This month’s post is primarily aimed at the writers among us, but readers and others might find it useful too. It’s not an exceptionally queer post, although I wrote it which puts a little rainbow sticker on it somewhere I guess.
I want to talk about priorities this month. How do you set yours? Where do you draw a line, when something has to give? We talk a lot about setting goals, whether it’s in the context of writing as a career or in mental health or in motivational speeches given by people with perfect teeth that they probably spent a lot of money on standing up at the front of hotel ballrooms dressed in beige.* The question is, what do you do when these goals are in direct conflict?
I spoke a little bit about goals in my January post. They didn’t seem to be unattainable then. I’m not sure they’re unattainable now. I can look at the calendar and say, “Sure, I can knock off something to submit, every quarter, no problem.” And then my already intense schedule of deadlines gets together with my family, and my two hundred something year old house, and the pets, and the neighbors, and all of them stand in a circle around me and point and laugh. Even the cats.
Publishing more under my own name isn’t my only goal, of course. I want to get healthier. I want to be happier. I want to do better as a daughter, a mother, a sister, and a friend. I want to make a better provision for myself in the future, which means more day job work and better marketing. All of these things require an investment of time, which is a finite resource.
And that’s where we get to the issue of priorities. Something has to give, doesn’t it? Something has to move lower on the list.
I paid a visit to one of my doctors yesterday. I generally like her. We spoke about some things. We talked about an illness I had last summer that went on too long, about why I haven’t been exercising, about why I haven’t been getting the sleep I know I need even though I’m in treatment for a sleep disorder. The answer for everything was the same: there isn’t time, it’s a low priority.
And she put her tablet down. She looked straight at me. And she told me flat out that I need to stop thinking that way. She’s not the first one to tell me that. Let’s be real, she’s probably not the last. I’m hardly alone among writers when I say, “Sleep is for the weak, I need to get these two characters together and in bed before I can even think about turning the lights off!”
But it did get me thinking about priorities, and how I arrange mine. I came home, and with a heavy heart I deleted two projects from my calendar. One of them is due in two days and I’ve put a lot of time and effort into it. I might be able to squeeze it out, if and only if I ignore everything else around me. That includes the child, the house, my day job project, the outdoors, the litter box, and all attempts at personal hygiene.**
I can’t do that. I could, in purely absolute terms, but that doesn’t take into account factors outside of my control like emergencies at the Spawn’s school or catastrophic kitchen equipment failures. The project would still not get done, and I would still have to make up the time on other projects later on.
And, here’s the important thing, other priorities would still be neglected. I would not be able to spend time with my amazing daughter. I would not be able to take proper care of myself. I can’t work until I collapse and then expect to keep working, or to turn out decent work. That’s not sustainable, logical, or fun.
So how do you figure out what’s the priority right now? What typically works for me – although it obviously isn’t foolproof – is setting up a task management system. I know what my deadlines are, and I work according to those deadlines. If I have more than one project going at a time – don’t we all – I break each project into manageable chunks and get enough work done on each project to make progress and, hopefully, make my deadline. I use Pacemaker to break the project into manageable chunks, and Asana to help manage deadlines.
The part where I have trouble is the stuff that doesn’t have “deadlines.” You know what I’m talking about, because you probably have trouble with it too. I’m talking about the parts where I need to do things like move more of my body than my fingertips on the keyboard, do the nightly routines that help me to calm my anxious brain so I can sleep, and get the right nutrients into my body so I can keep going the way I know I need to.
The good news is, there are apps to help with that, too. I have Way of Life. It’s a good way to check in as you try to build healthier habits, just to see if you’re on track or if you’ve been letting things slide. (I’ve been letting things slide. Shocker.) Pacifica is great for folks living with depression and/or anxiety. It also gives access to communities where people can talk to others dealing with similar issues, assuming your anxiety does not spike when talking to strangers.
We all have issues. And we all have Stuff We Need To Get Done, whether it’s a day job or activism or getting six kids out the door for school. The bottom line is that everyone needs to prioritize sometimes, and that means sometimes we have to choose what we let slide. It’s okay to have regrets about it, move on anyway, and keep doing what we need to.
* I don’t know why these speakers seem to wear so much beige. Maybe the professional motivational speakers among you can tell me. Maybe it’s a trade secret and you’d have to kill me if I found out.
** They don’t warn you about this when you become a writer. There will be days, probably several in a row, when you are not fit for human company and your shower tries to put out a missing persons report for you. Dry shampoo works, but only for a little while. Trust me.