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4 Steps to Prioritize Powerful Needs

BY Jessica Withers        January 23, 2020

Should you ever feel overwhelmed by intense needs, here are four steps to help you prioritize them in a meaningful way. Doing so will allow you to meet each need without having a breakdown or causing irreparable damage to yourself or others – but first, have a small preview of how and why I found those steps in my own life.

2018 was supposed to be the year of my career. I concentrated on my job, networking, and serving on a project team. My goal was a promotion or raise. At the same time, I was taking steps to start a writing business. I was motivated and ambitious.

Until, that is, a trip to the emergency room in autumn stopped me in my tracks. I had pneumonia and an undiagnosed damaged heart valve. Acute congestive heart failure followed. My heart was so damaged it had to be repaired immediately.

It was mid-October before I was back home with months of recovery before me. The project slipped through my fingers and wrapped up without me. I missed a meeting with my small business advisor, and my savings was depleted to supplement disability pay. When I tried to write, the only thing I could write about was my heart, bringing me to tears every time. I needed to get back to work. I needed to write.

Then, in January of 2019, my partner told me he felt we were no longer compatible. Coming from contrasting backgrounds, we had hit rough spots before. But knowing that my heart would need to be repaired again and again, I couldn’t bear the thought of continuing to struggle through these tough times regularly. “This is make or break,” I told him. “This time we decide for good; either we are compatible, or we are not.” He agreed.

Suddenly, I had even more on my mind. I was overwhelmed by all of these needs, and I hadn’t yet come to terms with having a bad heart valve. I lacked the emotional energy to contemplate this drastic change to my life, but it was burning inside me. All these intense needs were at war with my body’s need to rest and recover.

Before too long, I realized I couldn’t make every need a priority. I had to compartmentalize and conserve energy, and I had to do so in a healthy way. I fell back on my writing and sat down with paper and pen to come up with a plan. The four steps I used to create that plan are below.

1. Make a list.

List your needs using broad categories. Mine were: Career, Writing, Heart, Relationship. If needed, add subcategories.

2. Establish an order.

Identify what need must be addressed first and go from there.

Relationship was my number one priority. I had started working a few hours a week, so Career became the second priority. Even if it was nonsense, I had to write; Writing came next. Since the existential crisis involving my heart wasn’t going anywhere fast Heart was last.

3. Schedule time.

Determine when you will prioritize each need. Start by looking at a calendar.

It was January and Relationship was my immediate priority. My doctor thought I would be working full time by March; I wrote “Career” at the top of April. Days are longer in the summer; I wrote “Writing” on July and August. October, one year after my heart procedure, was the perfect time to focus on my heart and the emotions surrounding what it means to be a woman with a heart condition. October would also gave me time to experience living with a fully functional heart.

Add reminders to your digital calendar or task list, too. The visuals give a cue when to begin a new priority. They also reassure you that your needs will not go unfulfilled, which is particularly important early on.

The schedule did not mean that I couldn’t write, for example, in May; and it didn’t mean that I would stop working on our relationship in April. It simply meant that my attention would be on whatever my priority was at that time. It took the pressure off me to solve everything at once.

4. Take action.

As you begin to act on your plan, share it with those most affected by it.

I shared my plan with my partner; he needed to know that I would be giving everything to our relationship. I shared my plan with my therapist so she could help me stay on track.

Now it’s a whole new year, and my entire life has changed. There was no promotion, but I was given another project with a pay increase. My finances can’t support starting a business, but I write daily (sometimes about my heart). I do everything I can to stay healthy and I see my cardiologist regularly so my heart is never that compromised again. My partner and I broke up, but we are still friends who care about each other. Along the way I discovered that this new me, this survivor, is meant to bring love and writing to this beautiful world we live in.

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Jessica Withers

Jessica Withers specializes in family memoir writing. Along the way she is exploring other forms of writing, including a one-woman play about being a stepmom and blog posts like this one. She can be reached at [email protected].

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