Why “Just Do What’s Most Important First” Can Backfire

Nov 25, 2020

We’ve all heard the advice: do the most important task first thing in your day.

It’s fine advice, but I often see it backfiring with people I work with. Why?

You have to know what’s most important.

Which means you have to be willing to name and own what you want.

Sometimes that’s easy. You want a job. You want to pump up your health. You want to finish your book. You want to keep the kids alive, the dog fed, the bills paid.

You want the damn insanity about this virus to end and people to wear their friggin’ masks.

And sometimes, you don’t know what you want. Or you do, but you don’t feel “good enough” for what you want. Or you’re just too damn tired to do anything about it.

Then analysis-paralysis, time monsters, procrastination, and plain old “why bother?” can eat up your days.

Because without desire, it’s difficult to know what’s most important.

But who has any bandwidth for desire these days?

Yet, without it, everything is so dry. So very dry.

I’m in a creative transition, ready to add new challenges, but I’m still now sure what I want to do next.

Too often lately, I find myself very busy doing stuff that needs to be done, but at the end of the day, I feel empty. Frustrated. I pour a glass of natural wine and escape into Ted Lasso.

I know I need to resist doing and spend time being, which sounds like such a cliche, but it’s the bone deep truth.

Yet when you’re frayed and flattened by so many giant global events, who wants to settle? I just want to numb.

I’m not pressuring myself because, hey, that never works. I’m taking it easy, giving myself mini- moments of settling down, using the prompts in my new guided journal (coming December 7th), and promising myself I will not enact a new idea until I get a resounding, “YES!”

I think the YES’s are coming, they feel close, but I’m not quite sure yet. Time for more settling down.

Time for more journaling, which is the very best way I think. Although journaling sounds fancy for what I often do: grab some spare paper and a prompt, and scribble.

Here’s one of the prompts from the guided journal I used today:

Settling down is a learned skill. We’re social creatures, we have complex lives to tend to, and being quiet with ourselves often takes effort. Nevertheless, who is going to determine your future—Netflix, your boss, your pet, social media, your to-do list, or your deeper desires, values, aspirations, or the full and awakened life calling to you? Settling down is an act of soul resistance, and your life depends on it.

What will never become clear, never grow roots and become real, or never feel truly possible to me if I don’t settle?

I get how hard it is to allow room and time to be so we can listen to what’s next. I have no kids at home or elderly parents left to care for, and I still struggle to give myself time and permission.

But I also know, as I wrote about in Why Bother?, is it exactly these moments where we don;t know what we want where we need to listen the most. To journal, to talk, to be still.

The most important thing to do, when you don’t know what you want, is to spend time settling down into the grace of inner stillness. However you wish.

And if all of this makes you want to run screaming from the room, put your hand on your heart and remind yourself allowing desire can trigger your emotional immune system to say, “Threat! Extreme danger! Run away now!” Notice you are okay in this moment. You have enough oxygen to breathe, gravity is holding you to the Earth, and you’re not starving; you’re okay.

Then ask yourself, “What’s one tiny thing I desire right now?” Even if you can’t have it, ask. Be curious for yourself.

Doing what’s most important can become a hustling scam when we don’t connect it back to what we truly care about. Life will always be filled with important stuff to do, people to take care of, the planet to fight for, and yet we can lose our way and fall into emptiness and blahness without a relationship to desire.

Want to get your bother on starting now?

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Jettison Self-Doubt and Lose the Itty-Bitty-Shitty Committee and Make Your Thing Now

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