Learning To Stop Short of the Brim

We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast of the Oscar’s Gift Reading Guide to mention a simple change that has made a huge difference in not only how I spend my time, but perhaps more important, how I feel at the end of each day.

I’m finally learning to prioritize.

211872_overflowing_glass_1A while back, I decided to stop trying to pour everything I could (and everything everyone else wanted me to do) into the finite space and time we are all given each day. I had become tired of the continual overflow of tasks, goals, and emotions, with spills everywhere and no time to clean them up.

Instead, I asked what would fit comfortably in the room and hours available to me, how I could stop pouring before I reached the brim. Before going to sleep each night, I got in the habit of spending a few moments considering what was essential at this period in my life—and what was not.

My list began to shape itself as follows, in no particular order:

  • Work (this includes both my teaching and my work as a writer and freelance back-of-the-book indexer)
  • Family (especially my marriage and relationship with our son)
  • Self Care (with a particular focus on learning to say “no” to some things so as to say “yes” to my higher priorities)

The result is that I slowly started to prioritize those three aspects of my life. I began to focus more on teaching well (and, I hope, better each term) rather than going through the motions, writing regularly and “doing my dance anyway” (to borrow a phrase from Elizabeth Gilbert) rather than always pushing my creative self to the edges of my life, and nurturing relationships with my family, friends, and myself rather than taking them for granted.

It’s a work in progress, but already I notice a positive change. I feel better about what I do get done and less guilt about what I don’t. My psychological energy level is higher. And I am getting better at saying “no” without feeling guilty.


Is there more I’d like to be doing had we but world enough, and time? Absolutely. Are there other items that could be on my list or that other people wish I would prioritize instead? No doubt. Can other people comfortably focus on more items than three without major spillage? Yes.

For now, however, just as for blogger Simon Hørup Eskildsen, three is my focus limit.

What is your priority list? How many areas can you focus on a time without overflowing?

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