The struggle of prioritizing what to work on

Mar 9, 2021 | Newsletter, Writing

Today was supposed to be a productive day. I’ve been trying to get back into my routines after a brief hiatus and was optimistic that this week would be a profitable return to normal. But I struggled a lot today. The reason is not new, in fact it’s one of the things I’ve struggled with most over the past decade, and that’s the elusive ability to prioritize tasks and projects and focus on something until it’s done. What to work on is a daily struggle in which I can never seem to make any ground.

As someone with a million interests who needs to cycle through all of them and currently has a lot of time but no accountability or schedule or deadlines it makes sense that things would be hard to prioritize, but for me it’s more than that. I’m the type of person that likes to know where I’m headed which is why I’ve wasted way too much of my time worrying about getting my life figured out. I’ve never had a career direction so have always felt aimless, like I only ever spin my wheels and never really make progress. I’ve often felt that if I just had something to aim at, I could get there.

Over the past half year, I’ve started to feel more and more like I might have a very rough idea of a direction to head, but unfortunately, that hasn’t translated into knowing what to prioritize. I’m not sure if it’s made things worse with the added pressure of “making my dreams a reality” but either way I’m still struggling. The best strategy I’ve come up with career-wise that I think best suits me is to try to make little bits of passive income from a number of different sources and interests that could eventually add up to the equivalent of working a full-time job, or at least supplement a part-time job. While it’s certainly nice to have somewhat of an aim, it still begs the question, what do I work on? What do I prioritize?

A lot of my interests, especially creatively, are attached to my moods and emotional state (I’ve literally mapped out a spectrum of which creative mediums go with which mood!). I need to feel autonomy in the things I’m doing otherwise I shut down, so finding the balance between indulging in things purely for their own sake and forcing myself to do things that need to get done has always been a battle. With the extra time I have from the current global situation I’m also always torn between using this time to hustle and try to increase my income so I don’t have to get another job and using this time to work on all of my personal creative projects while I still have the chance.

I’m not sure I’ll ever crack the code on this one, but over the last couple months I have made the slightest bit of progress that I thought I’d share in case someone finds it useful.

While I have a seemingly infinite list of things I’ve started or would like to do someday, I’ve set up a database in Notion to keep only the higher priority items. Because I go back and forth so much with what is or isn’t priority, that list is still way too long, but it at least narrows things down some. The strategy that I’ve been playing with as of late is to add incentive tags to each project; essentially the reason(s) why the project should get done or what the benefits of doing so are. These tags correspond with broader goals and values to give me a quick visual of factors to keep in mind when choosing what to work on next. As this is a recent experiment, I currently only have three tags: income, declutter, and track record. Increasing my income and decreasing the clutter of all of the things I’ve accumulated over the years are things weighing on my mind right now so that’s where I’ve started. My track record in this case is essentially me proving to myself that contrary to my own popular belief, I can indeed finish projects that I start. I’ll add other tags as necessary, likely starting with kaizen (the term I use to encompass self-development/improvement) and self-care, which in this context would just mean projects that I get to do purely for fun.

While this hasn’t been a game-changing magic formula by any means, I have found it to be occasionally helpful in the decision-making process. If Monday I’m stressed about my income, then I can work on a project that will ideally earn income. If by Tuesday I’ve done a 180 (which is seemingly often the case) and can’t entertain the thought of “selling out” to do something for money then I can look to the projects that aren’t income-related. I can also easily see which projects have multiple incentives; sorting belongings to try to sell them checks off both the income and the declutter box. By having tags I can more easily assess the situation and ideally look at things slightly more rationally and less emotionally.

On paper this sounds like a neat, straightforward system but it has only been marginally helpful, likely due to the fact that it still doesn’t solve my issue of wanting to work on something different every day. It didn’t help me at all today so I coincidentally didn’t end up working on any of the projects on my list. I’m hoping that I can keep learning how to finish what I start and that this system will become more useful over time but I kind of have the feeling that because of how I’m wired, this will be a lifelong struggle.

Do you have difficulty prioritizing what to work on? Do you tend to do things based more on how you feel, or more on what needs to get done? If you don’t struggle with this at all, please tell me how haha.

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