and I still have days where I just throw in the towel at 9 am and pray the next day is better.
No matter where you’re at in life, I’d encourage you to know your priorities. Maybe they’re big things with lots of steps, or maybe they boil down to survival.
Mama, it’s okay if your priorities are:
- Keep Me and Baby Alive
- Keep Us Both Fed
- Don’t Kill Husband
- Shower Sometimes
Oh yes, I know what those days look like. If you want to write “take a nap” on one day of your calendar and “cook mac n cheese” on the next date, that’s perfectly okay.
Maybe one day you can even give yourself two goals, like “shower and move laundry from the washer to dryer”. Definitely don’t try to wash, dry, fold, and put away clothes all in one day. Baby steps, Young Grasshopper.
What If I’m Still Overwhelmed?
Ideally, when you figure out and set your priorities in life, your plate is balanced. That doesn’t mean it’s never busy or chaotic, but it should be manageable.
There will always be phases of life that shift everything: marriage, babies, sickness, or financial strain can definitely knock your plate to the floor.
When you feel out of control, it’s time to reevaluate what really needs to be on your plate. It’s okay to be in survival mode temporarily, but once life begins to feel more normal, begin setting your priorities back on your plate in the correct order.
If all of your priorities are on your plate, but you still have things falling off of the edges, that’s a good sign that you probably aren’t giving your Top Five enough attention. It’s okay to have a few little things on your plate other than your priorities, but only when those things aren’t taking time and energy away from your priorities.
This is the key: when you feel overwhelmed and stressed, there’s a good chance your priorities are out of whack.
Can I Change My Priorities?
Though I’m not personally a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions, I love having a Word of the Year. Giving each year a “theme” of sorts gives my priorities a direction to go for the year.
Each December when I decide on my WOTY, I spend time thinking about what I want out of the next year, and I really evaluate my priorities along with my word.
My WOTY should align with my priorities.
Though my priorities rarely change, the way I treat them changes over time. For example, if one of my Top Five Priorities in Life is Purpose, my priority goals could change through the years as I research creating a business, write a novel, or decide to become a missionary. The priority hasn’t changed, just the goals within it.
Your Top Priorities probably won’t change every year, but they will change with time as you go through different life phases, and that’s totally normal! So take some time before the start of each year to really look at your priorities and make sure you’re staying on track.
After all, it would be awful if you dropped any deviled eggs on the floor.