What's at the top?

Sheesh. This week (or two or twelve). This world. This mess we find ourselves living in.

If you are anything like me, whatever you're working on may seem insignificant to the world's enormous pain and dysfunction and yes, sometimes, outright evil.  How do we not entirely lose heart, not fall into the trap of believing that if we aren't on the front lines of every crisis, we aren't doing work that really matters? And how do we not get so distracted with the, well, distractions thrown at us that we fail to do the things we're charged with well?

Today I stumbled on an old Leo Babauta post on the site zen:breathe about priorities and it occurred to me that setting priorities may be singularly important in a time when we're sort of being crushed by the world around us. We do still have jobs to do, work that depends on us, organizations that still have influence and purpose and need to keep running smoothly. And now, perhaps more than ever, we have to fight the inclination to run around in circles looking for something (more) meaningful to do. Seriously, we can just get paralyzed.

We can all do something, about some problem, about some inequity and injustice, but none of us can do everything.

This is what Babauta says:
Of all the things you’re working on right now, or hope to work on soon … which is the single most important?
What’s your priority?
Now let me ask you these two simple questions:

  1. When you start work, do you start with your most important priority first? If not, when does it come up during your work day?
  2. How much of your working time is spent on your priority?

If the order of your work, and the time you spend on your work, doesn’t align with your top priority … how can you change that?

These are not new questions. These are not earth-shattering questions. These are the questions we ask when we're working with a development department that can't seem to ever get around to taking donors/prospective donors to lunch because all their time is being spent on the database (or an event or direct mail pieces). These are the questions we ask a CFO who can't get financials out in time for a board meeting because he's all knotted up trying to find the $20 discrepancy in the bank account. These are the questions we ask a program director who's not visiting service sites because she's buried under reports.

What's your priority? If we take some time for deep reflection, we may find that our priorities are shifting right now. Some may be having seismic shifts and some may just be experiencing slight shifts, quiet questioning about how to do work that matters, or matters more, in a hurting world.

Seems like a question we may need to ask ourselves just to keep our heads on straight right now. Am I spinning my wheels out of frustration? Am I wasting time wringing my hands? Or am I setting clear priorities and then ordering my day appropriately, doing work on my priorities first, giving those priorities top billing every day, before moving on?

I've never met anyone working in the social profit sector (or most other sectors, for that matter) who didn't have more to do than they could realistically get done and many of us are adding a few new things to our plates around the issues of immigration, injustice, politics, human rights - so many areas are concerning us - that we can get very tired, very quickly.

What we put on the "to do" list matters. And the order of the list matters as well. If our heartfelt priorities are buried at the bottom of the list, we're going to be continually frustrated.

What's #1 for you for tomorrow?

Joan Brown