A Coaching Power Tool Created by Heather Skomp
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
Weekend planning is a prime time to apply the Deathbed Priority Test: On your deathbed, will you wish you’d spent more prime weekend hours grocery shopping or walking in the woods with your kids? – Louise Lague
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Time is the one thing that can not be restored. Once time is gone, it is gone, and therefore time is an extremely precious resource. How we choose to spend our time is always up to each of us. Often we claim we don’t have a choice in how we spend our time, but in reality, we always have a choice. The real question is, what consequences are we willing to experience as a result of our choices?
Many of us convince ourselves that the potential consequences of one choice are worse than those of another choice. Take the mother who won’t go out to dinner with her husband because her kids need to be taken to ballet class. She tells her husband to wait (postpone) on their dinner date so she can take care of the chauffeuring need first. If the class goes on later than dinner time, her husband loses out. She is prioritizing her kids’ need to be taken to class over her husband’s need to spend time with her.
What are the consequences here? If everything goes well, then there are no negative consequences and everyone gets their needs met: the kids get to their ballet class, and the husband get his time with his wife. This, of course, is the ideal situation. However, the problems arise when thing don’t go well: if the class runs late, then the mother won’t make it to dinner and the husband loses time with his wife, and the consequences there could have a serious impact on the quality of their marriage. If the mother doesn’t take her kids to ballet class at all and goes to dinner with her husband instead, then the kids lose out on the ballet experience, and could make both the mother’s and the father’s evenings miserable for days to come.
Assuming there are no alternative solutions, the mother has to make a choice. She has to prioritize one action over the other: take the kids to class or go to dinner with her husband. How to choose?
How we prioritize
If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse. ~ unknown
How we prioritize our time and resources is complex, and often unconscious. Sometimes we allow society to dictate our priorities (should climbing the corporate ladder be more important than having a family? Should giving to your kids be more important than giving to your partner? Should driving a fancy car and impressing your neighbors be more important than being financially responsible?). Sometimes we allow other people to dictate our priorities (mother says earning the most money is more important than living in a desirable location, boss says working late is more important than dinner with the family, husband says going to the game is more important than cleaning the house). Sometimes we allow our emotional impulses to dictate our priorities (I’m feeling lonely so I’ll go on a date with someone I don’t like, I’m feeling bored so I’ll go shopping for something to do, I’m feeling inadequate so I’ll get drunk to block it out).
But more often than not, perceived negative consequences dictate our priorities (kids will cry if I don’t let them stay up late, husband will leave me if I don’t have sex with him twice a day, boss will fire me and I’ll be broke if I don’t get this spreadsheet in before I leave work tonight). We are so afraid of experiencing pain or discomfort that we allow people or situations to take command over our freedom to choose how we want to direct our lives.
However, allowing anything other than love to dictate our priorities in life takes away our power to govern our own lives. Love gives us strength; fear makes us weak. If we are going to be a slave to anything, do we want to be a slave to love, or a slave to fear?
When we can’t do everything that needs or wants to be done at the same time, something has to give. What we don’t give priority to, gets postponed. When there is a conflict over time or resources, one element will take priority over the other, and the element that doesn’t get the priority, gets postponed.
Problems occur when there is a pattern of postponement of the same person/situation. Continuous postponement transforms into neglect. When neglect of a person/situation sets in, like a house that never gets maintained, eventually it crumbles into disrepair and eventual destruction. Relationships end over neglect. Families become estranged over neglect. Careers get ruined over neglect. Businesses fail (or never get started) over neglect.
How do you recognize a pattern of postponement? Chances are, if it is a person you are postponing all the time, they will voice (or otherwise make known) their dissatisfaction. If it is a project or situation you are postponing (like your health or a new business), you will notice that it either decays, or you never see the rewards of it. One way or the other, your persistence in postponing a particular matter will reveal itself, and often in most unpleasant ways.
Becoming Consciously Aware
The key here is to pay attention. First you must become clear on what your true priorities are in life. What are they? Do you even know? If you are not sure, it is helpful to make a list of what you think are the main priorities in your life, and rearrange them accordingly by how you might feel if one or more of those items were to exit your life. The ones you want to keep most, should remain closer to the top of the list.
