How to prioritize what is important - a lesson from playing with dolls

How to prioritize what is important - a lesson from playing with dolls

Raymond Smithberger
July 31, 2019

How many times during the day do you say to yourself or someone that “I don’t have time?”  It is easy for the day to get away from you with phone calls, emails, customers, to-do lists, etc.  But are you aware of the message you send when you say those words?

I wasn’t.

It was a fall afternoon, and I was on the couch watching a college football game.  My oldest daughter was around four years old at the time. She came up to me and asked, “Dad, will you play dolls with me?”  I can’t remember what game I was watching, but I remember how I responded to her question.

Instinctively I said, “I don’t have time right now.”  Her head dropped, she turned and walked away slowly. I immediately felt a pit in my stomach. Not only did I disappoint her, but my dismissive approach also hurt her feelings.  And for what reason?  I was watching TV.  So, before she got too far, I turned off the TV, apologized and spent the next couple hours doing what was important –playing dolls with my daughter.

This memory popped into my mind recently as I just passed 90 days leaving the corporate world and working on our startup, seedership.  Each day is filled with an abundance of opportunities as well as an abundance of distractions.  During a busy day, it is easy to forget a very important fact – I cannot create more time.

Since that day when I was faced with the decision of playing dolls, I have always tried to be careful and not say the words “I don’t have time.”  Why? Because what I feel like I am really saying is “You are not important to me.” I realize I cannot say yes to every request or that every request cannot take immediate priority, but it does mean I need to be thoughtful in my approach to each request.

First, understanding what is important in that moment, what can be done later and what you should not do can be complicated –especially when someone you care about is asking you do to something. Now when I am faced with a decision of when to complete a I ask myself – Is this really important to me right now?  If the answer is yes, I do it or schedule it to be done.  If the answer is no then I ask myself – Will this be important to me later?  If the answer is yes, the task goes on my to do list.  If the answer is no, then I know it is likely a distraction.

Second, helping others understand why that task is not important to me at that moment helps prevent disappointment. One of the worst things I could do is set an expectation that I never intend to fulfill. It is even worse when I provide no reasoning as to why I made the decision.  So, it is ok to say “That is not a priority for me right now.  The reason is…” or “That is not a priority for me right now.  Let’s talk about it later.”

My four-year-old daughter taught me an important lesson.  Time is a valuable resource.  Where you decide to spend it shows what you find important. Are you prioritizing the right things?

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