How Distinguishing the Important From the Unimportant Can Help You Grow

As a student, armed with a highlighter in your hand, you were likely guided toward the artful practice of distinguishing the important details from the unimportant ones. As younger students, the task was pretty simple. The important details called out to us in the form of headings, bolded words, italicized words, or phrases wrapped in bullet points.

This practice grew and became refined over the years, and, in college, we were able to jot down the important details the professor lectured about … even if he didn’t write something on the board!

But much like most of what we learned as students, we’ve failed to see how this skill could be used in our adult lives.

And while the important details of our life aren’t necessarily laid out for us in huge, underlined fonts, if we took the time to arm ourselves with our mental highlighters, and focus on the details, we’d realize it’s not so difficult to focus on what matters, and leave the other words behind.

Why this matters in your life

Most of the time, when Australians are stressed, overwhelmed, or feeling inadequate, we tend to narrow our focus and energy on the obstacles of our lives that are slowing us down:

  1. Your boss is a jerk
  2. The deadline’s fast approaching
  3. Your spouse isn’t paying attention to you
  4. The car is dying
  5. The weather is awful
  6. You hate your job

Taking a look at this list of things, it’s no wonder we get stressed and anxious. When looked at as a whole, these “obstacles” are more than anyone can handle (of course, we like to consider problems more like healthy challenges). But that’s because you’re approaching your list without your trusty highlighter.

So, sit back, take a breath, and reach for your yellow, green, blue, or rainbow-colored marker, and let’s throw away the unimportant, and help you focus on what matters most.

Hey Australia and New Zealand – It’s Time to highlight

While we could spend hours, and infinite virtual web pages, talking about all of our problems, let’s focus on one many of us can relate to – workplace stress.

We all feel it – some more than others. When we feel stressed at work, we tend to lump all of our work-related memories into one ugly batch of nastiness: our boss is terrible; our co-workers are annoying; our office or desk is too small; the computers are slow; the ringing of the phone is like the screeching of a banshee.

We like to build up our reasoning for feeling a certain way, so we start to pile up with unimportant details, in order to reinforce the overarching issue – we’re stressed at work.

The odd thing is, all we’re doing is quite literally reinforcing and strengthening that feeling of stress. Think of our minds like a closet, and unimportant details like the knick-knacks we collect in our lives. Sooner or later, our closets are going to bust open and spill the nastiness of our life’s work onto the floor.

It behoves us all to keep our closet in order, rather than let it spill out in front of us.

In order to do that, we need to shed the unimportant details and harp on what matters most. In this workplace stress example, does the ringing phone actually matter? No. In fact, you likely can do something about it, such as change the tone, the volume, or cover the phone with some shirt or small towel to muffle the sound.

What about the computers – sure, slow computers are terrible, but if your computer is slow, chances are so are everyone else’s. That means, in reality, you’re all on the same pace. Bring this up to your supervisor, let him know the issue, and then let it be out of your hands. It’s no longer your issue. You can only do so much with slow technology. So long as you make the issue known, you’ve done your part.

Move on.

Continue with this approach for all the little things you focus about on your way to feeling better about the big-ticket issue (workplace stress). By the time you whittle away at the minute details, you’ll come to one of two conclusions:

  1. You’re not really all that stressed at work after all
  2. Or you’ll be able to better determine why, exactly, you’re stressed at work.

Let’s focus on #2, as #1 is a great revelation that needs little explanation. With #2, you’ve come to a place where you can no longer shed away unimportant details, and you no longer have control over your immediate environment (like the ringing phone). All that’s left is what’s keeping you from being happy, which could be low pay, little praise, a lack of fulfillment for what you do, or something else.

Don’t be dismayed by this  – what you’ve done is empowered yourself to act. You now know exactly why you’re stressed, and, believe it or not, you can do something about it. This could include finding new work, looking for a new position, or trying to find something else in your life to help you feel fulfilled and happy.

By focusing on the important details only, you gain control of your situation and can instill the change you want to see in your life.

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