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Linda-Ann Stewart

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How to Stay On Course with Your Priorities


Off Track


Recently, I had a day with a lot of priorities and deadlines. They all had to be done before a video meeting I had at the end of the day. I started out well, focused on getting my first task done. But then, life started intruding. I had a couple of clients email and message me with issues they were having. As happens all too often, I got lured into dealing with the immediate and distracted from from projects with a close deadline.

I could have postponed answering the messages for an hour and finished one of my tasks. Instead, I bounced from answering the messages and coaching them to handling my priorities. But, as I multitasked, I started to feel stressed and like I was scrambling to keep up. Fortunately, I finished my last task one minute before my video meeting started.

Priorities Get Forgotten

Have you ever had a day like that? Or worse? Life happens so fast nowadays that our priorities fall to the side as we get too busy, scattered, and just deal with one crisis after another. Your priority could be to get your work done, stick to your diet, establish a healthier routine, or be more even tempered. But your priorities get forgotten as you get stressed and off course.

Priorities are what you consider the most important to you, and they can be personal or professional. You make those decisions when you're relaxed and considering what you really want. But when you get stressed, you start to react to what's in front of you. Because your mind is full of other issues, you can't make the best decisions. You fall back on habits or what's worked in the past. And usually that completely undermines your priorities.

How to Get Back on Course

An easy way to open the valves to clarity and better decisions is to take long, slow, deep breaths. The best way to achieve this is to inhale to a count of four, and exhale to a count of eight. Just a couple of minutes of this will allow you to reverse the fight or flight response that stress activates. Research shows this technique releases a natural tranquilizer into your system. When you're able to trigger a calmer state of mind, you can remember your priorities and decide whether to follow them or deal with what's immediate.

When you want to reduce weight, and you're faced with a temptation, such as a donut, stop. Take a couple of minutes and breathe. Then ask yourself, "What's more important? Do I want to stick to my diet or eat the donut?" Research also shows that this deep breathing technique improves your decision making ability. At work, you can use it when you're faced with emails and deadlines. Do you answer the emails or work on the project? In the evening, decide what your priority is, watching TV or exercising?

What's Most Important?

Before any point at which you might automatically react to a situation, stop, breathe, and ask, "What's my priority here?" "Can this be delayed until I've finished what I'm doing?" "Do I really want that piece of cake and destroy my diet?" When you're angry, the traditional advice has been to count to ten. Instead, take a couple of minutes to take deep breaths, with longer exhalations, and then ask, "Will lashing out help the situation?"

Taking those deep breaths brings about a greater sense of balance. You'll feel more centered and be more mindful of your choices. On my crazy day, I didn't take two minutes to calm myself down. But I frequently took slow, deep breaths to refocus my attention on my priorities. Although I felt a bit frazzled at the end of the day, I didn't feel like I'd run a marathon. Respond to the stress in your life by making the time to breathe. You'll make wiser decisions and feel better at the end of the day.


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