Show, Don't Tell, Your Priorities

Life Balance

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Show, Don't Tell, Your Priorities

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I've blogged for a long time, and in more than a few of my personal blog posts I've talked about my goals, my priorities, and what I plan to do about them. Nothing wrong with that, in itself, but it humbles me to read back through those bold pronouncements and realize how I didn't follow through on some of my ambitions, large and small.

The conclusion I've come to is hardly new: "Talk is cheap."

If you want a more eloquent version of that thought, here's something that Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote 150 years ago: "What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say."

With these old pieces of wisdom firmly in mind, I want you to get out a couple of pieces of paper and something to write with and join me in a little exercise in self-analysis.

(Go ahead and get that pencil and paper. I'm not kidding.)

On the first sheet of paper, draw a line from top to bottom to make two columns. At the top of the left-hand column, write "SAY" in big letters. Now, thinking about the goals you've had in mind lately, fill this column with maybe half a dozen big items that answer one or both of these questions:

  • What do you SAY you want?
  • What do you SAY your priorities are?

These could be things you tell other people ("I'm trying to lose weight"), or the secret things you only tell yourself ("I've always wanted to run my own business").

You are writing this down, yes? (I'm writing down mine!) I promise that you don't have to show this to anyone else -- but you do have to write it down if you want it to have an impact on you.

Now, at the top of the right-hand column, write "DONE" in big letters. In that column, jot down anything you've done in the past ten days for each of the items in the left-hand column. Don't waste time with, "Well, but . . ." or, "I had planned to . . ." and the like -- no one's judging your merits as a person. Just look at each item in your "SAY" column and make an entry across from it for what you've actually "DONE." If it's nothing, write "Nothing."

Now, on the second piece of paper, make two columns just as before, but don't write a heading for the left-hand column yet. At the top of the right-hand column, write "ACTUALLY DONE," and then jot down a list of your major activities over the past ten days. Since I want you to include everything that took up any meaningful slice of your time, you may have standard one-word entries like "work," "cooking," "housekeeping," and "TV." Again, there are no value judgments here -- we're just collecting data.

Now go back to that left-hand column and write "REAL PRIORITIES" at the top. In that column, write a word or a short phrase to match each of the items in the right-hand column. But don't put what you'd like to think your real priorities are; instead, write down what a neutral outside observer would say that they are, if those actions in the right-hand column do indeed accurately reflect your priorities. Be honest with yourself.

Okay, all done? (If not . . . push back from the computer, get those sheets of paper, and take five minutes to do this. Seriously.)

The point of this exercise isn't to get you to feel bad about yourself, but to reveal where some of the gaps are between what you want to do, or say you'll do, and what you are actually doing. Once you identify those gaps -- and commit yourself to living your priorities instead of just talking about them -- you should be able to identify some areas that are ripe for change.

If it helps, write this formula on a slip of paper and tape it to your bathroom mirror, your computer monitor, or the inside of your wallet:


When you're really living out your priorities, there won't be any big gaps between what you think about, what you say you want, and what you do to achieve those things. And you won't have to TELL anyone what your priorities are - because they'll be obvious by what you DO.

As for how you're resolving the incongruities in your lists -- well, I'd love to hear about that in the comment thread. Over to you . . .


Action Is Eloquence

Setting the Priority Principle in Motion

It Is What It Is


Tim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro in Austin. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer for the Life Balance blog in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. Compensated CareOne Blogger

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