I attended a conference recently where one of the speakers had us list the ten most important things in our lives. We all dutifully made our lists, and then were surprised when there was a catch.
“Now cross off five of them,” the speaker said.
There was a lot of grumbling and reluctance, but most of us did it. (I have to confess that I only crossed off two.)
“That was really hard, wasn’t it?” she said, “Because they are all very important to you.”
We all agreed, and began to talk about it a little more. Then the speaker stopped us, and told us to cross off two more items. I just couldn’t do it! But since we were supposed to share the remaining three items with a partner, I chose three to share.
Why was it so much harder to cross off the items than to choose three to share? When I’d written my list, I’d tried to write them down in order from most to least important, so in theory that should have been simple: cross off the items at the bottom of the list and leave the ones at the top.
But it didn’t work out that way.
Somehow, crossing items off required a lot more thought. It required more decision making to contemplate NOT having those things in my life than it did to simply rank them or to list them in the first place. Because of course, thinking about not having them at all is much more sobering than imagining that I’ll get to them “someday”.
It struck me that this exercise could be really helpful in prioritizing goals as well, or even prioritizing a daily to-do list. It’s pretty common for people to have too much on their plate. This is a thought-provoking away of having the most important items rise to the top, instead of the most urgent.