Tag Archives: priorities

What Are You Tumbling After?

Photo credit: Flickr.com
Photo credit: Flickr.com

Good morrow, dear reader.  I must begin by apologising profusely for having been absent for a whole month, which is just morally wrong.  Please forgive me.

My main excuse is that I have had pretty dreadful writer’s block, including all of the usual symptoms: staring blankly at my laptop screen, getting distracted in the middle of conversations and constantly thinking strange things like “WHERE ARE ALL THE WORDS?!”  The weirdest thing about this bout – which is also kind of reassuring – is that I know where the writer’s block has come from.  I have been trying to do too many things at once, and this metaphorical juggling act has landed me in a pile of broken plates and a lot of unfinished tasks.

A lot of the time life throws us all sorts of tasks and trials at once, and we have to prioritise accordingly.  Some people thrive under pressure of the multi-faceted kind, but for the rest of us it feels impossible to keep on top of everything, and instead we tumble after our lives with a vague sense of having forgotten something important.  In my case, it’s usually the house keys.

So what is it that you are tumbling after?  Which small duties are distracting you from chasing after what you actually want?  Do you have dreams and ambitions that you’re not fulfilling because your to do list is out of control?  Who do you want to be?  What kind of people do you want to spend your life with?  Where – if I may paraphrase the question that haunts all twenty-somethings as soon as they wake up in the morning – is your life going?

These questions and more besides are driving a lot of the collaborative work in rehearsals for Tumbling After, the devised piece that I’m directing for the Edinburgh Fringe 2015.  The cast, movement director and I are especially interested in why people choose to spend their lives with certain people.  How often are our relationships the result of sensible choices that we make with clear minds?  (Answer: rarely.)  How often are we willing to blindly fall down a hill, hoping to find love at the bottom?  (Answer: alarmingly frequently.)

It’s never easy to ask these questions, because they remind us so vividly of how much time we spend chasing after purpose, success and overall happiness.  That can be stressful.  But the unexamined life, as Socrates once said over feta and vino, is not worth living.  Examining ourselves in detail and assessing where we are in relation to what we want is not an easy thing to do, but if we don’t check in with our lifetime goal list at least once in a while, then all we are ever doing is stumbling and tumbling without knowing what we’re getting into.

We all have our own ways of sorting out our lives: mine is to sit in a rehearsal room and tell four actors where to stand.  Not the most ground-breaking approach, but it seems to be working for me.  I hope that your method is equally enjoyable.

Have a fantastic day.

Stress Can Sod Off

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Hello, lovely reader!  How’s your day going so far?

Today I’d like to broach the awkward subject of anxiety; specifically, anxiety related to pressure and stress.  We all feel anxious, tense and worried at various points in our lives, and it can be petrifying (in the original sense of the word, i.e. it temporarily immobilises you).  Fun aside: when I was about eight years old, my family went on holiday to Norfolk and, good little Catholic clan that we are, we invited the local priest round for dinner one night.  Apropos of absolutely nothing, he kindly informed us that the word ‘petrified’ comes from the idea that the apostle Peter was the rock upon whom Christ built the Church, and that it basically means being as still and solid as a rock.  I have no idea how true this is.  Looking back as an adult, it doesn’t seem very likely.  I’ll look it up.  Anyway…

The problem with being immobilised by worry is that it prevents you from resolving the very things that are making you feel stressed.  Being so worried that you can’t think straight is no way to tackle your to do list, and giving yourself insomnia over a crisis is not going to do anyone any good.  So what the heck do we do about it?

Well, first things first: make that to do list.  Even if it’s full of jobs that that you’re sure you’ll never be able or in the mood to do, write them all down.  All of them.  Break bigger, scarier tasks into smaller ones, and include every single item that is giving you even the smallest amount of stress.  That way every item you tick off that list (including, if you like, “get out of bed”) gives you a sense of achievement, and it will make the daunting tasks seem less scary and separate from your day to day life.

Secondly, prioritise.  Which email has to be sent off first thing in the morning?  When is that job application due in?  Order the tasks in a way that honestly reflects which ones you need to do first.  If you’re anything like me (i.e. a hopeless procrastinator) you’ll probably find that those big, scary tasks have all ended up at the top of the list.  Ah…

Here’s what you do now.  You set yourself a goal – one scary task and two small ones, for example – to do today.  Be realistic about how much you will be able to do in the time that you have.  Don’t worry too much about tomorrow, or the next day, or the rest of the week.  One of the reasons that anxiety is so debilitating is because it forces us to look at the sheer enormity of our workload and it makes us feel overwhelmed.  Well, scrap that.  We only live one day at a time.

Intersperse your to do list with little rewards.  Keep it simple: a piece of chocolate, ten minutes on Facebook, a big cup of tea – and don’t integrate your treats with your tasks.  You won’t enjoy them if they’re alongside your stress.  Give yourself something to work towards, not something to distract yourself with.  Once you’ve achieved your goal, stop working for a minute and focus on enjoying your reward.

I know that this all sounds incredibly simple and obvious, but it’s surprising how little time we spend properly looking after ourselves and how, after years of exams and deadlines and suchlike, we don’t always give ourselves a chance when it comes to being productive.

So be nice to yourself, and have a stupendously brilliant Tuesday.

