One of the most (in)famous lines from the Harry Potter series takes place in the first book, where Hermione says “We could have been killed, or worse, expelled!” Ron’s equally (in)famous response from the movie is not actually in the book, but it I find it relevant to to topic of this post: “She needs to sort out her priorities!”
I have struggled for what feels like all of my life to sort out my priorities. Oftentimes, when I am overwhelmed and have a great deal on my plate, I relax myself by planning for my future. This sort of productive procrastination is not necessarily the best thing that I could be doing, because prioritizing what needs to be done in the present is usually the better plan if I want to get things done. At the same time, I also like to focus on the future to some extent, because by focusing on the future I can internalize that there is a future, and that whatever is stressing me out in the moment will pass.
The best strategy that I have for prioritizing my activities and actually getting things done is to set myself hard deadlines for actions that have initially soft deadlines. The flexibility of deadlines can sometimes be a detriment to productivity, as even when an issue is important, it can feel less urgent if it doesn’t have a definite deadline.
The most important part of prioritization is recognizing when one has too much going on. The fact of the matter is that if someone has too many things on their plate, things end up being deprioritized that shouldn’t be. For example: this semester I was taking three classes in addition to an independent study, working part time, involved in extracurriculars, working on this website, and have been focusing on cultivating both my writing and my spiritual self. The fact of the matter is that I was making myself sick from stress, and the semester had barely started. It was only by settling down and examining my priorities that I have come to the conclusion of what is best for me, going through the following steps:
- I identified the five most important aspects of my life, these are particular to me, but may be similar to others:
- Mental & Spiritual Health
- Physical Health
- Professional Work
- Creative & Social Identity
- I assigned all of my commitments, projects, ideas, and activities to an aspect.
- I weighed the pros and cons of keeping anything that I identified as not being essential.
- I took steps to reduce the amount of non-essential and/ or stressful activities, either by postponing them for a later time or by shedding them completely.
Creating lists and implementing them has always been helpful for me. When considering my priorities I wondered whether it was worth it to continue working on this website, and whether I should focus more on academics, or on paid professional work. After some examination, however, I realized that the work I am doing via this website is productive, since it touches on almost all of the essential aspects of my life. I use writing as an outlet for processing both my mental and spiritual health, and by writing about my academics as I am wont to, I also help myself think critically about my work beyond the bounds of homework assignments and am able to further engage with the topics we cover in class. In addition, by sharpening my writing skills I am opening myself up to eventually writing as a career, and in fact can use my website as a portfolio of sorts. Finally, while the website doesn’t directly affect my physical health, it does stimulate my creative and social identities, since it reflects and projects my creative activities into the world and cultivates my online presence, which is linked with my social identity.
Making this website a priority, however leads me to having to give something else up in return. I eventually decided, after much deliberation and going through these steps, that I would rather regretfully need to drop my Latin class. This is unfortunate, because I have greatly enjoyed the class, but the fact of the matter is that learning a new language takes copious amounts of time and energy, and even if I stopped working on this website entirely, there would be something else that I might need to give up in turn. In terms of which classes I am taking, it was also the only class that did not count toward my degree, and thus was not essential to my academic success, for all that it was an academic course that I enjoyed.
I suppose that what I am saying is that priorities do not always unfold in the ways that we expect, and thus when taking into account what one wants to achieve there are multiple factors that make what may not look like a reasonable decision on paper actually the best decision for oneself.
If nothing else, the one thing that one should take away from this post is that you’re the only one who can sort out your own priorities, and decide for yourself whether being killed is worse than being expelled.