How are you prioritizing your tasks?
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This week is very different from every other week for the past seven years, and moving forward, things are going to be very different.
It didn’t hit me until Tuesday morning when I looked at my schedule for the day, where I saw a task I’ve been doing every week for over seven years. And even though it’s scheduled in my calendar, it’s a task I will never do again.
How to Stay on Track
While in graduate school at Purdue University, I began a process to help me prioritize tasks and stay on track for balancing school, work, and other life responsibilities. The process worked so well that I’ve continued to use this same process ever since.
At the start of the month I plan the whole month ahead by looking at the major projects that need to be completed, breaking down each project into logical and manageable steps, and then scheduling them out across the days and weeks ahead.
For example: instead of writing in the schedule, “Read Educational Game Design Fundamentals,” I would instead write, “Read Chapter 1 of Educational Game Design Fundamentals.”
It’s unrealistic to read an entire book in one day when you have other tasks to complete—and even if you know you mean you’ll actually only be reading one chapter that day, it’s far more encouraging to cross that item off your schedule at the end of the day rather than letting it hang as a seemingly unfinished task.
Another example: instead of writing, “Write proposal for Blue Buffalo,” I would instead write, “Schedule call with Braden to discuss training objectives.” And then each subsequent task would be scheduled for the ensuing days before finally leading up to “Submit proposal to Braden.”
When you’re balancing several projects with competing tasks all vying for conflicting space in your schedule, you won’t always be able to sit with a project from start to finish in a single day, especially if other people are involved. Breaking these projects into manageable pieces, and leaving some breathing room in the calendar, can help to ensure valuable projects get done on time without unneeded whirlwind or burnout.
3 Categories of Tasks
Another key element to this process is the inclusion of three categories of tasks. These categories align with The Three Pillars of Positivity: Mindset, Purpose, and Relationships.
The happiest, most positive, and most resilient people all share these three characteristics in common, so scheduling at least one task from each category every day will ensure that you will not only get your meaningful projects in on time, but you will also remain balanced, fulfilled, and supported along the way.
For example, my schedule will often include things like running, meditation, and music, because these things help with my Mindset.
It will also include things this reading, writing, and sales calls, because these things help with my Purpose.
For Relationships, the number one thing in my schedule is to send birthday greetings to my family and friends who are celebrating that day, helping to make a meaningful human connection with at least one person.
One task in particular in my schedule is one that for the past seven years has covered all three of these categories, helping me to keep an open mind, lean into my mission, and make a genuine human connection.
Since 2014 I’ve been helping care for Dr. Mednick, an elderly gentleman with no living family. My sister-in-law, Shanna, who works as a CNA, met Dr. Mednick when she worked for his wife, and when the wife died Shanna stayed on to help the Doctor. But in the evenings he would often get lonely, and soon asked Shanna to find someone to be with him at night. And from June 2014 on, I’d been with him ever since.
It started off as a night here and a night there, but eventually he wanted me there four nights a week, and I’d stay with him from 6pm until 10am the next morning. I’d help him with his nightly routine, make myself available if he needed anything in the middle of the night, and then help get him up in the morning.
For the better part of seven years, I spent 64 hours a week with Dr. Mednick, and during that time I got know him. Truly know him. Inside and out. Literally and figuratively. We laughed together, got on each other’s nerves, and shared a bond unlike any other I thought I would ever forge with another person.
In his 88 years of life, Dr. Mednick has been many things. A son, a friend, a sports fan, a soldier, a student, a world traveler, a husband, a doctor, a colleague, a cat lover, an animal impersonator, and even a singer. (He could make up a song about anything right on the spot. He truly could have had a whole other career writing jingles!) And though I’ve only known him for the last seven years of his long life, to me, he will always be Doctor. Whenever he calls for me, my standard reply is always: "Yes, Doctor, how may I help you? Ah yes, coming right up."