Wiggly Priorities

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Hello, and welcome to the weekend!  I hope you’ve had a nice lie-in.

If you’ve read yesterday’s post, you will already know that I decided to turn my phone off for 24 hours.  The main downside of this choice should have been communication issues, but luckily my flat mate tells me where I’m meant to be most of the time anyway, so that was fine.

The hardest part was actually the lack of sound.  I am always listening to music or a podcast, so wandering around without my earphones in felt very odd.  It was also pretty strange to go without the Notes feature on my iPhone for a day, because I use it all the time for blog ideas and so on.  The upshot of this was that I went to bed last night with a load of ideas scribbled down my arm.  These notes have now been partially transferred to my face and one of my pillows.

Embarrassing face-tattoos aside, today I would like to talk about priorities.  Yesterday I managed to work my way through a hefty amount of stuff on my to do list because I wasn’t distracted by my phone, so now my set of priorities has shifted.  Our priorities change all of the time: on a day-to-day basis they adapt to our immediate circumstances, but on a longer-term basis they shift depending on where life has taken us.  A university student’s priorities might be finishing an essay one day and applying for graduate jobs the next, for example.

People are always saying that we need to get our priorities straight, but it’s incredibly difficult to do.  How do you balance your daily duties with your lifelong endeavours?  How do we find a way to get our wiggly priorities aligned with one another?

We prioritise things for two reasons: their immediacy and their importance.  In contemporary life there is an enormous emphasis on immediacy from employers, friends and even the media.  We are constantly being told to believe that sooner is better, and I don’t think that that’s always true.  Good things come to those who wait, even in the simplest cases (like when you’re at a bus stop).

I was having a very deep and meaningful conversation about priorities with a friend the other day, and at one point he said “wouldn’t it be nice to be someone’s priority?”  Oof.  Right in the feelings.  Of course it would, but surely you are the person whose priority you ought to be?

What do you actually want today?  Do you want to feel like you’ve achieved something?  Do you want to spend time with some people who love you?  Do you want to go on an adventure?  Do you, in fact, want to build a snowman?  (Trickier to accomplish in this weather, but not impossible.)

I think that we have to trust that the day-to-day priorities (like work deadlines, essays and so on) will get us where we need to go in the bigger picture, but that paying attention to what we actually want will get us where we’d like to be.  I personally want to see Arsenal win the FA Cup, so my priority is to go to the pub with the boys and shout at a massive television screen.  To each their own.

Carlsberg don’t do Saturdays, but if they did, it’d probably be this one.  Have a cracker.

Judgement Call

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Good morning and happy Saturday to you!  D’you know, I only discovered yesterday that this is another bank holiday weekend.  Thank goodness those poor, tired bankers are having a well-earned rest from the arduous task of stealing our money.

As you can see, I’ve just made a mass-judgement about bankers based on the global financial crisis, and although that’s not exactly a controversial opinion, I’m sure that there are nice, compassionate people among the financiers of Canary Wharf.  (Don’t look at me like that.  It could happen.)

What makes you judge someone?  Do you assume that someone is trendy (and therefore a bad person) because they’re sporting a beard and skinny jeans?  Do you dub someone a saint in your mind because you witness them buying a Big Issue?  Do you lose respect for a friend when you discover that they enjoy the musical stylings of Justin Bieber?

I do, and if you’re honest I think you do, too.  Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a preachy post about how we need to be less judgemental (although I think we should probably give it a go, shouldn’t we?  Yeah, alright.  I will if you will).  Instead, I would like to identify a few things that we absolutely should judge people based on:

1) How they talk about their elders
Even if someone doesn’t have the best relationship in the world with their biological parents, everyone has parental figures in their lives from whom they have learned a great deal.  The way that someone talks about their mum, older sibling, grandparent, favourite teacher etc. tells you a lot about what made them who they are, and how big a part of their personality is informed by a sense of respect.

2) Sense of humour
Don’t be misled here: I don’t mean that you should judge people based on which sitcoms they like, or whether they’re fans of the Cornetto Trilogy.  By “sense of humour” I mean how they respond to day-to-day life: do they laugh when they fall over in public, or throw a hissy fit?  Do they snigger at others’ misfortune, or are they sympathetic?  A person’s sense of humour demonstrates very clearly what their priorities are and how much perspective they have.

3) Social standing
Again, don’t get the wrong idea: I’m not suggesting that we split the world into Breakfast Club characters.  What I mean is, you can tell a lot about someone by how their friends behave around them.  For example, my brother is the dad figure in his friendship group at uni.  This amuses me because I know him well enough (obviously) to know that how his friends see him accurately reflects his personality.

4) How (much) they feel about stuff
Obviously we can’t have an opinion about everything, but you can make fairly accurate assumptions about someone based on how much they care about their interests, ambitions and morals.  It doesn’t really matter what the interests are (within the limits of morality and the law, of course) as long as the person cares about them.  Apathy is the enemy of romance, art, the progress of science and half-decent conversation.

5) How they feel about you
For your own sake, you should definitely make judgements based on how someone treats you, and how they feel about you.  Someone who loves you (and acts like it) is clearly an excellent human being, and someone who does not is not worth your time.  Also, who wouldn’t love you?  You’re adorable!

Have a lovely, relaxing Saturday.  Maybe go for a long walk.