“Your priorities aren’t what you say they are. They are revealed by how you live.” (Anon.)
In recent days, I’ve been working with a nonprofit board on strategic planning. It’s always an enjoyable and enlightening process—especially when a board of directors is both committed and receptive to new ways of looking at their world.
One of the things I found myself saying to the group is something I say to nearly every planning group I work with: “Be very intentional about what you say ‘yes’ to, because everything you say yes to means you have to say ‘no’ to something else.”
It’s not rocket science. I’ve never met a nonprofit that was so flush with cash that it didn’t need to make hard decisions and be strategic about how it invests its resources (money, time, and people). When I remind them about saying yes and saying no, I often see a light come on. They realize strategic planning is not about coming up with as many things to do as they can possibly think of, but rather about identifying the few, mission-critical actions that will move them forward, that will really make a difference. That awareness leads to a practical and dynamic plan, and a cohesive group committed to accomplishing important objectives that will serve their constituency.
Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself if I am following my own advice—because it’s true for individuals as well as for organizations. I seem to be much more productive when I can pare my priorities down to a manageable number that I can keep on my radar.
As I’ve gotten older—and hopefully a bit wiser—I’ve homed in on what matters: my husband, my friends, my health, kindness, writing, reading, integrity and justice. And retaining a sense of humor no matter what.
On good days, when I can successfully keep these few “North Star” priorities in front of me, I get good work done. The needle moves. I feel productive and I’m comfortable and satisfied in my skin.
On other days, I feel like a duck in a shooting gallery. Every shot turns me in a different direction and nothing gets done because I am overwhelmed by options. I can flounder endlessly, feeling a brain fog that comes with a barrage of impulses and alternatives.
That’s the time to stop and ask if I’m saying yes to too many things. And am I saying yes to the right things? Am I able to differentiate between the little yesses that distract me from what matters and the ones that replenish my spirit and make my heart sing?
Have I succumbed to BSOS—bright, shiny object syndrome—and allowed myself to be distracted or detoured by the latest hot trend, topic, or media diversion?
And what I am saying no to? I need to be intentional about how I spend my time and where my North Star is leading me—and I need to be willing to let go of the rest.
Like so many important notions, these aren’t one-time ruminations. Resolve fades, awareness diminishes, and the questions need to be asked and answered again. The trick is to get in the habit of asking.
What are you saying yes to?
“If we follow what we love, if we live deeply and attentively in this moment, we will not feel bound by regret at the moment of our death.” (Wayne Muller)