Secondly, you must become conscious of how you spend your time and resources, and then consider if how you spend your time and resources actually reflects your true priorities in life. Look at your schedule (and maybe your checkbook): is how you spend your time and resources matching your list of priorities? Often people allow themselves to get so busy in their lives, to allow their schedules to get so overwhelmed, that they are unable to give adequate attention to anything in their lives. By trying to do everything poorly, they eventually end up doing nothing well. And some things not at all. That’s when you know it’s time to rearrange and/or let some things go.
You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the best way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside. ~ Stephen R. Covey
Setting boundaries can be the practice that sets you free. However, saying ‘no’ to people or situations that do not fit in with your priorities is often a great struggle for many of us. Saying no to people who are disrespectful or who do not value you or your time, saying no to situations that do not make you feel good or comfortable, saying no to requests that inconvenience you without reward or otherwise create negativity in your life, seems to be very difficult for us to execute. Why is this?
Often we are uncomfortable with saying no because we are afraid that if we do, we won’t be liked, or that we won’t seem like a team player. Maybe we are afraid the other person will get mad and make our lives difficult, or we may lose out on future opportunities with that person. Maybe we are afraid our kids will hate us. Maybe we are afraid we will get fired.
If you will notice, many of these are the same reasons we use to postpone other needs. However, in order to maintain our priorities, setting boundaries is a requirement. We train people on how to treat us, and by setting boundaries, then gracefully negotiating an agreement, you will ensure that your priorities remain intact while still creating a win-win for everyone involved.
When you say no to the things that don’t help you, you are, in effect, saying yes to the things that will. By saying no, you open up the space necessary for yes. ~ Camille Preston
How to set boundaries?
Give yourself time to think about the request. Before saying yes or no to an invitation or request on your time, allow yourself a day to think about it. If you can fit the request into your schedule without postponing something or someone important to you, and you genuinely want to fulfill the request, then feel free to say yes. Otherwise, say “no thank you” with grace and authority.
Remove items from your schedule that don’t fit in with your priorities. Anything that you have on your calendar that does not advance or support your priorities, resign from it. Groups, committees, activities, meetings – anything that you don’t enjoy or gets in the way of other things that are important to you are items that you can stop doing. Other people can take your place. Resign.
Communicate to others your schedule of availability. If you are often interrupted by people during times that are allotted for other activities, let people know when you are available to them, and when you are not. When you are not available, turn off your phone, shut down the computer, and don’t answer the door. Be very strict about this practice. People will learn to accommodate your unavailability.
As coaches, we know the meaning of priority, and ideally, we exercise maintaining them in our own lives on a regular basis. Setting priorities and keeping commitments to them demonstrates that we are trustworthy as coaches. And establishing trust with our clients is the cornerstone of our business.
In order to help our clients achieve their goals, we can assist them by showing them how to establish priorities and recognize postponing behaviors.
Values and Life Purpose
Establishing priorities requires examining a person’s values. You can talk to your client about their values and what they mean to their life. Their priorities will be an extension of their values, and once their values are clarified, the client will be able to decide how the activities, people and obligations fit into their priority list.
Once you have worked with your client to establish priorities, you can help them support those priorities by assisting them in becoming aware of how they are postponing those same priorities. You can help your client by working with them to identify areas of their life that work for them and areas that don’t. This identification will include determining which people and projects are supporting the areas of their lives that they prioritize, and those that do not, and by discussing how they allocate time and resources to these people and projects.
One of the reasons your client may be having trouble maintaining their priorities could be because they do not have adequate support structures in place to do so. Our job as coaches is to help our clients create structures that empower them to achieve their goals. We can do this by asking the client potent questions on how they intend to uphold maintaining their priorities with the structures they already have in place, or by helping them to identify weaknesses or gaps in their current support system.
- What are three things which you are prioritizing over other things? What effect is making those three things a priority having on the rest of your life?
- What are some things that you postpone? What would it look like if you stopped postponing those things and made them a greater priority?
- What are three ways that changing your priorities could contribute to creating a life that is more in alignment with your desires?
- How is it helpful to set boundaries in an effort to maintain priorities?
- As a coach, how are you deciding on what takes priority in your coaching relationships, and what you can postpone? What are you doing to hold fast to your priorities?
- What are some questions that you could ask your client to shift their perspective from postponement to priority?
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. ~ Stephen R. Covey