Many of us live pressured lives.

There are demands on us from every side: to be more productive at work, more assertive (as well as sensitive) in our relationships, to be a whiz at managing our finances, and a wonder in the bedroom.  For those with children multiply by ten.

That there are so many demands leads to an emphasis on management – our lives as a project.

Focussing, prioritising, follow through and efficiency.  I don’t want to knock this approach.  I use it and it makes my life easier and more joyous.  I just want to point out that it is not everything and needs to be part of a bigger picture.

I think the approach of managing our lives has its limitations.  Imagine this: you are in the middle of an important project, you are on schedule and in the home straight heading for the dead line on a top priority.  Your phone rings and a good friend wants some of your time.  From the management perspective this is a no-brainer – you have your priorities and stick to them (you’ve probably even got time with friends prioritised and scheduled).  But from a human perspective it is not so clear.  When we treat our lives as projects to be managed we can lose our humanity – a sense of the messiness that sends our greatest plans oft go astray, that other people’s first priority isn’t fitting into our priorities and schedule; we can lose our sense of humility, hospitality and generosity.

The management perspective is usually a cerebral one.

This is good and very useful – we have brains and it is no shame to use them.  But we also have hearts and it is no shame to consult them either.  Sticking rigidly to a management approach can lead to us being awfully tunnel visioned (the downside of focus) and heartless (ask some friends of mine and they will be able to tell you lots of stories about when I have been).

So I’d like to propose another way deciding: through play.  This is really for bigger things than each five minutes – major goals rather than the minute by minute ones.

Some examples of how to do prioritising by playing.

  • Write down all the things you need to do on a sheet of paper (you may need a very big sheet of paper).  Then start playing.  Draw lines between them, draw pictures about them, makes notes about what you like and dislike about them and where they fit in your life.  You will find that after a time you start to feel settled and that you know how these things are for you right now.  You can then move on to considering how you would prefer them to be.
  • Write on separate sheets of paper each thing you need to prioritise.  Start moving them around, putting them next to each other and seeing how they feel.  Maybe they want to talk to each other.  Start arranging them into patterns.  Eventually you will find a pattern that you are happy with.  It should provide guidance on what your priorities are: maybe it is a shape with several things at the centre and other orbiting around, perhaps it’s a line or something like a pyramid.
  • I tend to think in text so these are examples from my perspective.  But there is no need to stick to words.  People often use visualisation – such as envisaging their perfect day.  Getting together with a friend who will let you just talk about it without pushing you to decide can work wonders.
  • I remember one young woman who was very personable and easy going – and she just hated being organised.  One time talking about this instead of getting the usual lectures about being disciplined blah blah blah she was invited to do a drawing.  She drew the ‘structure monster’.  It had stop watches for eyes, a filing cabinet drawer for its mouth!  By the time she finished she was laughing out loud.  And found it much easier to deal with getting through things once she had got to know her structure monster – he wasn’t such a scary monster after all, he just needed to be kept in his place.

The purpose of this approach is to find a way to let more of us participate in our prioritising.  To let our hearts into the process so that we are not so tunnel visioned and cerebral.  If we let ourselves play, then we will get a better sense of what is important for all of us, not just our heads – and this is vital information for setting our priorities.

2 Comments to “Decide by Playing”

  1. Chris Carlaw says:

    Great tips Evan.

    Myself, like alot of other people out there feel the pressure to do things faster, quicker, easier and better than when we did it yesterday.
    This is even greater in the case of the Y Generation who wants to achieve yesterday! 🙂
    I wish i had these tips years ago to prioritise, and not self sacrifice my energy due to poor organisation.


    Chris Carlaw

  2. Evan Hadkins says:

    Thanks Chris.

    Believe me this post came from years of experience!

    Here’s to a more play-filled future.


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