A Pickles comic strip describes a conversation where Opal is afraid she has “But First Syndrome.” She tells Earl: “It’s where I decide to do the laundry, but first I see the dirty dishes so I decide to do them, so I reach for the dish soap, but first I notice the floor needs washing so I go to get the mop…” Earl’s sarcastic reply: “Ahh, I thought it meant you were always walking around backwards.”

If you suffer from “But First Syndrome,” it may feel like you are making as much progress as walking around backwards — you get somewhere, but not where you intended to go. It is easy to be tempted by “but first”, especially when the diversions are legitimate and necessary tasks. But more often than not, the digressions lead you down an unproductive rabbit hole and you never manage to get back to your original intention.

Try changing the meaning of “but first” to empower yourself to complete your primary task first. Rewire your self-talk to say something like: “I’ll take care of that email, but first I need to write today’s blog.” (Hypothetical example, of course!) Or “I’ll return that phone call, but first I’ll outline the proposal that is due.” Or maybe “I’ll check Facebook, but first I’ll read a few chapters in this book.”

Use but first to keep your priorities straight and you’ll be walking forward in no time.

Credit: Pickles comic strip by Brian Crane, 12-21-20 publication

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