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Setting Priorities

| February 16, 2016

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading, Setting Priorities, is an essay by Gretchen Kopmanis, Office Manager and Mac Team Lead in a regional group of IT for the College of Literature, Science, and Arts at the University of Michigan.  Gretchen is a member of the current University of Michigan MOR Leaders Program cohort.  Her essay first appeared as a program reflection last November.
Many years ago when Franklin Planners were all the rage, I drank the Kool-Aid like so many others.  One of the take-aways I had from that event was about setting priorities for the “big stuff” and not letting yourself get overwhelmed with the minutia (emails, meetings, phone calls) of day-to-day work life.  You’ve probably already seen this, but just in case there’s someone who hasn’t…
The “jar of time” is where you fill a jar with rock, then pebbles, then sand, then water, all to remind you that you need to address the big issues first, because all the little things will fill in the cracks.  (Sadly, I could not find a video less than 4 minutes long about this wonderful time management philosophy, which was — oddly — a big waste of time!)  So, I have this animation for you, if you’ve never seen it before.
But what ARE your priorities?
After demonstrating how to set our priorities, the instructor asked us what our priorities were.  The attendees suggested money, promotion, family, success.  She had another exercise for us after that.  Imagine, she said, a 1000 foot steel I-Beam lying on the ground.  If you were offered $1 million to walk across it, would you? 
Almost everyone said yes.  Right?  *gasp of shock*
This was a demonstration that we’d all walk for money.  LOL
Then she told us to imagine the beam spanning across the roofs of the World Trade Center towers (this was pre 9-11, of course) and asked us again would we walk across the beam.  Needless to say, everyone said no.  This was a demonstration that we all valued our safety more than money.
Then she singled out one of the parents in the group who had said they would not walk across the suspended beam.  The instructor said that her family was waiting for her on the other tower and her youngest child, who was anxious to see her, started walking across the beam to reach her mom on the other tower.  “What do you do now?”  Of course, the mother was rushing across the beam without a second thought.
So her priorities were not “money, promotion and success.”  Her priorities were family, safety and THEN money.
I talk about this epiphany all the time.  It truly resonated with me that we often don’t really understand what our true priorities are until they are put at risk.
In calling our attention to the “jar of time,” Gretchen reminds us how important it is to get our priorities right and to know and act consistently with them.  Perhaps it’s time for each of us to make this a priority and do a personal check-up this week.
Make it a great week!  .  .  .    jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.