He is a consistent man. He knows what he likes and surrounds himself with those things—whether it’s a specific brand of T-shirt, oyster crackers, or people. If he likes it and if he likes you, he surrounds himself with these good things.
And this is certainly true for movies. He has the tenacity to watch the same movie on repeat day after day. I’ve sat with him for hours on end, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, watching Titanic, The God Father, Pearl Harbor, Patton, and The Sound of Music. It’s truly fascinating how he can sit through these movies over and over again! Yet as I think of it now, it makes perfect sense that he would watch and rewatch these films, because they likely remind him of various meaningful aspects of his life.
Though Dr. Mednick grew up in New York, he went to medical school in Switzerland, but because he doesn’t like to fly he would always take a ship across the ocean. Because of this, I imagine, the movie Titanic likely reminds him of all the time he spent traveling across the ocean. Thankfully, though, he never encountered any icebergs like Jack and Rose!
The God Father
From the stories the Doctor shared with us about his childhood, it sounds like his father was in the mafia. I don’t know if this is true, but if there’s even a sliver of truth to this then perhaps watching the New York gangsters in The God Father provided comforting memories from his childhood. Perhaps.
Pearl Harbor & Patton
Just before Dr. Mednick was to begin medical school, he was drafted into the army. He tried to get an education exemption, but he was told the university would still be there when he got out. So even though he didn’t necessarily want to be in the military, I’m sure that movies like Pearl Harbor and Patton likely reminded him of his time in the service and spoke to his sense of duty in serve to others. And he was certainly of a valuable service to countless people in the community, having served for decades as the county’s Chief Medical Examiner, helping to solve cases that put murderers behind bars.
The Sound of Music
And then there’s The Sound of Music, a movie that will forever have a place in my heart because of Dr. Mednick. As we’d watch the film together, he would point out all the places he'd been to, excited to share with me the adventures he had when he was a younger man.
For all of these reasons, it makes sense that he can watch these movies on repeat, because they remind him of important aspects of his life and because of the joy it brings him to share these memories with the people he loves. And ultimately, every story is a love story—in one way or another—and true to his nature, Dr. Mednick is many things, and he is certainly a man with a big heart.
One day a number of years ago I was at a doctor's appointment with him, and the nurse asked him who he lives with, if he has any family or children at home. He said no, but then added, “I have a Shanna and a Jonas.”
Hearing him say those words melted my heart. And the memory of this alone fills my heart with joy. Even though we’re not related, we relate to each other in a meaningful way unlike any other relationship I have ever had. Though he never had any children, we are his chosen family, and he is our chosen family.
When I plan my schedule, I automatically put Dr. Mednick in the calendar. My work with him helps me maintain an open mind, lean into my mission of being of service to others, and helps me maintain a valuable human connection. My work with Dr. Mednick is some of the most important work I do with my days, regardless of what else is going on in my life.
So when I looked at the calendar this week and saw his name on Tuesday, my heart became heavy. Because my work with Dr. Mednick is now done. We knew the end was nearing for him. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when.
Last week, on my last evening with him, I sat in the chair by his bedside and said everything that needed to be said. He hadn’t opened his eyes all day, so I’ll never know if he actually heard me speak. But I like to believe he did.
I then took out my ukulele and tried to sing songs for him, but they were choppy and jumbled because of the fits of tears that could not be held back. Having grieved for many people over the years, I often wondered if I would be able to cry again. But Dr. Mednick had one last story to share—the story that says there’s always a tear, a smile, and laughter available for someone who cares.
After gathering my things to leave that day, I went to his bedside to say goodbye. But he was already gone. And now for the first time in seven years, my weekly schedule looks very different. I am forever grateful to Dr. Mednick for sharing the final years of his fascinating life with me, and I will forever be a better person for having made my relationship with him a priority.
How are you prioritizing your tasks?
Jonas Cain, M.Ed. is a storyteller, magician, musician, and facilitator of fascination on a mission to help you experience abiding joy.