‘What’s the priority?’; ‘get your priorities straight’; ‘you need to prioritise’ – these are all phrases that we’ve either heard uttered or used ourselves at some stage, be it linked to work, an exercise schedule, romantic relationships, or family and friends.
Last week I read an article by Catherine Turner in Women’s Health, which really resonated with me in this regard. Turner was recounting how she had reached breaking-point in trying to get to her daily yoga classes, ostensibly in order to ‘de-stress’. But between rushing out of work, racing a bustling commute and then powering her exhausted body through 90 minutes of power yoga, the result was quite the opposite and somewhere amidst her chaturangas and downward-dogs, she realised that she needed to reconsider her schedule.
The irony of the source of her stress was particularly keenly felt since yoga is widely regarded as the holy grail of zen-inducing exercise. But even when embarking on less mindful-making pursuits, sometimes juggling multiple priorities, even the ones that are supposedly undertaken to improve our well-being, can leave us more wrung-out than relaxed.
For me, a similar moment came when I realised that a work trip to Frankfurt would prevent me from running a half marathon I’d entered. I got cross, then disappointed, then stressed. I run to relax and to escape from stress and getting anxious that I’d have to miss a race transformed running from my refuge to my persecutor.
Whether it’s stressing about skipping a run because you have to work late, feeling guilty for trading your swim for a lie-in, or missing a friend’s party for a race, when you have multiple priorities you will undoubtedly find that you have to let something slip.
When this happens the first thing you have to remember is that you can’t do everything all of the time, and no one can (no matter how much the converse may seem the case). Nothing is gained from stressing over the fact you have two or more activities scheduled concurrently, instead you have to take each activity in each instance and assess which is the principal concern. And your priorities won’t always be the same: running club may trump work drinks one day, but a birthday party for an old friend on another occasion would trump running club. And while on one day the best option is to get up for your early morning yoga class, if other events have left you sleep-deprived, another day those extra couple of hours in bed might actually do you more good than any number of sun salutations.
I know it’s common-sensical but sometimes I think we need it spelling out to us so we feel able to let something go.
Secondly, you need to remember why it is you are embarking on the particular activity, in the first place – be it exercise, a work event, or a social meet up. If you run to relax and it ends up making you more stressed you need a serious re-think. If you keep oversleeping to the detriment of your workouts, you need to question if ultimately your body would benefit from some more exercise (and maybe an early night of two).
Thirdly your ultimate priority should be your overall health and happiness, and the health and happiness of those around you. If going to yoga means you’re a more patient colleague, or running your commute means you’re less stressed when you get home then it’s important to dedicate time to these activities. However, if you are so focused on on one thing you lose sight of all else, and find that you are isolating yourself from others to meet your targets you need to reassess your priorities.
Finally if you’ve given precedent to an activity and are going to do it, do it properly and whole-heartedly, don’t just go through the motions. If you have to miss a workout to stay late at the office, do the work you need to get done and don’t procrastinate. If getting up early for a swim means missing an extra hour in bed then push yourself in the pool. If you are skipping a night out for an early night, make sure you get into bed in good time. Know the desired outcomes of your actions and achieve them.
And remember: prioritise.