“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”

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“Action expresses priorities.” –Mahatma Gandhi

It’s Super Bowl weekend.  My 5-year old son and I are downstairs playing in the carpeted rec room of our home.  He’s clad in a miniature-size game-day jersey, pretending he’s the superstar quarterback of the winning team, excited to be romping around, full of energy, playing and interacting with Daddy.

We’ve been tossing around a mini Nerf football, soft enough not to damage the walls or windows as a result of its erratic episodes of flight. He pretends to snap the ball to himself, drops back in the pretend pocket, pump fakes his right arm one time, then throws the football across the room in my direction. A surprisingly perfect spiral.

Half-heartedly I reach upward to catch the ball with my left hand, glancing away from my smart phone where I had been checking emails, or text messages, or social media updates, or something else I deemed urgent at the time.  Then I recall hearing the most pleading, sincere, and wanting tone a 5-year old could ever muster…

“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”

Boom. A eureka-moment reality check. A life-changing, priority-altering realization. Not only did I hear my son’s pleading tone…I listened.

Through his pleading tone, dejected body language, and despaired facial expression, my son renewed an already known realization in my mind. The realization that all things seemingly urgent are not necessarily important, and what is important needs to be prioritized. At that specific second, I silently vowed to re-assess and re-focus my priorities, not only toward my child, but in all aspects of my life.

We live in a furious-paced time, in a culture making constant unabashed attempts to demand our attention right now. The expectation of being constantly on and accessible via smart phones, instant messaging, urgent-sounding chimes, alerts and notifications…its madness. But how much of that culturally-ingrained sense of urgency is really important? What about in your life? That’s the question of today. The easy (and correct) answer is really pretty simple. Not much.

The offering to mindfully differentiate that which is urgent from that which is important is strong advice. Good advice. Perhaps most importantly, it is advice that can and should be applied to every aspect of our lives.  If you’re like most everyone I know, your days are increasingly becoming filled with obligations, commitments, and responsibilities. We must force ourselves to stop and ask, “How much of what I’m doing is really important?”

To prioritize what is important in our lives we must stop and think about everything biding for our time. Our work, health, family, friends, community, faith, finances, leisure, and more. Stopping to take stock is the first step, then we must identify what is seemingly urgent from what is truly important (if it’s neither urgent nor important it shouldn’t be on our “must do” radar anyway). Only then can we begin an uncompromising exercise of elimination and prioritization. An eliminectomy.

That which seems urgent will get in the way of what is important, just like the seeming urgency of checking my smart phone got in the way of the important experience I was spending with my son during Super Bowl Weekend.

How do we decide what is urgent vs. what is important? I like the statement by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Or, if a task or activity can be put off without dire consequence, it’s probably more urgent than important. If it’s something that contributes to long term happiness, close relationships, personal growth or goals, it’s probably important.

Here are 5 Action Steps I used to re-prioritize my priorities:

  1. Stop Everything. It’s impossible to think when your mind is cluttered with a million-and-one thoughts. Too many thoughts, can’t think. How’s that for irony? So stop, calm the mind, and give yourself a chance to authentically think.
  1. Write down values in priority order. Not tasks, but values. For example – Creator, Family, Finances, Community, Fun, etc.  These are items of personal value that contribute to long term happiness and fulfillment. Values must be known before they can be consciously pursued. Refer back to this list often – the things we see most frequently become ingrained in our subconscious, and will most likely become our reality.
  1. Write down tasks being done on a regular basis. Then identify items to reduce or eliminate that are unnecessary. Time is our most precious commodity, one that is so easily wasted. Reducing the unnecessary will create more time for what truly matters (that which is important).
  1. Group like activities and use technology for efficiency. For example, prepare multiple meals at the same time to avoid a tedious routine every meal, or have a set time for laundry, or checking e-mails or paying bills. When like activities are grouped together they are accomplished more efficiently. Offerings like auto pay to manage monthly bills helps avoid the hassle of opening envelopes, addressing checks, stamping envelopes, etc.
  1. Practice “Present Time Consciousness”. A fancy-sounding term that simply means “focus on what is in front of you with full attention”, one thing at a time with full presence. Make the task at hand the number one priority while it is being done. Avoid multi-tasking whenever possible…it really doesn’t save time, quality is compromised, and it creates stress!

By identifying what is most important in our lives, and prioritizing our actions to align with what is most important, it simply means we are becoming truer to ourselves. It’s an excellent process for everyone to undergo. A task we should pursue with knowledge and courage, helping us reach for our higher potential. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks along the way…we all have them. After all, we’re all just humans trying to become better version of ourselves.

Wishing Wellness & Empowerment Your Way,

-Dr. J

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