priorities, virtues, goals, and then some

Fair warning: a long, detailed post.

It's fall break and I've been using the extra time to catch up on a bunch of different things.  One of which is getting more organized.  I read most of the GTD book this summer, and there have been a bunch of lists floating around.  I've plowed through a bunch of goals--basically, I'm getting closer to my optimally productive state.  Of late, however, I've felt the need to take a step back, so I'm going to pull from GTD and hash out my "priorities." (Why the quotes will be addressed later.)  I'm doing this on my blog instead of on paper because it forces me to 1) generalize, 2) be reasonable, and 3) be clear.  But back to the use the altitude analogy from the book, we have six levels:

• 50,000+ feet: Life
• 40,000 feet: Three to five-year vision
• 30,000 feet: One to two-year goals
• 20,000 feet: Areas of responsibility
• 10,000 feet: Current projects
• Runway: Current actions

The last two items--current actions and projects--are too numerous and detailed for this post, so we'll start with my areas of responsibility, which are basically just categories for organizing my projects.

• Academic
  • Research
  • Classes
  • Administrative
• Personal
  • Domestic
  • Hobbies
  • Church
  • Social (including family)

Next: my one to two year goals.  I want to pass my generals.  I want a good summer internship this summer and the next.  N and I were thinking of starting to have kids after I pass generals, so I guess that would be in this category: plan for children.  I want to have published at least one paper as first author, maybe two.  I want to successfully save tomato seeds from my garden.  I want to make at least one more quilt.  I want to start grinding my own wheat.  I want to do lots of stuff, but you get the picture.

The three to five year vision?  I want to have at least one kid and have strong, loving family relationships.  I want to finish grad school in five years and be looking for a job (or have one already).  I want to be minimalist enough that moving anywhere in the world wouldn't be a hard logistical problem.  I want to a host of skills or stores of knowledge of homestead variety: beekeeping, butchering chickens, making cheese, gardening, preserving, and various from-scratch baking skills.  I want to have enough money for downpayment on a house.  I want to have written my Russian historical fiction novel.  Again, lots of stuff.

Life?  I want a happy, healthy family (or at least as happy and healthy as possible given whatever circumstances we will have).  I want my family to be supportive, open, and loving.  I want to not have things I don't need.  I want to be organized.  I always want to have some form (or multiple forms) of creative expression as a hobby.  I want to be generous but financially stable.  I want to own land, and try my hand at some form of homesteading: raise my own chickens, waterfowl, or sheep, keep bees, have an orchard, tend a garden...these are all options, though I probably won't get to do them all.  I want a satisfying career: I could go into industry or academia, but I would also be happy making homesteading a full-time occupation.  Whatever I choose, I want to love what I do.

Now that I've gone over the GTD version of my "priorities," I wanted to explain why I put that term in quotes.  The premise behind setting priorities is setting an order of precedence.  Theoretically, everything I listed as goals above, no matter what the level, should come over anything else, all other things being equal.  Life is rarely that clear-cut, though.  Setting priorities as described above leaves me with more questions like "how do I prioritize things within my goals?"  There's the classic example of women who want to have both a family and a career--how do they choose when to put what first?

At the end of last year, I created some themes instead of specific new year's resolutions (the last one is new).  These address some of the issues of simple goals because they define a set of precedence rules.

• Physical over Virtual
• Creative over Consumptive
• Independence over Reliance
• Community over Isolation
• Simplicity over Clutter
• Stimulated over Numbed
• Appropriate Use and Reuse over Waste
• Thoughtful over Instinctual

When making daily decisions, people rarely consult their list of goals.  Likewise, I rarely consult my themes, but they're there to help give me guidance when I have the time or feel the need to sit back and ponder the bigger picture.  They also help evaluate the merit of simple goals.  I'm doing both of these things right now.

I've also given some thought to virtues.  There is the famous example of Benjamin Franklin's list of virtues, as well a lists from various religions and philosophies.  I've tried making lists of virtues, but they all come down to two things: treating others well, and improving oneself.  I feel that the first category is my first priority, over all else: love, charity,'s all kinda the same.  It leads to altruism and universality, mindfulness, justice, honesty, and respect.  It's the golden rule.

The second category is includes things like moderation (which in turn includes temperance and restraint), order, cleanliness, frugality, industry, tranquility, patience, knowledge.  Even still, some things like patience are on the border with the first category.

But even though love for others is my first priority, sometimes I must do things for myself.  Doing things for myself can enable me to help others, but I also just have a drive to take care of myself, so the first and second ordering isn't really strict.  In fact, I can frame my entire life as taking care of myself:

• take care of self
  • physically
    • sleep
    • nutrition/appropriate diet
    • hydration
    • medical health
       • preventative care
       • other treatment as needed
    • be in shape:
      • strength
      • balance/dexterity
      • flexibility
      • cardio
    • grooming/hygiene
  • mental health
    • mediation/prayer
    • organized life
       • all projects personal and academic/work under control
       • clean, tidy, and aesthetically pleasing environment
       • able to provide or have access all things listed here, combined with a sense of being in control
    • healthy relationships
      • spouse
      • family
      • friends
      • work
      • church community
    • sense of morality and acting accordingly (includes activism and various opinions)
       • fair trade, treating people equitably, giving to international aid, gender equality, etc.
    • have projects/purpose/a way to productively spend my time
    • have good outlets/hobbies/secondary ways to spend time

You can see similarities between the various framings of priorities, virtues, and goals. They're just different ways to look at the same thing: all the complexities of an individual life.

Take any one facet of a life, like my urge to do homesteading-type activities.  It's a hobby under the GTD system, possibly growing into something larger over time. In the priorities system, it's a manifestation of independence and arguably a few others.  Under the virtues system, it's something to hone my personal virtues, like industry, or something to keep me mentally healthy by having a productive way to spend my time.  You could make a slew of arguments to describe this impulse under any of the systems.

Given all this, what's the point? Priorities, virtues, and goals are just different ways of measuring or articulating our desires.  Too often do I fall prey to the mental trap of trying to put everything in its appropriate little box; it's a kind of game.  Sometimes it's useful, though; going through this exercise helped me gain motivation for the things I need to do this week, even this month.  But where do I go from here?  I get back to getting things done, appreciating as much as I can of the world, and living my values or accomplishing my goals or however else I want to frame it.

Well, that was a pretty elaborate life pep-talk.

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