I’m going to start with a scenario that I suspect isn’t unique to me, but I’ll tell the story from my own experience.
It’s been a long day. I got up at 4 to run before catching a 7 am flight. I then hit the ground running in the city I’m visiting with lunch followed by a series of meetings on a variety of topics. I have an hour and a half, give or take, to unwind, then it’s off to a working dinner. Then I’m back to my hotel room at 930 pm (give or take). This is about the time when I realize that I’ve got a LONG list of things that I perhaps should do.
The primary reason for this choice is that if I delve into some of those things that are out there, it’s a bit like going down a rabbit hole in terms of the commitment involved. Sleep is a precious commodity that has a strong influence on our ability to perform at a high level. If you don’t believe me, this recent HBR podcast provides additional terrific information on the benefits of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Given a choice in the evening, it’s never a bad option to shut down and shut your eyes.
Now, I didn’t go immediately to bed. What I did was triage the things that I could do: read to learn something new, answer emails, work on drafts of two different manuscripts I’m in the midst of finishing, have some dedicated creative time and draw something, do some yoga, “play” in my workbook/journal for the day, read everything on Twitter for the last 3 hours…plenty of options, right?
Instead of choosing some dreadful hodgepodge of things that results in Brownian motion (and ultimately feeling like I’ve done absolutely nothing), I stopped to instead consider what was more important for me to rest well and be ready for my day today.
I triaged email for 15 minutes, and only 15 minutes.
I did my pre-bedtime rituals (skincare and dental care matter, and I have those pesky asthma medications to keep up with).
I laid out my workout clothes for this morning.
I played in my workbook/ journal to document my day, think about what’s been inspiring me, and to consider what creative thing I did yesterday…because that’s part of my wind-down ritual at home.
I set the alarm for 5 am.
I turned off the lights before 1030 pm.
It could have been really easy for me to make some less-optimal choices that would leave my brain busy-busy with that original list of things I should do. It required a moment of being really intentional about what was most important in the moment, and the things that I identified were all designed to help me sleep well (which I did, then I had a great workout and amazing cup of coffee before my day got truly started today).
We’re all faced with almost-endless lists of things that we must and things we should do. That’s unlikely to change (though that should list is often negotiable). What we can change is the intention we bring to managing those lists. By asking what is important in this very moment we can make the best choices and set the best priorities.
So, what’s important now?