Do I have the freedom to just rest and be at peace in my life? Do you have it in yours? Do you know what I mean by freedom? Imagine your kitchen table. Two pieces of masking take make a cross in the middle of the table dividing it up into 4 quarters. It has a piece of masking tape running along one axis marked as “enjoyable”. And another labeled “important”. You take an index card and write some expectation from your mind. This can be something imposed on you by yourself, your family, your boss or just the world around you. The origins and validity of the expectation are not important right now. You write those words “keep the house clean” on the card and throw it on the table along with 30-100 others. You will be surprised how many cards are really out there.

Start sorting those cards along the 2 axes on the table. You will see patterns and hierarchies develop. The items closest to the top are the most important, the items along the right edge are the most fun. Things in the top right are important and rewarding. The bottom left items are both non-critical and painful to do.

Expectation Grid

You have to start looking at those cards. You might be doing this in your mind, or this might be a real exercise with physical table and card, but it’s important to look at each item and decide if that’s the best thing for you to have on your table right now. I have also used an iPad and either Index Card Board or Corkulous to do this exercise digitally. The goal is to remove every card from the board. To remove it you have to put it in a todo list or on a calendar as a thing you reserve time for each week. Or you will just throw it away or tear it up. Your calendar slots are a limited resource. The size of your to-do list is a clear represtentation of how far underwater you are with long and short term projects.

You will be able to prioritize things this way. Hopefully you will create a big pile of ripped up cards for things that you just don’t have time to do anymore. Learn to explain to people that you don’t have the time or energy to participate or do what they expect. Learn to explain to yourself why it’s important to do something else wtih the time you’ve been spending on some of those endeavors.

It might help to do this with your spouse. My wife and I sit down from time to time and sort through the possiblities and write down the most important things we will do in the next 6 months to a year. We have decided our family will be intentional about our time and energy priorities. We put them up on a big Post It note on the wall or write them on a chalkboard we have hanging in our living room. The items are always there reminding us what we decided as a family was most important to spend our time on. Every once in a while we sit on the couch and dream about how some of those goals will be met. Sometimes we get to cross items off!

The beginning of the new year is a good time to take an expectation inventory and clean out the ones that are holding you back or causing unexpress anxiety and guilt.