Your 3 MITs

Like you, I have a lot I need to get done in a day. And, perhaps like you, I usually busy trying to get through the list, trying to manage all the little fires, that I just keep fighting those fires without any idea what is most important.  Those 3 MITS (most important tasks) can elude me on some days, but I’m in the habit of assessing what I need to do at the start and end each day to keep me moving toward my goals and maintaining some level of sanity.

But it’s not without effort.

What’s also common for me is to distract myself with something else, less critical. My friend Jen Louden calls them time monsters.

What are those?

 time monsters — anything we pretend is a creative, generative use of our time but is actually a way to dodge doing what we really want to do. Making those bran muffins would be a time monster if instead of napping, you were avoiding writing your novel. It’s the choice to pay the credit card bill, then organize your desk, then spend a week choosing the perfect font for the flyer for your neighborhood’s picnic before you work on your business plan / novel / health that takes you away from what brings you alive.”

Oh, yes. I know these things very well. I didn’t use to call them time monsters, I called them my “to do list.”  

Truth be told, much of these didn’t NEED to be done, but they were easier to do than the hard work that I was meant to be doing.

Or, they were (and still are) things I can complete efficiently and without a massive outpouring of energy and resources.  When they were on my to do list they seemed to be elevated to Rock Star Status and thereby demanding my immediate attention, an inordinate amount of time and served no essential purpose.  Sure, paying the bills and scheduling appointments are  purposeful, but not when they take up the morning.

I invested the better part of the first quarter of 2018 examining time management skills and approaches and ordered many of the increasingly popular journals and planners.  I fought going old school and using a paper calendar, but once I started, it reminded me of the satisfaction I had from my Laura Ashely planner (c.1987) and my Filofax. (c. 1990).   After toting my 2018 planner, I remembered a huge part if why I went digita was to save my shoulders and hands from carrying the extra weight.  I  landed on a hybrid system where my paper planner remains on my desk for weekly planning and daily check-in,  My calendar will aways  be digital because there are just too many things to coordinate and because frankly, there is always one device with me.

Determining what is most important for the day is a practice that evolves.  It’s never a cut and dry labeling of “family” or “writing” or “work.”  Each day is different for me and I’m grateful that I have work that is flexible but not negotiable. I do have some leeway to slide things around during the course a week, but holding myself accountable with personal deadlines is essential.

Gretchen Rubin’s quiz, the Four Tendencies, revealed I am an “Obliger.” I am accountable external people and things, but when it comes to myself, well… let’s say I have room to grow.  

To wit, just because I write in in my planner or on my iCal,  no promises I will actually DO it, especially not at the precise time it says so in my calendar.  My husband, by comparison, is a steadfast Upholder which means when he writes it down or tells someone or himself, it would be a statistical abnormality if he didn’t do what he said he’d do. I simultaneous admire and dislike this quality about him.

What helps me determine my 3 MITs. and helps me be accountable to myself and others? Here are 5 tips:

1. Eat the frog . I do what I don't want to do as early in the day or work session as I can.  This includes a workout if it’s not one I am usually drawn to (which is almost always anything except yoga!)

2. Plan I spend about 30 minutes on Sundays setting up my week and about 15 on Fridays reflecting on my week. Then each day, it takes 5 minutes or less to check in for the day and debriefs and assess the day before tidying my desk and plotting the next day.

3. Say no.  It’s hard, but the more you say no to the things that don’t fill you up or align with your values and priorities, the easier it gets. Promise. 

4. Know myself.  We are continually evolving, but part of my self-care is spent reflecting and planning next steps.  I have learned to not take on too much (see #3).  I know how much sleep I really need to manage my autoimmune diseases, overall wellness, relationships, and work.  I know that working from home means I need to plan opportunities to connect with others who inspire me or challenge me. The work and personal commitments fit in around these rocks because they are the steady foundation of the rest of work and life.

5. I ask for help and I apologize.  I don’t like these and did not for years when kids little I rarely asked for help but apolgized profusely. It wasn’t so much ego as it was stubbornness.  I’ve learned that my husband does a phenomenal job folding sheets, so that’s all his. I don’t like to grocery shop, so I outsource (Instacart, I love you.)  When I’m tired and crabby and don’t act or speak as I intended, I apologize as soon as possible and then sort out what need I have that is not being met. Like today, I was grumpy, tired and lethargic. I’ve had some chronic neck issues for weeks and I am resisting the treatment my doctor recommended. So rather than sitting at my desk all morning working, I did some work, then moved on to my PT exercises and will go back to see the doctor.  Not the day I intended but it was time to ask for help and apologize to myself for needing to extend a deadline.

Sorting out your MITs is often crystal clear, but not always.

Fighting off Time Monsters is a daily battle.

Finding systems to keep you focused takes some testing.

Planning and connecting and saying no are challenging, but when you know what’s most important, you define priorities and you hold yourself accountable, things begin to flow.

If you need some help sorting out your MITs and getting to a place where things flow, let’s talk about ways to deepen your roots so your branches and limbs are strong enough to support others and the work you are meant to be doing in the world.