The Gray Nature of Priorities

In my last post, I mentioned that I was finding myself a little overextended and needed to stop the blogging for a bit. I am in a little bit better shape now and have started getting things into a rhythm so I am going to slowly start ramping back up again. The decision to hold off, and now to gradually start writing again, is all about my personal priorities and the gray area that separates them.

My priorities, on paper, are pretty simple. My family always comes first – always. My career and job come second, blogging and the Java Users Group comes third, and other personal activities, such as woodturning, come last. While such a list appears pretty simple, there are always gray areas that situations fall into. For example, I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to the time I get to spend with my daughters and wife each night, however at times I have to forego that in order to work a last minute business critical issue or to host a JUG meeting. This is expected and the norm for almost everyone on the planet. Things come up and priorities sometimes shift. The thing that I always try to keep in mind is whether the opportunity cost of the shift makes the action worthwhile or not.

I recently went to visit with clients for a week. In this case the opportunity cost is that I miss out on a week of being with my family, my number one priority. This automatically means that the return from the action, the trip, must be higher to compensate for the opportunity cost. In this case it was. By making the trip I got to know our clients better and started to build report. In addition, I got immersed in the project and got moving much quicker than if I had skipped the trip. The ROI here is that I made the right move from a career standpoint – the customers will be better served, which will ultimately reflect well on me.

So I helped my number two priority but hurt my number one – how can I possibly compare the two when they are so distinct? Enter the gray area. The nature of priorities is that they are often interconnected. Since I am not independently wealthy, the success and comfort of my family is directly tied to my performance in my career. My career has a subtle but existent tie to blogging and the JUG. My personal activities determine my stress levels, which have a direct correlation on my job performance and family life.

Once we take this into account we can reanalyze the situation and see that while I did directly hurt my number one priority, my family, by taking the trip this was only in the short term. Because the potential of furthering my career has a direct impact on my family there is an indirect benefit that comes from me pursuing priority two, work, in lieu of priority one, family. Because my family is indirectly benefited by my other priority it made it acceptable in this case.

As another example, with this switch to a new role I felt that I was going to be strapped for time anyhow and something had to give. In this case blogging fell out because the return I get from it isn’t high enough to warrant skipping family time. Now that things are slowing and the dust is beginning to settle a bit I am slowly starting to reintroduce writing to my daily/weekly regiment. However, if a higher priority comes up it may very well fall out again.

Priorities are odd little beasts that invoke as much emotional response as they do logical. I guess the real goal at the end of each day is to be able to look back and see that you have acted in a way that it serves your priorities in the right order, either directly or indirectly.

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Jason McDonald

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