Health Requires Prioritization

“The secret is not to go to sleep until you’ve written your words for the day. You might be sleep deprived, but you’ll finish your novel.”

Matt Cutts, Try something new for 30 days

As part of my manager training through Alphabet, someone recommended I watch Matt Cutts’ inspirational talk “Try Something New for 30 Days.” Matt’s viewpoint reminded me of my teen years: life is not worth living unless it is well remembered. Try everything once. Do more. Add to your life.

But as I watched, I remembered the crash-and-burn feeling of my twenties. What’s more, his (mostly joking) advice to add something new to your life each month was reminiscent of CEOs with too many priorities. My conclusion? Health, whether personal or company health, requires prioritization.

Achievements are fun

I recently asked my team, “if you could gain one skill outside work, what would it be?” Their answers were enlightening. I learned about my teammates’ interests and wishes. But they too brought up the issue of time. “Nothing’s stopping me from learning woodworking,” one said. “But I have to choose between that and other things.”

In my twenties I was a big fan of “challenges”. I challenged myself to 9 adventures in 2009. I made a list of 50 things to accomplish by the time I turned 50. Things like “run a half marathon in every state”, and “climb Mt Kilimanjaro”. Big dreams, and I made many of them a reality.

I was also constantly exhausted. As Matt says, I chose writing (and running, and silks classes, and work, and reading, and many other things) over sleep. My mental health worsened as I ignored self-care in favor of achievements.

Today I don’t accomplish as much. Though I’m still working toward those 50 states (in non-pandemic times), I also spend time petting my cats and lying on the couch. My mental and physical health requires prioritization.

Companies struggle too

When I worked at Mad*Pow I saw many companies that also struggled to prioritize. Achievements are fun for companies as well as humans! Big goals get rewarded by investors, and by employees flocking to join. But a lack of priorities can lead to employee burnout. It makes it hard to get recognized, promoted, or feel that your work matters when the company is going in too many directions.

In other words, if you have too many priorities, you don’t have any. Business health requires prioritization.

Health requires prioritization

Matt’s talk really is delightful, and funny, and I encourage you to check it out. Toward the end of his talk he also said something very real: “small changes are sustainable changes.”

While his examples tended to be “biking to work every day” or “give up sugar” – in other words, big things – he did acknowledge the problem I noted. These are one-month challenges. Each month he stops the challenge from the month before to start a new one. He is not currently writing a novel a month, biking to work daily, taking a photo every day, and more.

While few people are likely to subscribe to Matt’s concept of a monthly challenge in his exact way, it’s a good way to find what works for you. The key is to pick and choose – to prioritize. Each addition means subtracting something else.

My hope is that instead of trying to add more to our lives we can all step back and ask ourselves: what do we prioritize? What is most important? In that, I believe, is the key to happiness.

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