We often feel hesitant to set priorities because we feel that once we choose one thing over the other, it automatically means that it’s more important, period. And especially when it comes to prioritizing work over life, or life over work, this choice seems to be impossible to make, or it causes feelings of guilt and shame.
And then we force ourselves to an impossible task – to do everything at once.
Why is it impossible? Because, if you think about it, you are just one person, you only have one head and two hands, and as soon as you pick one task, or focus on something, you automatically postpone everything else.
It’s just how it works. And it’s okay.
And what is more, in situations when everything gets thrown at you all at once, and when everything is important, it becomes clear that the correct question is not “What is more important?”, but “What is more important right now?”
I was very much looking forward to this vacation.
The year started off very busy, and by February both Kevin and I were already ready for some time off. With kids, you have to plan all of your vacations around school breaks, but thankfully spring break was coming up soon, and we decided to spend it in Los Angeles.
We really wanted to kill several birds with one stone on that trip.
First, that winter in Houston happened to be rather cold and gloomy, so we all could use some of the California sunshine. Also, Kevin wanted to see his LA-based clients. We were hoping to catch up with our friends and Kevin’s mom lived there so we were going to rent a villa in a nice beach resort and spend a few days together. I was already envisioning lots of hiking, walking on the beach, and just resting in general.
Here is what it was supposed to look like.
We would fly in on Sunday and drop off Dasha at Kevin’s mom. Kevin and I would stay at the hotel for 3 nights – this way we would be able to work half day on Monday, then Kevin would take his clients out to dinner on Monday night
On Tuesday, we’d hang out with our friends and then have a date night, and then on Wednesday we would reunite with the family and spend the next 4 days enjoying the Californian coast.
It was such a nice plan! And it was only a few weeks away.
Soon, the first disappointment happened – we checked the weather forecast in LA, and it was not good. It was going to be raining and in the 50’s all week. Not the weather we were expecting! Seriously, we can get that here at home in Houston!
Well, whatever, no big deal.
But then on Thursday, two days before we were supposed to get on a plane, a huge issue popped up at work for me. Something got completely out of control on one of my projects, and I sort of committed myself to solving this problem (hint: it took 8 months to fully solve it, so I was pretty naive hoping I’d solve it quickly).
I worked late that Thursday, then Friday, and at that point, I was starting to seriously worry that I would have to work quite a bit next week.
When I told Kevin about it, he said he would likely have to work more than just half a day on Monday too.
What a bummer! Our trip is quickly losing its vacation vibes…
But I was trying to stay hopeful.
We fly to LA, and when we land, the weather is miserable – it’s cold and pouring rain. So after we drop off Dasha at Kevin’s mom, we are pretty much stuck indoors for the rest of the weekend – we cannot even really go out to dinner, so we have dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Then Monday comes, Kevin goes to the office, and I get to work.
The day flies by. It is already 7pm, and I am still working…
I am trying to figure out what to do with this issue but so far things have only been getting worse. The client is waiting for an update, they demand a mitigation plan, and I wish I could correct it myself! But the problem is – I need to engage a ton of different people, and not all of them are really cooperating. How frustrating!
So I am sitting at the desk in the hotel room and messaging my colleagues, trying to define the path forward.
My phone buzzes. I ignore it. 30 seconds later, it starts buzzing again, and again – non stop.
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You know, my daughter has this habit: she will text someone, and then if she doesn’t get a response immediately, and I mean immediately, she will keep texting. So I already know it’s her before I even look at the text messages
Where are you?
I want to be on vacation
We are all supposed to be on vacation
Why do you and dad work all the time??
Ugh, I don’t have the energy to deal with this right now! But this buzzing is driving me nuts, so I start texting her back.
I haven’t even finished my text, when a message from my husband pops up on the screen.
As you remember, he is having dinner with his clients. And his text says,
“This dinner is so screwed up. I so want it to be over.”
“Whaatt? I mean, whaat? What does that even mean?? What happened?”
I have no idea what is going on, but this doesn’t sound good.
I forget that I was texting my daughter, and start typing a response to my husband – I need to make sure he is okay!
Respond to me! I see that you read my messages and that you are typing!
This is too much. It’s just too much.
I am just one person, I only have two hands and one head. And this head is about to explode because of all these texts and clashing priorities.
Alright, I need to calm down.
I close my eyes and take a deep, slow breath in. And another one. And one more. I keep breathing with my eyes closed, trying to not pay attention to my phone buzzing, until I start to feel that my heart rate slowed down a bit.
Okay, I feel better now. I can think straight again.
So, what have we got?
I grab a pen and a notebook, and write down three things that require my immediate attention:
I need to figure out what to do with my work issue.
I need to make sure my husband is okay.
I need to text my daughter and calm her down.
Okay, but what do I need to take care of FIRST?
I choose to text Kevin first – the rest can wait a bit.
I send him a text, and he responds in a few minutes. It sounds like someone at the dinner did something rude. That’s bad, but that’s not life-threatening at least. Okay, a few more texts back and forth to comfort him and to let him know I’ll be there to listen to him once he gets back to the hotel.
Now, I need to get back to Dasha – she probably already lost hope that I would ever respond to her because my phone is not even buzzing anymore.
But first, another deep slow breath…
I write a long text to Dasha, explaining why I have to work, why it is very important, how much me and dad love her, and how much we look forward to spending time together later in the week. I try to make it as loving as possible – I know she is frustrated.
Alright, now, I need to do something about this goddamn work issue.
And here is the problem – it’s not just today that I have spent the whole day working (instead of half a day as I planned).
I will also need to work tomorrow, and on Wednesday, because on Thursday, we need to get back to the client with a plan.
So here is the main choice I need to make – do I say, “screw it, I am unavailable” and let my colleagues handle it? Or do I drive that conversation on Thursday, as well as everything that will lead to it, meaning I accept the fact that my vacation is now officially ruined?
Okay, what is more important?
No, this is the wrong question. Because it’s all important! Both my family and my work are important.
The correct question is: What is more important this week?
Yes, I did look forward to this vacation so much. But I also take pride and responsibility in the work I do, and I am the right person to take charge of this situation – it is my job. And I cannot fail. Because it’s not even about failing others – it’s about failing myself, and my integrity. I need to get it fixed.
The decision was made, and it made me feel better. Even though my vacation was indeed ruined, I felt proud of myself – for making an intentional choice, and for knowing exactly why I chose what I chose.
But also, you know what? As soon as Thursday’s meeting with the client was over, I said, “screw it, I am unavailable”, and then I spent the rest of Thursday and all of Friday with my family.
Because now family time was more important. And so I chose it.