Canoe Talk 4- The Priority That Calls

Canoe Talks is a video series of unconventional wisdom in an unconventional setting designed for mindful change-makers – entrepreneurs, creatives, leaders, business owners, and professionals.


Strategist, teacher, and author of 
TRACKING WONDER Jeffrey Davis responds personally to questions raised by a reader and Tracking Wonder Community member.

Today’s question about resistance comes from one of our Tracking Wonder community members and Inner Circle MasterMinders, Elizabeth Shaw.

Today’s question:

– How do you decide what projects receive your attention on any given day, and how do you track the ideas for future projects that you can’t devote time or energy to just yet? – Elizabeth Shaw

To decide which projects receive my finite attention on any given day requires in part exercising discernment. Discernment is the lucid clarity to say, This project, not this one.
This now. This next. This next week. This maybe never.

To say Yes to Less and No to More.

Discernment is a skill you can build.  But I suspect it is a skill that requires listening.

But since you asked me personally, I’ll speak about me and not you.

What calls your inner Genius motivation?

Actually, let me tell you about my older daughter. She likes to study, and – more – I think she likes being thorough and she likes getting good feedback from her teachers – but she also seems to feel burdened by homework.

She also voluntarily takes an advanced knitting class, advanced English horse riding lessons, and private French lessons – all things she initiated.

So the other morning, she knew had a horse lesson scheduled for after school that day, but she said she didn’t want to go because she had to finish reading 90 pages of an Amelia Earhart biography for homework.

She and her mother were about to get into an argument in the kitchen, and we hadn’t had breakfast.

So I just asked my daughter if she and I could chat after breakfast. She agreed.

I told her how much I admired her thoroughness and conscientiousness with her homework, but I asked her if we could play a game that can help us prioritize.

She agreed.

I asked her on a scale of 1-5 – 5 being a Heck Yes! 

“How much enthusiasm, excitement, curiosity, and wonder does the thought of completing the biography assignment fill you up with?” 

“3,” she said.

And completing the horse lesson and where those lessons are taking her.

“4,” she said.

Then I asked her, “on a scale of 1-5, how much do you enjoy developing your skills in nonfiction reading comprehension?”

“2,” she said.

And the skills in horseback riding?

“4,” she said.

“Congratulations,” I said. “5 vs 8. You have permission to take your horse riding lesson. You also have permission to show up with incomplete homework tomorrow. I’ll write you a note if you need.”

She laughed and said, “OK.”

The important thing, I said, is to learn what motivates you from the inside.

“It’s okay to be motivated to do an excellent job at something if you enjoy where the process takes you. But I would rather you not be motivated solely to please your teacher or to do something only because you think you should.”

She seemed to get it on some level.

Actually, what I was leading her into in a non-heavy way was to start listening to what’s calling her and her genius outward and to start responding more and more to that – and not at this early age begin to let the weight of should’s burden her shoulders and dull her ears.

My own discernment principle:
a sober assessment of mortality

My own discernment is often tacit now. I don’t always consciously think through what I’m going to say – but these things have guided me over the years.

I’ve built my own discernment with an ongoing sober assessment of constraints, ongoing self-knowledge by listening, and gut motivation.

My biggest constraint is my mortality. Reminding myself that I have probably less than 1500 weeks in this one beautiful life is a daily wake up call to choose well or to be chosen well – and then once I’ve chosen or have been chosen, then to give it all my genius best for this one day – or for 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 hours this one day.

One of our new team members is in his 20s. When we took him through the Young Genius exercise, he said that one of his Genius traits is LIMITLESS – the feeling that he can do anything if he just puts his mind and talents to the task.

And so far, that’s actually been true about him.

I don’t envy him his sense of LIMITLESSNESS.

I am more content at this stage in my life to devote considerable attention to being an integral part of this family, to taking care of this home, to caring for team members, and to carving time to advance my endeavors.

These facets of my life I aspire not to be in battle. At least not now.

But before a project even gets on my daily, weekly, or monthly radar and calendar, I have to put it up against other possibilities, recognize the constraints in my talents and resources, and the natural constraints in my voluntary commitments to other people. 

And, yes, I do ask myself questions about whether or not my pursuing this endeavor vs that one would light me up with possibility and wonder. How much will it ask me to develop skills I’d enjoy developing?

How much time will it take? How aligned? How much value? 

What is the potential emotional and financial return if that’s relevant?

Discernment tip: Front Burner, Mid Burner, Back Burner

For instance, once my book TRACKING WONDER was published, I had an explosion of new ideas for books. The next nonfiction book. Children’s books. A YA novel.

All of those I’ve deliberately put on what I call the Back Burner until I further play out some other priorities that give the teachings in TRACKING WONDER their due attention.

On the mid-Burner of possibilities are A Wonder@Work Community, developing the TW Journal, and reviving the TW Podcast Show. But when on the mid-Burner, they’re not getting active attention.

I place all of these project possibilities in a document called “This Year’s Endeavors.” 

Each three months or so I check this document as part of my quarterly review to see if I want and can shift the order of the BACK MID and FRONT BURNERS.

Now I’ve narrowed Front Burner priorities to only three endeavors. This brings me great fulfillment when I allow such limited priorities to allot resources and bandwidth and energy.

Once they’re on the Front Burner, they get on a general schedule, and then each week I see where I have space on which mornings for my Focus & Flow Sessions for that priority endeavor. 

And I try to be specific about what I want to explore, play, create, or accomplish in that 90 minute or 3 hour block. There is almost always always room for negotiation with myself.  And I always always have to recalibrate priorities – mostly because of the Planning Fallacy.

Advanced Planning Leads to Time Abundance

But without advanced planning, I’m likely to feel time scarcity instead of time abundance.

Why is that? Because without joyful advanced discernment and planning, I will squander hours on a day just trying to decide what to do. And being in decision waste land starves instead of feeds the creative mind.

Most ideas pass through me like birds. Only a few call me like wolves into the woods.

So if you have the luxury, each morning, still your inner pond. Ask, “What calls me today?” And listen. Then respond.

It’s the only day in this only life you have.

Ask Jeffrey your own Canoe Talk question.

Ask Jeffrey your own Canoe Talk question here.

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